Cornmeal Gruel Recipe

This is Dr. Davenport’s recipe, found in an 1877 cookbook under “Food for the Sick.”

Dr. Davenport, Milford Center, Ohio, used this recipe thirty years earlier. He shared this “old and very valuable recipe” with 1877 cooks. Gruels were often given to sick or wounded Civil War soldiers.

Boil 3 pints of water.

Stir 2 tablespoons of cold water into 2 tablespoons of cornmeal. Add to the boiling water with a pinch of salt.

Reduce to medium heat and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat. Let it settle. If the patient is very sick, pour off the water on top and serve this way. The broth is grainy and a bit thicker than might be expected.

It tasted okay.

If this broth will be given to a convalescing patient, toast a piece of bread. They ate hearty breads 150 years ago, so buy a dense bread such as Italian bread. I made my own. I baked some delicious  Bran bread  and toasted two slices for this gruel.

Pour the broth into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of light or heavy cream, 2 teaspoons of sugar, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon of ginger. Nutmeg can be substituted for the ginger. Stir well.

Break the toast into pieces and add to the gruel.

Eat immediately.

The broth has a pleasant, sweet taste. I’m not a cereal lover, but broths with bread added have a little in common with cereals.

Dr. Davenport found these to be a nourishing meal for those on a laxative diet. Hmm. Maybe just eat this in moderation.

I’d love to hear if you try this. Enjoy!

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.





Mulled Buttermilk

“Excellent for convalescing patients” was the way a recipe in an 1877 cookbook described mulled buttermilk.

Given the date of the cookbook, wounded soldiers during Civil War probably received this drink in hospitals. As a historical novelist, I’m always interested in learning tidbits from our history. It’s fun to add authentic details such as this one when a story requires it.

Boil a cup of buttermilk over a medium high heat. The consistency of the milk completely changes. The thick, creamy liquid thins to a grainy consistency of water.

Beat one egg yolk. Temper the yolk by stirring in a couple of tablespoons of the hot buttermilk. Add the tempered yolk to the boiling buttermilk. Stir and allow the mixture to return to a boil. I stirred the mixture while cooking.

Pour into a glass and drink. I allowed it to cool slightly before trying it. One sip was enough. I did not like this.

There is a second recipe for mulled buttermilk.

Forgetting the egg yolk, put a heaping tablespoon of flour into a glass. Pour in 1/3 cup of cold buttermilk and stir well. If this is not enough liquid for the flour to assimilate into the liquid after a brisk stir, add more buttermilk—a tablespoon at a time—until it is combined into a thick,  pourable liquid. Set this aside.

When the cup of buttermilk initially boils, add the buttermilk thickening to the saucepan. Return to a boil, cooking an additional minute to make sure the flour is done.

I really liked this second alternative. The thicker beverage tasted better to me.

And it is good for patients. If you lived one hundred fifty years ago, you would have drunk mulled buttermilk when you were sick.

Good luck! I’d love to hear if you try this recipe.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.


Fever Drink Recipe

This recipe for Fever Drink doesn’t say if it treats a fever or if it soothes patients who are running a temperature. It was found in an 1877 cookbook under “Food for the Sick.”

Flax seed is one of the ingredients in this beverage. I don’t know if this was readily available 150 years ago. However, the recipe doesn’t give any ingredient measurements. This makes me believe that cooks knew how to prepare it.

Given the date of the cookbook, I’m guessing Civil War soldiers drank this for fevers whenever it was available. Its use seems to have died out because I couldn’t find anything else about it. I love to bring historical practices to light.

Figuring out the ingredient measurements the first time was a complete guess. The recipe said to add boiling water to flax seeds, so I used ¼ cup of flax seeds with 1 cup of water and set it aside. The seeds were supposed to become “ropy.”

It also said to “pour cold water over wheat bran.” I chose to try ¼ cup of wheat bran and added ¾ cup of cold water to a small saucepan. (Some of you are probably already laughing.)

