November 11, 2020

Civil War Cider Cake Recipe

Clifton, Va
Sept. 18, 1864

[79th Regiment, New York Infantry] Dear Mother;
Punch would find rare pickings in the army. The everyday jokes and incidents of campaign life are rich enough. The other day in a cavalry charge the enemy broke and a rebel soldier was chased into a fence corner whence he could not escape. "I surrender! I surrender!" he cried to the pursuing trooper. "What do you think of the old flag now!" replied the soldier aiming a cut at him. The men in the ranks get off many a good thing. It is curious to see what a zest some of them take in man hunting, skirmishing, scouting and the like. They are as much pleased when they bring down an opponent as a successful sportsman with his bird. Everything has remained in its usual quiet since I last wrote. We have a most beautiful little camp for Headquarters, and are quite comfortable. I have gone to the length of building a stable for my horses, and if we don't move soon shall think about building a chimney for my tent. We have plenty of grapes peaches and apples and I found some sweet cider a few days ago. So you see we are very well off, as fare as physical comfort goes. General Grant, U. S. is here, which looks like action. Probably to see what is doing and whether any force can be spared to reinforce his army at Petersburg. As for McClellan, he will make a worse failure as a politician than as a soldier. I think his army strength is all gone. Few are left of his old army and they have changed in their feelings towards him to some extent. Nowadays they are making everybody Brevent Major General.

Tit-Bits (Boston) 1864

Civil War Cider Cake Recipe


- 5 Cups Flour
- 3 Cups Sugar
- 1 Cup Butter (2 Sticks)
- 5 Eggs
- 2 teaspoons Baking Soda (2 Tablespoons Baking Powder) 
- 2 Cups Cider 
- Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Ginger (To Taste) 


Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cream 1 cup of butter with 3 cups of sugar. Beat in your eggs. Dissolve the baking soda in the cider and add to the mixture. Pour the liquid ingredients on the dry ingredients and spice to taste. Bake in a greased pan until a toothpick comes out clean (30-60 minutes.)   

This recipe makes enough for two 8 inch cake pans. 

November 3, 2020

What is Election Cake? | Colonial Recipe | Amelia Simmons, 1796

Colonial Recipe Election Cake

Many cookbooks include a recipe for Election Cake. What is it? The hallmark of an election cake recipe is the enormous batch size. Some of the finished cakes weighed over 10 pounds. In the 1700s, Election Cake was a yeast leavened cake with prunes or other dried fruits, intended to feed dozens of people. Sometimes they were made of soft gingerbread. Regardless of the ingredients, Election Cake was frequently served with cider. 

Election Cake seems to be derived from "Muster Cake." In the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, some men were expected to attend military musters for training and were supplied with cake and cider as a reward. In the late 1700s, Election Day was new and a day of celebration. Eligible men who made the trek out to vote were given cake, cider, and alcohol outside of the polls and at parties.   

This recipe is from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the second edition published in 1796. This book is known for being the first known American cookbook. The full recipe makes a lot of cake. It contains 30 cups of flour and 36 eggs! I cut the recipe by about 1/7! The recipe also assumes you're cooking in the 1700s and that it will take 24 hours for your sponge to rise. It took me about 45 minutes in my 21st century oven. Likewise, if your house is heated in November, you won't have to cream the butter for 30 minutes. When I make this again (even the family liked it) I'll probably add a cup of crushed walnuts.  


Colonial Recipe Election Cake

Colonial Election Cake


- 4 Cups Flour
- 1 1/2 Sticks Butter 
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 1/4 Cup Raisins, Prunes, or other dried fruit, chopped
- 2 Eggs
- 2 Tablespoon Wine
- 2 Tablespoons Brandy
- 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon Coriander seed  

- 2 Tablespoons Yeast (1 Packet)
- 1 1/2 Cups Warm Milk 


Combine your flour, milk, and yeast, cover with a warm, wet cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and butter until smooth. Add the eggs, spices, brandy, and wine and mix until combined. Pour the butter mixture into the dough and mix (with your hands, if necessary). Mix in the fruit.  Pour into greased pans and bake 45-60 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 F. Let cool then cover and let sit for a day.   


Humble, Nicola. Cake: a Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2010.

Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery; or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to This Country and All Grades of Life. . 2nd ed. Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1796.

Stradley, Linda. “Election Day Cake History and Recipe,” November 3, 2020. 

The above link to American Cookery is an affiliate link. Thank you for helping me keep the fires going!

October 8, 2020

Civil War Era Honey Soap | Tutorial | How To

Civil War Soap Recipe

Honey soap was a popular soap before and after the war. It was known for and its supposed "skin whitening" properties. This recipe contains honey but at the time, writings suggest that some honey soaps didn't contain honey at all. 

 I found this recipe in The Confederate Receipt Book; however, the recipe was printed almost verbatim from The New Household Receipt Book, (1853) by Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. I am always interested in the ingenuity of humans in reduced circumstances and was curious if this recipe made a decent soap or was a war-time, makeshift recipe. 

Civil War Soap Civil War Soap Recipe


Other recipes of the time mention annatto for coloring so I added a bit to give it a nice honey color.  I also chose bergamot as the scent as the recipe for Honey Soap from The Druggist's General Receipt Book (1853) called for Windsor soap which was frequently scented with bergamot and caraway. Another contemporary recipe called for cinnamon oil. The 1866 printing of the Druggist's General Receipt Book changed the scent in their recipe for honey soap to oil of citronella. 

Civil War Era Honey Soap Recipe 


- 2 Pounds White or Yellow Soap (Castile, Tallow, Lard)
- Water
- 1/4 Cups Honey
- Essential Oil ( Read the warnings on your oil.) 


