by Sandra Merville Hart
Confederate soldiers were often low on supplies and food rations. They had to make do with ingredients found nearby.
Confederates published a fun book of recipes in 1863 called Confederate Receipt Book. I tried one of the biscuit recipes.
In reading the recipe before starting, one thing that struck me was that they used cream of tartar. Other food recipes called for tartaric acid. I hadn’t used that in biscuits and wondered if it was a readily-available ingredient for Southern soldiers.
A little research showed that many plants, including grapes, have tartaric acid, which is an organic acid. The process of making wine creates cream of tartar. It is a leavening agent.
Since food supplies were often scarce for Southern soldiers, it makes sense that they used whatever they had on hand and adapted it.
Measure 4 cups of all-purpose flour into a mixing bowl. Add 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar and mix thoroughly.
Add 2 tablespoons of shortening. Use a fork to cut the shortening into the flour mixture. It won’t look much differently after combined because it’s not a lot of shortening. Most modern recipes call for ½ cup or ¾ cup of shortening (or butter) but I wanted to try the Confederate soldiers’ recipe so I didn’t alter it.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda into about 1 ½ cups of warm water. Stir and add to the dry ingredients to make a dough. If more water is needed, add a little at a time until the dough is the right consistency.
You may notice, as I did, that there is no salt in this recipe. I didn’t add any.
I imagined that soldiers baked their biscuits in a skillet. I greased the skillet with shortening—not cooking spray because the men in Civil War camps didn’t have that.
I baked my biscuits in a 425 oven for twenty minutes and then increased the temperature to 450 for another 4 or 5 minutes because they were taking longer than normal. I usually bake food at 425 if the recipe calls for 450 because it’s easy to burn. Next time I will bake these biscuits at 450 for 12 to 14 minutes or until lightly browned.
They rose nicely in the oven, almost doubling. They looked great. The consistency was really nice, but I missed the salt. It would have tasted better with a teaspoon of salt in the flour mixture.
I wondered at first if salt was often in short supply. Maybe that was the reason for omitting salt from biscuits.
Then another possibility occurred to me. Salting meat was a way of preserving it before refrigeration. If the meat was already salty, the soldier probably didn’t need it in the biscuits, too.
Most Civil War soldiers didn’t know much about cooking at the beginning of the war. Mothers, wives, and sisters usually did the cooking and baking back at home. The men adapted pretty well . . . and even published a few of their recipes!
Amazon page for Sandra Merville Hart
A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.
“Tartaric Acid,” Wikipedia.com, 2017/02/06 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartaric_acid.
24 thoughts on “Biscuit Recipe Used by Confederate Soldiers”
You didn’t really say how it tasted. One thing I might add, most soldiers didn’t cook. They would get together to form a “mess”. Each man had a separate job such as cooking, cleaning, etc
Hi, Wayne, sorry about that. I thought the biscuits tasted good. Nice and hearty. One might have been enough for supper, especially if soldiers had ham or bacon to go with it. The lack of salt was the only thing I noticed – and that’s easily remedied. Thanks for the additional information. I appreciate your comment.
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If you try this recipe again I suggest that you fry some bacon in the skillet first and leave a lot of the fat for non sticking. Fat was a good thing back then because it provided much needed calories. That would also add salt.
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What a yummy idea! Thanks, Vadam.
Did the confederate soldiers have shortening?
Hi Loyd, that’s a great question. I went back to the recipe from 1863. It says “two tablespoonfuls of shortening.” This term first started meaning “butter or other fat using in baking” in 1796. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=shortening
They probably used butter or lard. Thanks for asking.
I would like to know what the name of this book is please.
Christi, I believe you are referring to the book where I found the recipe. If so, it’s Confederate Receipt Book, A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times, Applewood Books, 1863.
My grandmother made a very similar biscuit. Unfortunately, we don’t have her recipe to compare. She was originally from southern Kentucky.
Hi Perry, my grandmother was a Southern cook, too. We lost a lot of her recipes when she died. Maybe this biscuit recipe is the one your grandmother used. It’s nice to think so. Thanks for commenting.
Another thing other than omitting the taste (as answered above) I am confused about your statement “Add 2 tablespoons of shortening. Use a fork to cut the shortening into the flour mixture.” Why can’t you use a knife? For the world, I can’t understand the difference between cutting the shortening with a fork, knife or spoon for that matter. Can you explain?
Thanks. Once I figure out the “cutting with a fork” thing. I’ll try this.
Hi Robert, thanks for the question. Once you add the shortening to the flour, it has to be combined. Use a pastry blender or fork and slice into the shortening over and over again until it is assimilated into the flour. The recipe doesn’t call for a large amount of shortening so the mixture looks like flour when you’re finished. Sorry for the confusion. I suggested using a fork because I imagined that’s how the soldiers accomplished this in camps. I’m glad you asked. Hope this works well for you.
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My grandma was from the south as am I. When she made biscuits this was the recipe she used and i still do to this day (but I do add salt) she would mix the lard into the flour using her right hand keeping her left hand clean. You could not beat her biscuits and gravy.
Yum! I’m thrilled that you can trace your grandmother’s recipe back to the Civil War. That is awesome. I had wondered about that. And my southern grandmother mixed biscuits with her hands too. 🙂 Thanks, Jim!
maybe they didn’t add salt because they were cooked in the same pan as the one used for frying pork fat, bacon or ham if they were lucky enough to have it, the residual ‘salt” would have made the difference,
That’s a great point, Shannon! Soldiers had to carry everything with them on long marches. That makes sense. They wouldn’t carry anything extra. Thanks for commenting.
Loved the article. I was always amazed at the fighting ability of the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression. March for miles (the Confederate soldier often in bare feet), fight a skirmish or major battle, then settle down for the evening an cook a meal.
I agree with you, John. It was a hard life. And they were always out in the sleet, snow, and rain. I remember feeling so guilty for being warm and snug inside my home during storms when I first began researching the war. It reminded me of their sacrifice. Thanks for commenting!
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My great great grandfather was chief company cook The Texas Sharpshooters. Wonder if he ever cooked any of the. Interestingly enough,one of his grandsons, who happened to be my grandfather was a cook in Company A, 3588th Infantry battalion in WWI.
How awesome that you know such specific information about your family’s history, James. And how special that two of your grandfathers served their regiments as cooks. It seems likely that your Civil War grandfather used this recipe that you can now try. 🙂 I’m posting another Southern recipe tomorrow. Thanks for commenting!
Anyone interested in trying the recipe may want to obtain stone milled whole wheat flour to use in the recipe. Prior to the 1870s and the introduction of roller milling, white flour was very expensive to produce and used almost exclusively by the rich. Anson Mills in South Carolina produces a whole grain wheat flour that would be authentic to the period (as well as their coarse grits and coarse cornmeal which would also be something the Confederate soldier would have eaten).
The term shortening commonly referred to butter or lard prior to the introduction of vegetable shortenings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Butter would have been in scarce supply and a delicacy for a Confederate soldier. Lard was the staple of the day and fat from cooking salt pork was often utilized.
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Great information, Tim. Thanks for the tip on where to buy whole grain wheat flour.
I think I have this book or one like it that I bought on a trip to vicksburg , miss the meat would have been salt pork. ham’s would have been smoked . so think more like bacon.
I’d like to visit Vicksburg sometime. I think I bought mine at one of the museums in Raleigh. The museum bookstores often contain treasures not readily available. Thanks for commenting, Loren.
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