I brought this to a gentle boil and lowered to a medium heat. It was supposed to boil for 30 minutes. The wheat bran boiled dry in 10 minutes. I added more water, but quickly realized I had used too much wheat bran.

To make matters worse, there was no change in the flax seeds—definitely not ropy.

I started over. This time I tried to figure out the right ratio for only 1 glass of Fever Drink.

I added a cup of boiling water to 1 teaspoon of flax seeds and set aside.

I put 1 tablespoon of wheat bran into a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. I stirred it occasionally and it reduced quite a bit. After 30 minutes, I strained it twice. It made ½ cup of wheat bran broth.

The recipe also called for lemon juice and sugar—lemonade. I added 1 tablespoon of sugar to the juice of 1 lemon. It was the perfect amount.

I stirred the lemonade into the wheat bran broth. Though it was probably traditionally served hot, I decided to drink it cold. I added ice to the glass.

The flax seeds softened but never became ropy. I added these to the drink. The bran flavor was equally as strong as the lemon flavor. Lemonade improved the beverage though I can’t say I liked it.

A friend told me that flax seed powder is available. This might be a good alternative for regular flax seeds in this beverage.

The measurements used in the second try—1 tablespoon wheat bran to 1 teaspoon flax seeds—seemed to work well. I don’t know if this is the correct combination they used to ease a feverish patient. Since the 1877 cook didn’t divulge that secret, it remains a guess.

And I didn’t have a fever when I drank the Fever Drink so I can’t say how well it works.

I’d love to hear if you try this. Enjoy!

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.


Crust Coffee Recipe

Not a drop of coffee in this recipe for Crust Coffee!It was found in an 1877 cookbook under “Food for the Sick.”

The ingredients make this an easy recipe for cooks and nurses to give to patients. It was probably given to wounded soldiers during Civil War.

The first ingredient is toasted bread, which was heartier 150 years ago than white bread readily available on grocery store shelves. I made a loaf of white bread in my bread machine and baked it in the oven. This gave me bread slices with denser consistency.

I toasted sliced bread “very brown” under the oven broiler. It felt more authentic than sliding them into a toaster.

I boiled water and poured a couple of tablespoons of it on the toasted bread. (Sounds very unappetizing—I agree. That’s one reason a denser bread is necessary.) Drain the excess.

Stir 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. Pour the mixture over the bread.

Sprinkle on some nutmeg and enjoy.

It was actually pretty tasty.

I had followed a historical recipe for Baked Milk.  I wanted to try Crust Coffee with baked milk.

I made the Crust Coffee again, exchanging heavy cream for baked milk. Not bad. I liked the familiar flavor of heavy cream better, but the other is also good.

I’ve often given my daughter toast when she was ill. I can definitely understand why this was given to convalescing patients. It seems like a treat with the sugar and nutmeg.

I’d love to hear from you if you try this dish. Enjoy!

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.


Egg Gruel

A recipe in an 1877 cookbook for Egg Gruel claimed to be good for treating a cold. It was included in a section titled “Food for the Sick.”

As a historical novelist, I’m always interested in learning tidbits from our history. Gruels were given to Civil War soldiers in hospitals.

To make the gruel, take one egg and separate the egg yolk and white. Add a tablespoon of sugar to the egg yolk and beat.

Whisk the egg white separately. As there were no guidelines, I whisked until frothy. This worked well.

Stir a cup of boiling water into the yolk mixture.

Add the egg white. Add any seasoning you desire. I sprinkled salt over the mixture and stirred it once more.

It looked far more appealing than expected but I didn’t taste it. I don’t have a cold at the moment or I might have been tempted.

Good luck! I’d love to hear if you try this recipe.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.




Preparing Shuck Beans or “Leather Britches”

shuckbeansToday’s guest post is written by fellow author and friend, Rebecca Waters. Preparing and eating shuck beans is a childhood memory with her grandmother.

