A Weekend’s Eating

(From One Little Bag)

By Wayne Thompson

For those of us crazy enough to think we can actually live for two days without a Big Mac, I humbly offer this simple case of dyspepsia:

Let’s begin with the basic (one-day) ration {1}:

“1069. – The ration is three-fourths of a pound of pork or bacon, and a fourth of a pound of fresh or salt beef; eighteen ounces of bread or flour, or twelve ounces of hard bread, or one and a fourth of corn meal; and at the rate, to one hundred rations, of eight quarts of peas or beans [just over 2.5 oz. each man], or, in lieu thereof, ten pounds of rice [1.6 oz. per man]; six pounds coffee [just under 1 oz. each]; twelve pounds sugar [not quite 2 oz per man]; four quarts of vinegar [1.25 – 1.3 oz. per man]; one and a half pounds of tallow [candles], or one and a fourth pounds of adamantine [candles], or one pound sperm candles; four pounds of soap, and two quarts of salt.

1071. – On a campaign, or on marches, or on board of transports, the ration of bread is one pound.”

How do you live off that? Well, the short answer is “poorly”. The better answer is you “supplement” your “issue” diet with the following items:

Vegetables (“desiccated” {2} or canned; fresh in season)
Fruit (fresh in season, dried at other times)
“Package from Mom” (condiments, jams, jellies, relishes, cookies, etc.)

With this, you can pass the weekend tolerably well.

Prepare the meat at home

Meat should be cured, if at all possible. Barring that, the meat should be properly prepared before bringing it out to an event. Dry the meat completely in a dehydrator, if one is available (you are not making jerky). Otherwise, cook the meat thoroughly and freeze it . Just before you leave, wrap the frozen meat in butcher’s paper, and put it in a linen or cotton poke. It will thaw out by early Saturday morning, and should be safe to eat as is all weekend. You could, of course, heat it in a skillet or toast it in the fire. I would do this for pork, anyway (“Pork. The other white meat that spoils real fast”). Other sources of meat are the variety of hard sausages like summer sausage, salami, etc. Again, remove the plastic wrapper and wrap it in butcher’s paper and put it in a poke bag. You may want to freeze a portion of the sausage if you are going to be in the field for more than two days.


You can substitute the hard bread with fresh bread, corn bread or biscuits, although these items won’t hold up to being squished in a haversack very well. Commercial biscuit mixes are good if you don’t make your living as a baker. There are also good cornmeal bread mixes out there, too. If you are more talented, or adventurous, try the recipes found in cookbooks or on the web. You have plenty of options.


Fresh (raw) vegetables hold up well, but be careful to stay in season. It’s very hard to justify summer corn in November or fresh peaches in April. Cook your potatoes at home. They can then be sliced and fried in bacon grease for a hot dish. Spice it up with sautéed onions and apple slices. Delicious!

Yellow corn is fodder. Present-day versions of yellow table corn were developed well after the Civil War. White corn is acceptable, of course, but only in season. Dried corn kept well, but usually ended up as corn meal. Still, it could be found in camp year round. Everyone knows about parching corn kernels. It makes for tough eating, but it was done.

If you ever have a question on whether or not a vegetable or fruit is in season, check out the local farmer’s market. If they don’t have it for sale, it’s probably not the right time of year for it to be in your camp, either.

Nature’s bounty

Be adventurous! There are many wild plants growing right next to you in camp. Buy (or check out from the library) books on edible wild plants and mushrooms. Be careful, though, some tame-looking plants can be very poisonous. Soldiers in Lee’s army frequently sought out wild onions and other root vegetables to stretch out meager rations. Sherman’s troops also resorted to digging roots and boiling leaves at one point or another in their march to Savannah and Charleston.

Wild game is certainly another option. Deer, turkey, and the occasional not-so-wild pig or chicken found its way into camp, and including the preparation and cooking of these items would not be out of place in any camp. Fresh fish or mussels would not be inappropriate, if the camp is near water. Obey the game laws, as most game wardens and judges don’t accept historical accuracy as a valid defense for hunting out of season or poaching.


Coffee was the drink of choice for both sides. Tea was popular, as well. Since it didn’t come in those little bags, it was usually steeped loose in the pot, and decanted from the boiler to a cup (lose the tea ball, you really don’t need it). Add a touch of civilization to your simple beverage with some condensed milk (get the little cans and share at each meal. That way, you don’t have to risk spilling the leftover milk during the time between meals). You can carry white, brown or raw {4} sugar. Honey could also find its way into a soldier’s diet, just leave the plastic bear jar at home. Molasses is always correct, particularly in a Southron’s mess. Chicory was (and is,) a common plant that saw service as a substitute for coffee. Make essence of coffee by mixing together instant coffee, creamer, and sweetener, with just enough water to make a thick paste. Roasted acorns, ground up and boiled, were also used to provide some sort of hot beverage, too (Note: It tastes awful!) Toasted rye seeds were also used as a coffee “extender”. Modern grain beverages can be used, too (look in the coffee / tea aisle of your grocery store, or venture into an organic market or store for other options).

