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 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.