Period Corporal's Kitchen A Civil War Christmas Dec 2018

Albert Sailhorst

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Corporal’s Kitchen-A Civil War Christmas

Christmas during the Civil War was celebrated in both the United States and the Confederate States, although it did not become an official holiday until five years after the war ended. As the war continued to rage on, Christmas and skirmishes occurred throughout the countryside. Celebrations for both troops and civilians saw significant alteration due to there being absent loved ones and a shortage of goods and materials.

Military exercises continued to take place on December 25. In 1861, a blockade runner was caught by the Union navy, and there were two skirmishes in Virginia and Maryland. In 1862, there were several skirmishes, and Confederate general John Hunt Morgan engaged in his famous Christmas Raid in Kentucky; on that single day, Morgan's men destroyed everything he could on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad for 35 miles from Bacon Creek to Lebanon Junction. There was also a military execution for desertion that the soldiers were forced to witness. In 1863, Union forces destroyed Confederate salt works at Bear Inlet, North Carolina; there were several skirmishes between Confederate artillery and the Union navy on the Stono River and near Charleston in South Carolina. In 1864, the Confederates fiercely repelled the Federal assault of sixty warships on Fort Fisher, while in the western theater of the war there were several skirmishes fought.

Soldiers not actively campaigning celebrated Christmas in several ways. Union soldiers would use salt pork and hardtack to decorate Christmas trees. Others were treated to special meals; a captain from Massachusetts treated his soldiers to foods such as turkey, oysters, pies, and apples.


Carols, hymns, and seasonal songs were sung during the period, with some, such as "
Deck the Halls", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", and Mendelssohn's "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (1840). American musical contributions to the season include "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (1850), "Jingle Bells" (1857), "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (1857) and "Up on the Housetop" (1860). Although popular in Europe at the time, Christmas cards were scarce in the United States, and would not enjoy widespread use until the 1870s.


For children, Christmas was altered during the war. Presents were fewer, especially in the devastated South. In We Were Marching on Christmas Day, author Kevin Rawlings notes that some southern children worried about the Union blockade, and one little girl,
Sallie Brock Putnam, plotted the course Santa Claus would have to take to avoid it. Sometimes fathers on both sides were allowed furlough, and children were said to react to their fathers as if seeing "near strangers". Excuses for a lack of Santa included Yankees having shot him.

We wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, full of the joy of the Lord, the warmth of a loving family and great smells and tasty treats from your kitchen!

The recipes below are from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Reciept Book, By Beatrice V. Grant, New York, 1850.

Roast Turkey
Wash the outside and inside very clean. Take bread crumbs, grated or chopped, about enough to fill the turkey, chop a bit of salt pork, the size of a good egg, and mix it in, with butter, the size of an egg, pepper, salt, and sweet herbs to your taste. Then beat up an egg and work in. Fill the crop and the body, sew them up, and tie the legs and wings, and spit them. Set it where it will gradually heat, and turn it once or twice, while heating, for fifteen minutes. Then put it up to the fire, and allow about twenty-five minutes for each pound. Turkey must be cooked very thoroughly. It must roast slowly at first, and be often basted with butter on a fork. Dredge it with flour just before taking it up, and let it brown.
Put the inwards in a skillet to boil for two hours, chop them up, season them, use the liquor they are boiled in for gravy, and thicken it with brown flour, and a bit of butter, the size of a hen's egg. This is the giblet sauce. Take the drippings, say half a pint, thickened with a paste, made of a tablespoonful of brown, or white flour, and let it simmer five minutes, and then use it for thin gravy.


Fruit Cake, or Black Cake

One pound of powdered white sugar. Three quarters of a pound of butter. One pound of flour, sifted. Twelve eggs. Two pounds of raisins, stoned, and part of them chopped. Two pounds of currants, carefully cleaned. Half a pound of citron, cut into strips. A quarter of an ounce each, of cinnamon, nutmegs, and cloves, mixed. One wine-glass of wine, and one wine-glass of brandy.
Rub the butter and sugar together, then add the yolks of the eggs, part of the flour, the spice, and the whites of the eggs well beaten, then add the remainder of the flour, and the wine and brandy. Mix all thoroughly together. Cover the bottom and sides of two square tin pans with white paper, well buttered, pour the mixture in, adding the fruit as formerly directed, first dredging it with flour, and bake four hours. After it is taken from the oven, and a little cooled, ice it thickly.
 

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