January 26, 2016

Civil War Molasses Candy Recipe and Candy Pulls

"Here comes a great paper of candy from Will C. I like it better than his company, for he has been to see me every day, and candy has not. " -Sarah Morgan in 1862

Civil War Era Molasses Candy Recipe | 1860s | World Turn'd Upside Down

"Candy Pulls," "Candy Parties" or "Molasses boilings" were common pastimes in the mid 1800s during the cold winter months. Groups of friends would gather around a pot of boiling molasses or other concoction and wait until it formed threads when a spoonful was dripped in cold water. They would keep stirring until the liquid formed a soft ball when a spoonful was placed in cold water. Finally, they waited until the liquid formed a stiff ball when placed in cold water. This meant it was ready.

The liquid was poured into buttered pans to cool and once there, the party began. Each member of the group would cover their hands in butter and begin to pull on a ball of candy. Pulling and folding, the group joked and gossiped until their balls of candy grew lighter in color. It was now time to form it into its final shape. It could be rolled into ropes and cut with scissors or twisted or braided, or molded into any number of shapes, but many young women preferred to make chain necklaces out of it. Seating around a warm fire with friends and the gingerbread like smell of molasses cooking wafting in the air, a candy pull was a nice break from an otherwise bleak and monotonous winter.

Making candy was mentioned frequently in Sarah Morgan's wartime diary and many letters of the time. In a letter from a Virginian in January 1861, Angus wrote to Kate of his holidays: "Was at a Taffy pulling; had a fine time eating hard Molasses with unwashen handsDid you ever pull any, when you had to spit on your hands to keep it from adhering to them?" Another Virginian, Mollie Houser, wrote to her cousin James "I Just wish you Could have been here we had a taffy stewing one nite they was a Couple of our soldiers home & some of the neighbours Came in & we had a fine time boililing molasses &...taffy."  

The majority of recipes from this time period include only molasses, flavoring and bicarbonate of soda, known now as baking soda as the main ingredients and some recipes suggested that peanuts or blanched almonds might be added. However, The Cook's Own Book (1854) includes the addition of brown sugar and lemon juice which is more similar to recipes today. The recipe did not vary much and was a favorite in shops for those who did not want to make it themselves. A writer for the Southern Literary Messenger (1863) remembered going North for school and couldn't remember much about the food there except to say:

I recollect, though, that the boys had a great passion for molasses candy, which was prepared in the Philadelphia shops—not in little pig-tail twists with a knot at the end and wrapped up in white paper, as the fashion used to be in Lynchburg thirty years ago-but in broad cakes, which the boys used to call by the atrocious name of “belly-wax.

This recipe was cooked for the Historical Food Fortnightly. A yearly challenge that encourages bloggers to cook a historical food every two weeks.

The Challenge: Culinary Vices (January 15 - January 28) Some foods are really, really naughty. Globs of butter, lashings of sugar and syrup, decadent chocolate and wine. Bring out your naughty, indecorous side with foods associated with all the bad things, in the best ways.

The Recipe:

Civil War Era Molasses Candy Recipe | 1860s | World Turn'd Upside Down

The Date/Year and Region: 1850s-1860s United States

How Did You Make It:


- 12 ounces of Molasses
- 1/2 stick of Butter
- 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
- Vanilla, Lemon or Sassafras Flavoring


Before you start, butter a large square casserole dish. Pour molasses in a large saucepan (much bigger than you think you need as it will boil up) on medium-high heat. Boil, stirring constantly until you reach the soft ball stage (240° F) add baking soda and stir until the mixture reaches the hardball stage (250° F). At this point, remove from heat and add the flavoring. Stir in the peanuts or blanched almonds if desired. Pour mixture into the buttered dish to cool. Leave in the dish until it is cool to the touch (5-10 minutes.) Enlist helpers. Once cooled, the candy should move in one globular mass. Divide the mass up and have everyone pull at a piece, fold it over and repeat until the candy turns a lighter brown. Form into ropes and cut small pieces with scissors. Wrap in pieces of wax paper or oiled paper.

Time to Complete: About 30-45 minutes

Total Cost: About $5.00

How Successful Was It?: Very. It has a light, sweet molasses flavor. It photographed dark but is actually an amber color in bright sunlight.

How Accurate Is It?: I used baking soda as in the first recipe instead of carbonate of soda which is today sold as washing soda. If you are interested in making carbonate of soda here's a page on how to do it. 

Civil War Era Molasses Candy Recipe | 1860s | World Turn'd Upside Down

January 22, 2016

Easy Knitting Civil War Scarf / Comforter

Civil War Scarf Pattern- Easy- World Turn'd Upside Down

This pattern is in response to the volume of emails I get every year asking for easy Civil War knitting patterns. Knitting was a popular pastime for women in the 1860s and many were anxious to make the soldiers items to keep them warm on the cold nights. This is a seriously simple scarf pattern "for a gentleman." I thought it would be a nice project for this weekend blizzard.

