Spring, 1862 Hampton Roads, VA
My Darling Krisanthemum,
This wretched war carries on, and so goes my trusty provisions wagon tailing closely behind the carnage. My journeys today take me to the beautiful coast line of Hampton Roads Virginia. My dearest, I’ve never felt more out of my element than with what’s taking place before me. Two amazing ships are out at sea firing cannon at one another. Their ships are made of iron, and yet they glide on the water as to the properties of a duck. I’m frightened my darling, not of mortal wounds, but of clear and present witchcraft.
The Johnny Cakes in which I wrote to you three Wednesdays past were much appreciated to all who chose to visit the wagon. No one could pronounce the names correctly, but I’m sure everything will be just fine. Spirits could be far worse as I set up my wagon on the muddy beach, however due to the long travel between battles I’m left with dwindling supplies. I have but a half of hog and about a third’s sack of cornmeal, but my lard supply remains plentiful. It is fortuitous that I did not hire the grease boy I referred to in my last letter, as he would surely be nothing but cannon fodder on the deck of the Merrimack.
My heart belongs to you forever my Krisanthemum, and I again hope this brief letter finds you well. Make sure you’re saving these letters for posterity…I’m betting 150 years from now people the nation’s most dorky and least interesting are going dress up and try to reenact everything we do.
With love and honor,
Matt the Civil War Chef
Our first two Civil War era foods of Hardtack and Johnny Cakes, while primitive, were at least recognizable as “food” in today’s context. As the war progresses, and famine begins to set in, it’s time to act with a greater sense of desperation. According to legendary historian and author Shelby Foote, soldiers in the Confederate Army had a tendency to make unique sustenance out of what little they had. The most intriguing fare of this desperation in my opinion is “Sloosh.” Made out of cornmeal and pork fat grease, Sloosh was a pressed dough cooked over a campfire and eaten with pork rations. Let’s let the late Mr. Foote explain:
“In the southern army, you ate something called “sloosh.” You got issued cornmeal and bacon and you fried the bacon, which left a great deal of grease in the pan. Then you took the cornmeal and swirled it around in the grease to make the dough and make a snake of it and put it around your ramrod and cook it over the campfire. That was sloosh. They ate a lot of that. “
That sounds awful. Let’s do it! My challenge in 2019 is that I’m unlikely to use ingredients closely similar to what they would have used in the 1860s. The soldier’s rations were described as “salt pork” which isn’t quite the same as bacon, as it contains more fat. Despite this, I elected to go with some high fat bacon to get as much grease as possible when cooking in my skillet (if you know how to get 1860’s style salt pork please let me know).
Another road block I quickly encountered is that I have no earthly idea how much of either ingredient to use. There are some great attempts at this and similar foods out there on the internet, but it’s not like there’s a Joy of Cooking recipe we can use as a reference. Using around 4-5 strips of bacon to retain the grease in the pan, after letting the grease cool slightly I tossed the corn meal in and hoped for the best.
Mixing Sloosh together is just as gross as you might imagine. Imagine pork fat based Play-Doh, but with less bonding. The dough is sticking to my hands, the pan, the floor, and probably the ceiling…but none of it seems to be bonding as a dough. I’m sure Johnny Reb’s High Fattened Wrong Side of History Pork Bellyuns that were available in every General Store in the 1860s would have probably made this easier…but this dough just ain’t happening. Instead of continuing in this futility, I decided to call an audible. I cracked an egg and added some of the whites in a desperate attempt for bonding. Squeezing impossibly tight, I was able to make a “cake” of sorts and decided to throw it in the pan instead of trying that BS snake roll dough idea.
The hard work of making Sloosh has no reward…much like fighting for the Confederacy in general, so I’ll accept the apt analogy. It fried up ok but tasted like pressed wood pulp that’s been charred slightly. It would keep you alive, but I’d rather eat Hardtack for the rest of my life than have to endure this lumberjack muffin ever again. Had this been the fare available in my fighting company, I’d have gladly put myself inside the canon and pulled the chain myself. The rest of my 2019 morning was spent cooking and eating the left over bacon, so silver linings and all that.
Next time on Matt the Civil War Chef, we take the same desperation approach to our drink to go along with the food. Coffee was consumed by everyone during the war, but as the beans were becoming a scarce luxury we’ll need to get creative again. Join us for the next chef article as we examine Confederate “Peanut” Coffee.
Do you have a recipe or idea for Matt the Civil War Chef? Drop us a line on Twitter or by email and we’ll send the stagecoach out to meet the wagon!
You’ve clearly already chosen your gimmick of “Civil War Chef”, which I find rather objectionable since I actually had to work, hard, to earn the title “Chef” by graduating at at top of my class at Johnson & Wales (the original Providence ‘flagship’ campus, then again from Le Cordon Bleu in Parish, then spent 6 years traveling Spain, France and Italy, honing my craft (sometimes for free just to learn at the feet of a particular master), and finally by earning two Michelin stars, becoming a James Beard nominee and earning the coveted title of “Master Chef” from the American Culinary Federation… But, yeah, I suppose it’s fine for you to just assume a title that thousands of us busted our asses to get!
By the way, I’m assuming that you didn’t do any of that, and are in fact just a home cook with an interest in Civil War History (which I share) because you burned your peanuts, your hard-tack recipe comes from pre-Revolutionary days and your recipe for Johnny Cakes is just plain whack (also, you’d know that southerners called them Hoe Cakes, and still do, as Johnny Cakes is not only a Yankee name for them, but a New England Yankee name for them). Oh, and then there’s the fact that you’re not aware that every supermarket in America carries salt pork!! And then, of course, there are the electric burners. No self-respecting chef of Earth would use an electric range (or admit it anyway, as it would be so easy and cheap to just buy a portable, basic induction burner for $29.99 and place it under better light)!
Also, you are aware, are you not, that the title of Chef doesn’t mean “really good cook”. It’s French for “Chief” and it refers not to your ability to cook, but to manage a kitchen, hire and train cooks, optimally staff a kitchen, practice effective sanitation management, order product, receive product using quality control, manage inventory, create and follow a budget, design menus that cross-utilize ingredients to limit spoilage and waste, create par sheets, etc., all the while knowing exactly what everyone else in your kitchen is doing at all times. And that’s before you ever get a single ticket, because that’s when you actually have to run a brigade effectively.
You, my fellow history buff, have a great concept here, and you write exceptionally well, and you have a natural sense of timing that could rival most stand-up comics….. But you’re not a chef!
And not a single person working a chuck wagon during the War of Northern Aggression OR the Old West would have ever dared to call himself a CHEF!
Typos aside (I was rather miffed), I know that you’re not going to allow my comment to post. And that’s fine. But you and I both know that you are not a chef. And I am definitely not the only real chef who would be offended by you appropriating a title that we had to bust our asses to get. If you did that with the title of Attorney, Doctor, Officer or Federal Agent, you’d go to jail for it – so, I ask you, what makes you think it’s acceptable to just pretend to be what I am? You are not.
I really hope you’re for real. This is quality stuff. Thanks for reading!
Yeah, taking it lightly like it’s a big joke…. That’s one way of handing it.
Another way would be to apologize for insulting a profession you can’t even comprehend, and the thousands of people who work in it, simply because you’re a no talent hack with no respect and no thought for anyone but himself.
A classic millennial snowflake though, clearly.
Nah no need to apologize for you acting like a defensive little fuck because I dared to use the word “chef.” You cry for 5 paragraphs about your profession but I’m the snowflake…get real.