The Battle of Gettysburg took place in the small Pennsylvania town on July 1-3, 1863. After the fighting stopped, wounded soldiers filled the homes, churches, barns, and courthouse.
There were so many that soldiers from both sides lay in the fields where they were shot until someone found them. Citizens rallied heroically to meet the monumental challenge.
Folks from the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission arrived in Gettysburg to help. They provided supplies for the hospitals and the town’s citizens. A general tent hospital, Camp Letterman, was set up in mid-July to care for Union and Confederate wounded.
One of the Sanitary Commissioners wrote of volunteering at Camp Letterman. He remembered that the wounded arrived to the newly-established hospital thirsty. Volunteers gave them tamarind water from pails. The soldiers loved the “beautiful drink.”
The only recipe I could find for tamarinds in my 1877 cookbook was “Tamarind Whey,” which used milk. The same recipe stated that a tablespoon of tamarinds could be added to water instead of milk.
My husband found dried tamarinds at a specialty food store. The outer layer must be peeled off before cooking. The fruit inside is sticky.
I cooked the fruit as directed and let it cool. I drained it first in a colander and then a second time in a wire strainer.
Using perhaps half the amount of tamarinds would be enough for my taste. A tablespoon for 2 quarts of water—now that I know how to prepare it—might be too weak.
The taste reminds me of a very strong tea. I haven’t tasted anything else that compares to it. Several people tried the drink. One person liked it. He downed the drink, saying that it reminded him of a special blend of tea.
I can well believe that this drink comforted parched Civil War soldiers on a hot summer’s day.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.
Milliken, Mary Sue & Feniger, Susan. “Tamarind Water,” Food Network, 2017/05/11 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tamarind-water-recipe.
Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg, Cumberland House, 2003.