Shred, chop or grind your soap. Add the soap and a little water in a double boiler (or straight over the heat making sure you keep it below 230 degrees F until melted or in "mashed potato" form). Add the honey, colorant, and essential oil and stir until combined. Pour or scoop into a silicone mold or any container lined with waxed paper. Let cool until hard. Slice the soap to the size you want and let cure in a warm dry place for at least a week.   

Civil War Soap Recipe
The Manchester Journal (Vermont) 25 Jun 1861


Affiliate Links:

Soap Flakes : If it's your first time melting soap, soap flakes make it easy.

Annatto:  If you want to use annatto, make sure to place it in a coffee filter and into the honey overnight and remove before using, unless you want flakes like my soap. 

Soap Colorant: If you want to use a modern colorant. 

Bergamot Oil: Cinnamon oil, Citronella, Bergamot, Rose were common soap scents during the war but in modern times, cinnamon oil can be an irritant so I would not recommend it for beginners. 

September 30, 2020

Civil War Popcorn Balls Recipe

Civil War Recipes Popcorn Balls

Sept 21st

After supper last night, by way of variety Anna, Miriam and I came up to our room, and after undressing, commenced popping corn, and making candy in the fireplace. We had scarcely commenced, when three officers were announced, who found their way to the house to get some supper, they having very little chance of reaching Clinton before morning, as the cars had run off the track. Of course we could not appear; and they brought bad luck with them, for our corn would not pop, and our candy burned, while to add to our distress the odor of broiled chicken and hot biscuits was wafted upstairs, after awhile in the most provoking way. In vain we sent the most pathetic appeals by each servant, for a biscuit apiece, after our hard work. Mrs Carter was obdurate until tired out with messages, she at last sent us an empty jelly cup, a shred of chip beef, two polished drumsticks, and half a biscuit divided in three. With that bountiful repast we were forced to be content, and go to bed.

-Southerner, Sarah Morgan, September 21st, 1862.

This recipe is for the most basic, old fashioned popcorn balls. In the 1860s, popcorn balls were a popular treat bought from street peddlers or "candy boys".  Sometimes the balls were dyed red or other colors.  Sorghum and corn were two of the few things the south had during the war years. Shortly after the war there were a few purported children's deaths due to poisoned popcorn balls in newspapers. Whether they actually happened or were just to discourage children from eating them is unknown. 

This is a fun recipe to cook as a group over a fire and kids enjoy making and eating the balls. I used a mixture of honey and molasses for my popcorn balls but experiment and find what you like. You can also use a simple syrup made from sugar. 

Civil War Recipes Popcorn Balls
The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia (1861)

Old Fashioned Civil War Era Popcorn Balls


- 16 Cups of popped Popcorn (1/2 Cup of un-popped kernels) 
- 2 Cups Syrup ( Sorghum, Molasses, Honey, Maple) 
- Butter or oil for coating hands.


Boil your syrup in a medium saucepan until it reaches 235°F (soft ball stage). Pour the syrup over the popcorn and mix in with a spoon. Let cool until you can touch it with your hands. Coat your hands in butter, scoop up some popcorn and press it into balls. Let sit overnight if yo want to keep the ball shape or eat straight away. 

The Union, Delaware, 08 Sept. 1865

The Gallipollis Journal, Ohio, 29 Oct. 1863

Bangor Daily, Maine, 10 Jan 1865

Bangor Daily, Maine, 09 Jan 1864

Civil War Recipes Popcorn Balls

September 23, 2020

18th Century Wash-Balls: Scented Body Soap | How To

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

Bathing in colonial times evokes images of dirty rags and lard soap. In reality is there were many scented, colored, and augmented soaps available at perfumers and many receipts (recipes) to scent pre-made soap at home. 

I made these wash-balls with castile soap that I made over a full year ago so it has had plenty of time to cure. If you're interested in knowing more about castile soap, I've written quite a bit about it here.  All you need to know for this is that castile is an olive oil based soap, used in the 18th century for shaving and washing as is has a decent lather (for the time period.)

Castile soap can be bought online or in grocery stores. You can also use whatever you have lying around. They did have different color wash-balls but the coloring agents are not something I feel safe putting on my skin in modern times.  I'll update this post with how to color your wash-balls in a safe manner. I'm thinking "melt and pour colorant" is the best bet. 

Other recipes of the time called for rice flour, starch, or hair powder in 1/2 proportion to the soap to stretch it and to add color and extra scents. Hair powders came in white, orange, brown, gray, pink, red, blue and lavender. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

18th Century Wash-Balls


- Pre-made Soap
- Rose or other Flower Water (Other recipes from the time period suggest lavender, coriander, cloves, jasmine, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel, lemon juice, orange flower water, musk.)

1. Shred, grate, bash, crush, buy pre-masticated or take up the relaxing art of soap shaving. A large mortar and pestle would work best.

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

3. Heat up your soap in a double boiler, in the hot sun or just use the heat from your hands. You want the soap soft but not melted.  Add your scent liquid or water if you don't want to add a scent. (Don't do this with essential oils they will burn your skin.) Stir until well mixed. I did not heat mine, but heated up my rose water. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

4. Wet your hands and grab a handful and squeeze it into a ball. Add as much liquid as you need to get it to stick together. You want the balls as compacted as possible. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

5. Let them dry in ball form for a week. You can scrape the outsides with a knife or peeler to make them smoother.

Castile really is great for shaving. I'm excited to try it out now that it's scented. This is a great activity to do with kids, unlike soapmaking which can be dangerous.

If you want to buy premade soap flakes and waters I recommend the products below:

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