Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eating Authentically at an Event by Wendi Schroeder- Becky

Wendi Schroeder is a member of Kris, Carrie and I's Civil War reenacting unit, the 21st Michigan. She wrote an article about "eating right"; the perfect foods for reenactments. With convincing of another member, Mr. G, her article was published in Citizens' Companion May/June 2011 issue.

Mrs. Schroeder has been reenacting ever since Ive known her and she strives for accuracy and authenticity. She is one of the fine women I look up to!

Eating Authentically at an Event
Wendi Schroeder

Knowing that it's just as important to get the little things right at a reenactment, taking a look at the food you bring can help improve your impression yet one more notch. Eating according to what was available in a given month can help you come that much closer to being "there".

This doesn't mean that you can't eat very well for the weekend. You can bring a surprising variety of things to camp throughout the year. As an added bonus to eating seasonally, it's cheaper. Things still ripen around the same time every year.
Before I start, please understand the limitations of this article. It's NOT an exhaustive list of everything you can bring, for that you really need to start reading antique cookbooks.
That being said…

Let's start with April. This is the end of the winter season so you would most likely be using up things in the root cellar.
In the meat category, Ham would be very appropriate since it is getting warmer and whatever is left in the smokehouse isn't likely to keep much longer. (I personally suspect that's how Ham for Easter got to be so popular). If you are willing to be a bit more adventuresome there is also lamb and veal (newborn animals that didn't make it were not wasted). Fresh beef maybe but most likely there wouldn't be any left. Salted beef would be much more likely.

For vegetables, you would have the last of the potatoes, winter squash, carrots, onions, dried beans, and perhaps fresh asparagus if you grew it.
There would also be fresh lettuce especially if you had cold frames or hot frames to grow them in.
Pickled items of all sorts would be on the pantry shelves, cucumber pickles, watermelon rind pickles, sauerkraut, pickled peppers, pickled onions etc…

For fruit you would have jellys, jams, and the last of your cellar apples. Raisins would be around, but pay attention to your economic position, as they would have been imported. I can't find evidence that grapes were grown in Michigan during the War, but if anyone has information to the contrary I'd be delighted to see it.
As a side note…this is what you plant in April in Michiganonions, potatoes, peas, lettuce, leeks, cabbage. If you plan your breeding your sow is farrowing and you have piglets to raise. If one doesn't make it you have sucking pig to eat for Sunday.

Ok, moving on to May.
In May you would have eggs, (the chickens are laying again HURRAY). You would also start to see radishes, more lettuce, and new peas perhaps.
May is when the main garden goes in. You plant tomatoes and peppers and beans and corn and squash and pumpkin and melon and cucumbers and whatever else your little heart desires to put into the ground. New chicks are being born about now.

June is when strawberries are in season. Your meat poultry is coming along nicely, but they aren't quite big enough to eat yet. But the laying hens are going gang busters and the cow is giving lots of milk (or the goats). You are still eating lettuce and radishes. This is a great salad month.

This is when you shear the sheep and take the wool in to be washed and carded for spinning…unless you do this all at home. You also plant your cabbage and peas for the fall garden about now.

July: The peas are getting ripe. You have new potatoes (which are very small). Blueberries are in season. You might get some cabbage out now, and the Broccoli is ready to eat. You have some meat chickens (born last fall) that are big enough to eat, so you start butchering them one or two at a time as you want one for dinner. Early raspberries are in now too. It's too hot for the lettuce to be doing well, so it's rather scarce.

August: You are starting to get beans. A melon or two is ripened, and if you planted short season corn it should be coming in towards the end of the month. More potatoes, these are larger, especially if you planted midseason varieties. Tomatoes and Peppers are starting to come in and they pretty much overwhelm you at the end of the month. Peas are in completely and they start to wane early in August. The pigs are growing nicely and you are getting really tired of poultry and salted beef and pork. However, the fish are biting and fresh fish can be had whenever someone has the time to go catch some. You can harvest onions now too, or you can leave them growing until cold weather.

September: This is when you kick yourself for planting a large garden. EVERYTHING is coming in. You put things down cellar and dehydrate a lot of things in the sun, and if you know how and have the jars you put things up in those fancy new mason jars, which requires HOURS of boiling for some things. (Modern note…if you want to try canning do NOT water bath can anything but fruit and tomatoes-botulism still exists.)
Apples are starting to ripen and so are the peaches. Lots of pie right about now.

October: The garden season is finally starting to wind down. You still have beans and late ripening squash, but pretty much everything else is put up for the winter. Apple harvest is in full swing although you probably have all the peaches dried or made into jam already. The pumpkins are finishing up as is the squash. Your late corn is ready to pick and your potatoes are ready to dig up…hurry and do this last before the ground freezes. You have fresh apples and dried apples and apple cider. (Or hard cider if that's your preference.)

November: Butchering time is usually around the third week of the month. Those cute little piglets from spring are nasty tempered ugly hogs and you are glad to see the last of them; although processing one pig takes three days if you have lots of help in the kitchen. You also butcher your beef at this time, and the deer hunters go out to get some venison.

And that takes us to the end of the season. If it seems like this was more about gardening/farming, I chose to structure it this way to illustrate how eating was directly tied to the gardening year and the weather, until refrigeration and international shipping allowed us to eat whatever we wanted to all year round. And there are some exceptions. Larger cities might have access to more fresh meat in the summer since a farmer could sell a whole beef or pig in portions at the Market. The Military would also have more access to fresh meat in the summer since there were enough men to eat a whole animal before the meat spoiled

As I said in the beginning this doesn't cover everything. But if you pay attention at the grocery store to what's on sale and what is listed as locally grown you can get a pretty good idea of what your options are month by month.

You can also get really adventuresome by reading cookbooks, I've read some recipes that I wouldn't even WANT to try, but they are out there for the culinary brave.
Some things I didn't mention (like bread) because they were available year round. Wheat stores very well until its ground into flour. Oatmeal stores very well.
I hope this little paper has been informative. I'm hungry now, so I'm off to the kitchen to find a snack…

I know its a long read, but very informative! I hope you take something into consideration and "eat right" this season!


  1. Where does one find CW era cookbooks? I'd love to read one. Are there reproductions in print?


    1. Amazon is a good place. I had a civil warcookbook. There's a few recipe books from 1830a that would work. There are some on google books.



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