Civil War Scarf Pattern- Easy- World Turn'd Upside Down

Cast on 36 stitches or a number divisible by 3. I used size 6 needles which are at the bigger end of what was typically used in knitting during the Civil War. Use a heavier DK weight wool like Swish DK from Knitpicks. 2-3 skiens of Swish should be enough. This stitch pattern takes up almost twice as much as a plain knitted scarf.

Row 1: *yo, sl 1, k2tog* Repeat ** until the end of the row.

Knit every row like the first row for about 4 feet. Bind off loosely. Add fringe if desired.

I ended up adding a simple knotted fringe but you could add a simple looped in fringe.  

Civil War Scarf Pattern- Easy- World Turn'd Upside Down

Civil War Scarf Pattern- Easy- World Turn'd Upside Down

Civil War Scarf Pattern- Easy- World Turn'd Upside Down

January 14, 2016

Civil War Era Potato Chip Recipe

This recipe was cooked for the Historical Food Fortnightly. A yearly challenge that encourages bloggers to cook a historical food every two weeks. The challenge this week was "Meat and Potatoes" and mid 18th century potato chips fit both those categories. Being made with bacon grease, the chips from this recipe are fragrant, with a smoky bacon smell and a crunch that modern chips can't compete with.

The origins of potato chips are vague. Many people have claimed to have invented them when they became popular around the time of the Civil War, but recipes for similar dishes have been printed as far back as The Cook's Oracle (1822) with its recipe for “Potato Fried in Slices or Shavings." Recipes for them were printed on both sides of the Atlantic and a recipe for them even appeared in Godey's Lady's Book in 1865.

Today chips are known for being a side dish to a meat dish and this has historically been the case. A Manual of Domestic Economy (1856) suggested potato chips go out with the second course along with partridges and lobster. The Modern Cook (1858) suggested they be served with roasts and ptarmigans, a grouse like bird. The New England Farmer, and Horticultural Register (1847) recounted a trip through Mississippi where the author was offered "jerked venison and potato chips." The potato chips in this case being made from sweet potatoes but still being served with meat.

Civil War Era Potato Chips

The Challenge: Meat-and-Potatoes (January 1 - January 14) They’re a staple for the tables in the most rustic cottages as well as the fanciest banquet tables - and it’s also an idiom meaning a staple or the most basic parts of something. Make a historic “meat-and-potatoes” recipe - however you interpret it.

The Recipe:

The Date/Year and Region: London, England, though similar recipes were also printed in the U.S. around the same time.

How Did You Make It:


- Potatoes or sweet potatoes
- Bacon grease or oil
- Salt


Skin the potatoes then peel them in long strips in the same way you would pare an apple. Put the strips in a bowl filled with cold salt water until you are finished peeling. Remove the pieces and let them dry on napkins. You can blot the tops of the strips carefully. In a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, heat the grease or oil. The grease is ready to fry in when you put a small piece of chip in and it bubbles. Drop in as many pieces as you can without overcrowding them. Stir constantly with a long handled metal spoon or they will stick to the pan. Fry 3-5 minutes. The pieces will shrink and float but wait until the edges are a little brown before removing. Place fried chips on a sieve to let dry. Sprinkle with salt as they are placed on the sieve.

Time to Complete:
30 Minutes

Total Cost: A few dollars.

How Successful Was It?: Better than I expected.

How Accurate Is It?: For my personal chips I fried in oil as I don't eat meat but my family had the bacon fat variety.

January 6, 2016

Day Trip: Fort Delaware *Warning Photo Heavy*

"There is much sickness; the small-pox is prevailing, and many are dying daily. Some are allowed to cook their own rations, but the balance have to eat in the dining room, which is a fair representation of that hell hole, Fort Delaware." --Griffin Frost

Fort Delaware, Civil War,

I've been waiting forever to write this post! It's no secret that I visit a lot of historical sites, but I have to admit that right now, my favorite Civil War site is Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in Delaware City, Delaware and it breaks my heart that historically minded people are surprised to hear that it's still there and not a long lost place they read about in books.The great news is not only is it still there but it's open to the public!  

Pea Patch Island is a small, marshy island located on the Delaware River. It has been the site of 3 forts going back to the early 1800s due to its strategic position near the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The current fort, the bulk of which was finished in 1860, is a massive, pentagonal structure with looming 32 foot granite walls and a moat. Although originally built for defense of the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia, the fort was repurposed as a POW for captured Confederates, political prisoners and Federal troops sentenced for crimes.