Aw, Nuts!

Speaking of nuts (insert your own comment here), the lowly nguba, or peanut, saw much use in service to the cause. Many recipes, going back to colonial days, included peanuts in interesting combinations of vegetable and meat dishes. It is only recently that the peanut has started to come back into fashion as a food item in some form other than as a snack or sandwich spread. Boiling peanuts in water with a piece of ham or salt meat can make good soup. Pecans and (black) walnuts are also acceptable in camp, as these items would store well for most of the year, and so could be present in camp year round. Avoid the English (California) walnut, as I don’t know when they first appeared in American markets (if they’ve been here all along, I stand corrected).

Dessert? Why not? Period cookies and pastries can sometimes be justified. Ginger snaps and lemon cookies were common and very popular. You can still find them in your local grocery store. My late grandfather, Percy Thomas Gardiner, used to tell the story of his great-uncle, one Joseph Bernard Gardiner (3rd NC Arty.). “Uncle Joe” would visit from his home in Valley Lee, Maryland to my grandfather’s home south of Waldorf, about once a month. He always brought a five cent bag of gingersnaps for his “favorite boys”, usually ruining dinner for them. He gave out the cookies while relating some anecdote about his time fighting Yankees. Each story usually involved getting cookies from home. Gingersnaps were his favorite.

Other snacks include peanuts, summer sausage, apple or peach butter, or hard candies like horehound, or lemon drops. Hard cheeses, like cheddar, are also good food items, and keep well in the forage bag. The cheese should be wedge-shaped, as most hard cheeses were shaped like wheels, with portions cut like slices of pie. Fresh fruits, in season, are always a good idea, and dried fruits and preserves work year round.

Wrap all prepared foods separately in butcher’s paper. Placing food in pokes or small bags can provide additional protection. All food for the event goes into the haversack. Bulk rations can be carried inside your knapsack, or in a flour sack or pillowcase tied round the belt. {5} You can share the wealth, and the burden, by dividing responsibilities for each meal with other members of your mess. This is also a good way to divide up kitchen equipment. This way, no one person is saddled with all the mess gear or food. By rotating responsibilities, everyone ends up spending about the same amount on food over the course of the year. If you are in a fixed camp, you can store extra food there. If you are concerned about running out of food, you can also store extra food in a cooler or large supply box (but you are defeating the purpose of campaign rations if you do this.) Companies can even create their own “commissary” and let one group within the unit prepare most of the meals at an event. This might be good for the older members of a company who can no longer keep up with the young bucks, but who still want to attend events in uniform. This may not work well for “true campaigners” (if you can’t keep up then why are you out there?), but it seems reasonable enough for mainstream units.

Individual mess gear should include a tin plate, knife, fork, and spoon, boiler (or mucket), and canteen. A small (six-inch diameter) sheet iron skillet is also a consideration. The boiler should have a lid to keep the ashes out of your meal. Company gear would include larger skillets, a camp axe or hatchet, and a few larger (one-to-two-quart) boilers. Substitute canteen halves for the plate and skillet to reduce the amount of gear you haul.

Since we usually have a fixed campsite, the opportunity (and the need,) for preparing three days’ rations is rare. However, having military rations in camp add to the realism, which is something for which we should all strive.

(1) “Army Regulations, Adopted for the Use of the Army of the Confederate States, in Accordance with the Late Acts of Congress.” Richmond, Virginia; West & Johnston, Publishers. 1861.

(2) The US Army issued desiccated vegetables during the course of the war. We Sons of the Southland would have to acquire ours from captured or “liberated” supplies. Most CS-issued veggies were fresh or air-dried for winter storage and use.  “Desiccation” is a mechanical process that removes nearly all of the water from vegetables. It usually cooks the vegetable in the process, which is the main difference between it and drying.

(3) “Haversack Rations “ by Dwayne Seale. This technique is a great idea and works well for all but the warmest of events. Obviously, winter events will cause the meat to stay frozen longer, even constantly (at least until you cook it).

(4) Raw sugar also goes by the name “turbunado” (I think it’s so they can charge more for it.)

(5) I would avoid doing this at most events, particularly if you are doing a “Corn-fed” impression. Unless the scenario involves plundering a supply depot, it’s hard to explain why you have so much food on you when the army, historically speaking, was starving at this period of the war.