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Monday, May 21, 2018


Kathy Otten is the author of multiple historical romance novels, novellas, and short stories as well as contemporary romance and historical fiction. Today she joins us to discuss cooking during the Civil War. Learn more about Kathy and her books at her website.

While researching my new Civil War novel, I discovered that gingerbread was a particular favorite of soldiers during the war. Families sent the treat in care packages to their loved ones along with socks, which marching soldiers always needed. It was also considered nutritious and easy to digest, which is why it was considered good hospital food.

Maybe the nutrition was in the molasses. I only wonder about this because my mother, when she was a little girl back in the 30’s, was given sulfur and molasses every spring by her grandparents.

In my story, the nuns helped my heroine make gingerbread for the wounded in the hospital. In digging through old recipes, I thought I’d give it a try. The photos I’d seen from that time period showed the gingerbread having been baked in a loaf pan and cut into slices. When I made mine, I poured the batter into a traditional square pan.

And of course the recipe I followed had been revised like many recipes were in the late 1800’s. Women such as Fanny M. Farmer and Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, eliminated such vague measurements such as “a good size piece,” “middlin,’” and “large cup,” standardizing measurements and including specific cooking instructions. Until then, cookbooks were uncommon and recipes were handed down from generation to generation.

My great-great-grandfather was a baker, and he had a notebook that was passed down on my mother’s side of the family. They were his notes and recipes so phrases like, “add enough milk to bake good,” make recreating his recipes nearly impossible.

So I dug through the Internet and one of my go-to books, Food on the Frontier, Minnesota Cooking from 1850 to 1900, by Marjorie Kreidberg. The recipe I found inside, A “Very Good” Gingerbread was from Anna Ramsey’s Book of Recipes, 1865.

However, this recipe called for 2 cups of molasses, and I didn’t have enough, so I found a second recipe used by Josephine Peffer, a twelve-year-old girl who won a blue ribbon for her gingerbread at the 1860 Wisconsin State Fair.

Civil War Gingerbread

1 cup Molasses
1 T. ground ginger
1/4 lb. butter, softened
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk (which I made by using regular milk and adding 2 tablespoons vinegar and letting it sit for a few minutes—an old trick my mother taught me)
2 eggs
2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square pan and dust lightly with flour. Beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add eggs and beat well. Add the buttermilk and molasses and blend.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, ginger, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes. Stick a toothpick into the center of the gingerbread. If it comes out clean, the gingerbread is done. Cool the pan and cut into 9 pieces.

It is really rather good and has no sugar added.  I’d recommend trying it, and I understand why that little girl from long ago won her blue ribbon.

A Place in Your Heart
Gracie McBride isn’t looking for love; she’s looking for respect. But in this man’s world of Civil War medicine, Gracie is expected to maintain her place changing beds and writing letters. Her biggest nemesis is the ward surgeon, Doctor Charles Ellard, who seems determined to woo her with arrogant kisses and terrible jokes.

Charles is an excellent surgeon. He assumed he would be well received by an army at war. He was not. Friendless and alone, he struggles to hide the panic attacks that plague him, while the only person who understands him is a feisty Irish nurse clearly resolved to keep him at a distance.

But, Charles is sent to the battlefield, and Gracie is left with a wounded soldier, a box of toys, and a mystery which can only be solved by the one man she wishes could love her, both as a woman and a nurse.

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Kathy Otten said...

Thanks for having me today. Researching food is one of the fun parts of writing a historical novel. This one was pretty tasty too.

N. N. Light said...

Thank you Kathy for giving a little historical background for gingerbread. I had no idea that they gave it to soldiers in the Civil War. Although, it makes sense, since it doesn't need refrigeration. I believe one of the reasons why it was considered healthy was the ginger and molasses. They both help with stomach ailments.

I personally love making gingerbread. It makes the house smell divine.

Good luck with your new release. Sounds really good!


Kathy Otten said...

Hi N.N.,
Thanks for stopping by. This recipe had a very rich aroma. My house did smell wonderful. It was also much darker than the box mixes and other cookbook recipes I've used.

Paris said...

I love old cookbooks but I'm very grateful to those who translated "enough milk to make it bake good" into more precise measurements :) Thanks for posting the recipe and the interesting stories behind it.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Paris,

Thanks for stopping by. Even today, people change recipes to make them their own, and don't write down what quantity they've used of a certain spice or two. For years my oven timer was broken and I learned to take things out of the oven when they looked done or smelled done. I remember once a friend was baking and I said, your cake smells done. He checked it and sure enough there was about 10 seconds to go on his timer. Baffled, he asked me, "What does smells done, smell like?"

Angela Adams said...

Sounds yummy! I can't wait to try it, Kathy. Thanks for the recipe.


It was a pleasure having you come visit, Kathy.

Mary Morgan said...

How fascinating, Kathy. I love researching old recipes, too. It connects you to the past in a unique way. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm going to try this recipe. Wishing you all the best with "A Place in Your Heart." It's on my tbr list.

Ilona Fridl said...

I love gingerbread and make it during Christmas. It's very good served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Angela,
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the gingerbread.

Kathy Otten said...

Thank you for having me. I enjoyed making the gingerbread and talking about it with everyone.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Mary,
Recipes and the food our characters might have eaten is a fun way to add unique and interesting details to a historical story. Old newspapers also will often post restaurant menus and an author can get another perspective on food of the time, but the cost. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathy Otten said...

Christmas is when I usually make my gingerbread too. Gingerbread cookies are another favorite. This recipe had a strong molasses flavor, which would probably blend wonderfully with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I hope you enjoy it.

Mary Gillgannon said...

Going to have to try your recipe. It's been ages since I made gingerbread, but I love it.
Like you, I love finding recipes and other details from the past and using them in my stories. Best wishes.

Amber Daulton said...

Great post!
Yummy recipe. It looks so simple too. I'd love to try it.