Our ancestors have found many ways to preserve food. It was a necessity. You may be familiar with processing vegetables by canning them or freezing them, but long before modern methods of preservation were available, many vegetables were stored in root cellars or dried and hung in on strings. Dried vegetables were then tied up in cloth sacks to keep through the cold winter months. Today, I offer the recipe for shuck beans, sometimes called “leather britches” because of their brown leathery appearance.

Preserving beans through drying:

Wash, dry, and remove the strings of freshly picked green beans. White Half Runners are best for this recipe.

You can dry the beans either by breaking them up and spreading them out in the sun on a sheet to dry (bring them in every night before dew falls) or by stringing them whole on a thread and hanging them up to dry in the sun or in a dry attic.

Once they are dry they will rattle when shaken. The dried beans can be put in a pillowcase or tied up in a clean piece of cloth and stored until you are ready to cook them.

To prepare beans for cooking, put them in warm water and soak them overnight.

Wash them several times until the water runs clear.

Place the beans in a large kettle and cover with water. Add fatback or salt bacon to the beans. Add salt if needed. Cook two to three hours on low heat until tender.

Because the dried beans are light to carry, both Union and Confederate soldiers could, once camp was established, prepare the beans and indulge in a taste of home. Since shuck beans take a while to cook, this wasn’t a meal for soldiers on the march.

-Rebecca Waters

breathing-on-her-own-cover-copyBreathing On Her Own

Molly Tipton and her husband are looking forward to retirement but Molly’s life suddenly spirals out of control when her oldest daughter is involved in a terrible accident. An icy road and a sharp turn leave one woman dead, another clinging to life.

While two families grieve, details emerge that reveal Molly’s daughter was driving under the influence. As she prepares her daughter for the prospect of a vehicular homicide lawsuit, Molly discovers her oldest child is not the only one injured and under attack for past mistakes. If it is true time heals all wounds, what are we to do with our scars?

beckyAbout Rebecca:

Rebecca Waters’ freelance work has published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Standard Publishing’s Lookout Magazine, The Christian Communicator, Church Libraries, and Home Health Aide Digest. Breathing on Her Own is Rebecca’s first novel. As a published author, she shares her writing journey in her weekly blog, A Novel Creation. To learn more about Rebecca or to read A Novel Creation, visit her website.

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas   – Use coupon code SandraMHart for a 20% discount on Lighthouse Publishing books!



Sagamite – Confederate Soldier Recipe


Recipes used to be called ‘receipts.’ Confederate soldiers published a fun book of recipes in 1863 called Confederate Receipt Book. I tried their recipe for Sagamite.

Actually, the recipe is called Indian Sagamite because it uses Indian meal. I was unable to find that type of meal at the grocery store.

blog-132Thinking that self-rising meals weren’t something the soldiers had on hand, I chose whole grain corn meal. This meal is a little coarse and grainy—possibly closer to what the Confederates used.

Combine 1 ½ cups of meal and ½ cup of brown sugar.

Those were the only ingredients listed. Since the recipe called for browning it over the fire, I knew something else had to be added to make this into a cake. (Or perhaps they ate it as crumbs, but that seems unlikely.)

I considered adding milk, water, or butter to the mixture. I decided on water because soldiers didn’t often have milk or butter.

I added ½ cup of water. This made it a bit runny, so next time I will add ¼ cup of water to make thicker cakes.

blog-139Add about a tablespoon of shortening to a skillet. Can use more if needed. When shortening melts, fry the cakes for 2 to 3 minutes on both sides over medium heat.

I enjoyed the flavor. It tastes like sweet, fried cornbread.

Soldiers ate small quantities of this while scouting—and probably on long marches. It didn’t require much to appease hunger and had the added benefit of satisfying thirst. I ate half of one of these cakes for lunch and noticed that it satisfied both my hunger and thirst. I ate a few bites of soup only because it was already cooked and didn’t need anything else. I was amazed that such a small amount of food made a meal.

If you try this, I’d love to hear if you had the same experience.

I imagined these cornbread cakes were handy on days of battle and added a scene with Sagamite in my upcoming Civil War novel, A Rebel in My House, that releases in July.

-Sandra Merville Hart


A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.