Today, we have food rations for the soldiers we deploy in warzones and some other remote parts of the world called MRE, which stands for Meal, Ready-to-Eat. They’re not always the best tasting. If anything, they gained the reputation of the opposite. That’s why they were lovingly given alternative meanings like “Meals, Rarely Edible” or “Meals, Rejected by Everyone.” Despite that, they were at least packed with needed nutrients and pretty convenient to prepare. Just rest your flameless ration on a rock or something, heat up your food, and you’re good to go on your merry way trying to survive the conflict.

Things were much different over 100 years ago. Finding sufficient and edible food was part of the challenge. The soldiers had no choice but to resort to whatever they could find to fill their stomachs. The results were some of the wildest recipes that reflect both the creativity and desperation of the Civil War soldiers in the campfire. Here are some of their food during the Civil War.

Sweet Potato Coffee?

Think you could not function without your daily dose of caffeine? The Civil War soldiers thought so, too. Both the Union and Confederate soldiers were avid consumers of coffee, something they would consume during mealtime and after, especially those assigned to be on guard at all hours of the night. Totally relatable.

T THE TELEGRAPHERS- TEXT, YORKTOWN—MAY, 1862 These operators with their friends at dinner. (<a href=",_with_text_by_many_special_authorities_(1911)_(14759773101).jpg">Internet Archive Book Images</a>, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)
T THE TELEGRAPHERS- TEXT, YORKTOWN—MAY 1862 These operators with their friends at dinner. (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for them, the supply of coffee was not always available, be it due to shortages or the blockage of transport by enemy troops. With that, they had to get creative and resort to using substitutions that were on hand: peanuts, chicory, rye, peas, dried apples, anything that they could possibly turn into a cup of joe. The most interesting, perhaps, was the use of sweet potato, which was pretty popular. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into chunks about the same size as coffee berries.
  2. Spread these chunks out in the sun to dry.
  3. Once dried, roast them until brown.
  4. The now crumbly potato chunks can now be grounded.
  5. Mix your potato ground with a bit of water to form a paste.
  6. Add hot water to the paste and wait for the grounds to settle at the bottom of the coffee pot.
  7. Pour into your favorite cup and enjoy!

Sloosh and Slapjacks

Also called coosh, slosh was a meal composed of grease, bacon, and flour cooked in the camps of the Confederate soldiers. To prepare this, the cook would fry a small amount of bacon until all its greasy goodness filled the pan. Next, the flour and water would be mixed until it “flowed like milk.” After then, the mixture would be poured into the grease to create a dirty brown savory mixture. If the soldiers were feeling fancy and the supplies allowed, they would also sometimes add beef or sometimes use crumbled cornbread instead. The now doughy mixture would be rolled into a snake-like shape and wrapped around the ramrod of a musket and cooked over a fire.

John, the Cook, baking slapjacks
John, the Cook, baking flapjacks (George Eastman House, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

The other version of it, which was more a pancake, if you may, was called the “slapjack.” The difference was that less water was mixed to create a flour paste instead before it was “fried” with grease. Once one side was browned, the slapjack would be flipped to cook the other side and then sweetened with sugar or sorghum syrup.

Rice and Molasses

Organically produced blackstrap molasses produced in Paraguay.
Organically produced blackstrap molasses produced in Paraguay. (BadagnaniCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Salt beef, pork, flour, salt, coffee, sugar, and vinegar were some of the common supplies that soldiers were given during the Civil War. Rather than have a military kitchen cooking food for everyone, soldiers were the storehouse, kitchen and cook for their rations. However, as mentioned above, supply routes were often cut by the enemy to prevent the rations from reaching the soldiers, which was often the case for Confederate soldiers. Whenever meat was not available, they would substitute them with a mixture of rice and molasses, sometimes added with cornmeal, too.

Sometimes, they would mix rye and cereal with molasses, too. If you’re wondering how that turned out, let’s just say one soldier’s opinion was that it was “enough to produce deadly illness in any one [sic] who swallowed it, not excepting a Rebel soldier.”

Would you try any of these Civil War food?