ARTICLE

Hardtack and hominy

Iowa City woman fascinated with Civil War food

Kathrine Moermond of the Old Capital Museum holds up wild chicory as she explains the process of making Chicory ÒCoffeeÓ
Kathrine Moermond of the Old Capital Museum holds up wild chicory as she explains the process of making Chicory ÒCoffeeÓ during a Civil War cooking class Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 at the New Pioneer Co-op in Coralville. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
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CORALVILLE — Kathrine Moermond can probably tell you more about Civil War-era food than those who were alive (and eating it) 150 years ago.

The Iowa City woman is personally and professionally fascinated with foods from the time in this nation’s history when the North and South were divided.

Moermond, who is the education and outreach coordinator for the Old Capitol Museum, discovered her passion for culinary heritage a few years ago when she prepared to teach a pioneer cooking class for children.

“It was during my research for that program that I realized I was in love with the material,” she says. “One cookbook led to another cookbook; one author led to another author.”

After that, she became a frequent visitor to the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections Department, specifically to the Szathmary Collection of Culinary Arts, which contains publications relating to the culinary arts as far back as the 15th century.

As a result of her time in the archives, Moermond knows details about the impact food had on the Civil War, such as how the quality and quantity of food soldiers ate varied based on the support available in different areas.

At a recent sold-out Civil War cooking class at Coralville New Pioneer Food Co-op, Moermond shared stories about how both the Union and Confederate armies struggled to keep their soldiers adequately fed. She demonstrated the preparation of hardtack, Hog ‘n’ Hominy and a Wild Greens Salad while sharing details about field rations.

When soldiers received food, she says, sometimes determined when battles began.

“There were times soldiers wouldn’t go to battle because they were waiting for supplies to be delivered or they were too tired from the lack of food to fight,” Moermond says.

The most common field ration was hardtack, which was designed to withstand field conditions without deteriorating.

At first glance hardtack resembles a thick soda cracker, but its nicknames — sheet iron crackers, soldier’s biscuits, teeth dullers — do its texture more justice.

“The ration was 10 per day per soldier,” Moermond says. “The North contracted with bakers all over to provide hardtack for its soldiers.”

Other rations included salted pork, beans and hominy, which required cooking to make them edible.

“If soldiers could afford it, they’d buy a pan and cook their own food,” Moermond says. “Usually soldiers would form a small group of three and four, pool together their rations and cook together. They’d take turns carrying the pan.”

In choosing which recipes to share with the class, Moermond selected foods that were common on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line with both soldiers and civilians. However, she says the Civil War allowed the country to blend its cooking traditions.

“You had the Union Army in the South, foraging for foods, trying new foods,” she says. “They took some of those recipes home with them after the war.”

The same could be said for the food we eat today.

“Being Americans, we have this amazing food history,” Moermond says. “If we really look back on the history of food in this country, we’d be surprised at all our ancestors did with the simplest ingredients and methods of preparation. Our ancestors were able to survive and thrive, and I think we can learn a lot from what they did and the traditions they passed down.”

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Hardtack

  • 5 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • ½ tablespoon salt

Mix the flour, water and salt together. You may need to add a little more water to bring the ingredients together. Knead into a dough and roll out to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares, and pierce each with a fork several times. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flip over and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until slightly brown.

Source: Recipes adapted from “A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and Gray” by William C. Davis (Stackpole Books; Aug. 1, 2003)

Hog n’Hominy

  • ½ - 1 pound pork, cut into smaller pieces
  • 1 teaspoon lard
  • ½ teaspoon ground rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon ground sage
  • ½ teaspoon ground thyme
  • ½ or 1 whole yellow onion, to taste, freshly diced
  • ½ to 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 14 ½ oz. can hominy, yellow or white, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the pork into small pieces. With hands, rub spices into pork. In a large skillet or cast iron pan, heat lard and brown the pork. Remove pork and leave drippings in the pan. Sauté the onion and garlic in the drippings. Add hominy to pan and stir frequently to heat through. Add a small amount of water if necessary to release any bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Return pork to pan and continue to cook until done, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Source: Civil War Meal with Kathrine Moermond

Wild Greens Salad

  • 2 to 3 slices of bacon
  • ½ yellow onion, sliced
  • ½ to 1 cup oyster mushrooms
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens
  • 1 bunch of watercress

Fry bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove bacon from ban and leave a good portion of the drippings. Sauté sliced onion for a few minutes, and add and sauté the oyster mushrooms until nicely cooked. Remove onion and mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Wilt dandelion greens and watercress slightly in the same pan by sautéing for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat. Place greens on a plate and top with chopped bacon, onions and oyster mushrooms.

Source: Civil War Meal with Kathrine Moermond

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A Civil War Meal with Kathrine Moermond: A sampling of the books Kathrine Moermond researched for her cooking demonstration:

--- Manna: Foods of the Frontier by Gertrude Harris (101 Productions; Oct. 1972)

--- High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris (New York: Bloomsbury; Jan. 4, 2011)

--- The Virginia Housewife, Or, Methodical Cook: A Facsimile of an Authentic Early American Cookbook by Mary Randolph (Dover Publications; Dec. 22, 1993)

--- Starving the South: How the North Won the Civil War by Andrew F. Smith (St. Martin's Press; April 12, 2011)

--- Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding (The University Press of Kentucky; Feb. 10, 1999)   

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