Ferry to Pea Patch Island, Fort Delaware
Ferry to Pea Patch Island
Fort Delaware State Park Civil War

When standing on the banks of the Delaware, the fort is menacing and appears not far off. Amidst the seagull caws you can hear the voices of onlookers claiming "I could swim that." The reality is that it's farther away than it looks. In modern times, you take a ferry to reach the island, in the 1860s the majority of men who thought thought they would take their chances trying to swim across, were swept under by the strong currents.

Fort Delaware Civil War Birds
Docking at the Island.
Fort Delaware State Park Nature
Tram once you land on Pea Patch.
Birds at Fort Delaware
Birds flying to the island.

Fort Delaware Civil War

Civil War Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware Bat Tours

Fort Delaware

In the early days, prisoners were kept inside the fort but as prisoners outnumbered guards and crowding became a problem, barracks were build outside the walls of the fort for the prisoners and only officers and Federal troops were kept in the fort for protection. Confederate prisoners taken after the Battle of Gettysburg were sent to Fort Delaware and prisoner numbers soared to 11,000 shortly after the battle.

In total, more than 40,000 Confederates were held on the island. According to the Fort Delaware Society, almost 3,000 Confederates died there as well as 39 civilian POWs and 109 Federal soldiers. Many of the deaths occurred during an outbreak of smallpox in 1863 and other illnesses. There were only 5 reports of drownings and 7 who died of gunshot wounds. While the living conditions were not as bad as some other POW camps at the time, the summers could be hot, muggy and mosquito infested and the sheer number on inmates on the tiny island made cramped conditions inevitable. Men were fed 3 light meals a day until 1864 when their rations were cut in retaliation for poor POW camp conditions in the Confederacy.

Cannon Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware

The island today would be unrecognizable to the men held there during the Civil War. It is currently a quiet nature preserve where you can see ibises, osprey and heron as the island is an important nesting area as more and more habitat is destroyed. The fort is also home to many bats who enjoy the dark cavernous walls as a hibernation destination. The bats of the fort are sadly infected with White-Nose Syndrome, a disease responsible for killing millions of bats in the last few years. You see many more animals than people and touring the island is much more like strolling along the beach than visiting a POW camp. Along with the wildlife you can take tours of the fort, see living historians doing daily 1860s tasks such as laundry and blacksmithing as well as specialized history tours and demonstrations. If you visit it is worth it to try and get a $5 "Behind the Scenes" tour if you can.

Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware

Cannon balls at Fort Delaware

Reenactors at Fort Delaware

Officer's quarters Fort Delaware
The officers quarters are nicely furnished. 

Barracks Fort Delaware
Recreation of the Prisoner's Barracks. 
barracks at Fort Delaware
Inside Recreation of Prisoner's Barracks 

Fort Delaware Graffiti
Soldier's graffiti can be found throughout the fort.
The island has its share of purported paranormal activity and lore. One of the stories I heard was of a drummer boy who tried to escape by hiding in a coffin but accidentally got buried alive. I looked into how plausible this story was as it didn't make sense to me that one could escape this way if the dead were buried on the island as some were. It turns out that many men were buried in New Jersey at Finn's Point National Cemetery. In fact, the men who remained at the fort were reinterred at Finn's Point after the war in 1875. The spirit of this boy supposedly still wanders the fort and tugs on people's clothing.

Another story of escape involved a Florida man who was part of a Union practical joke only to turn the joke around on the pranksters. The Union soldiers thought it would be funny to watch some southerners to try to ice skate on the frozen Delaware River. The Florida man did some dramatic and entertaining falls until out of range of the guard's rifles, then skated right across the river to freedom. I likewise investigated whether this story could be true and the Delaware does indeed freeze over some years. Regardless if these two stories are true, there were thousands of escape attempts and 273 confirmed escapes.1  Many of the failed escape attempts are used to explain the various apparitions, mysterious tugs and paranormal experiences at the fort.

Ghost Tours Fort Delaware
The stars from inside the fort.
Ghost Tours Fort Delaware
Time lapse of visitors holding flashlights during the Ghost Tours.

While ghost stories are at the tip of everyone's tongues at the fort, my research implies the fort has bigger problems. When reading about the re-internment of the soldiers buried on Pea Patch Island, I came across an odd report that stated "On opening the trenches & graves it was found that there had been interred 135 Union and 209 Confederates; and of these, 22 coffins though well preserved, were found to contain nothing."  

A coincidence? I think not. 

Missing bodies, lots of bats? Clearly, the fort has vampires. I know I gawked when Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter came out but maybe it's not such a stretch. :) All kidding aside, it really is a treat to see the fort at night and the fort gives night tours during the month of October. I hope everyone enjoyed the post and can get out to see the fort! It really is a great place to learn about history and nature.   

For schedules, tickets and tour info:

To find out more about the fort and the soldiers sent there, visit: the Fort Delaware Society

January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

I blinked and another year has gone by.

I was fortunate to be able to spend my year with family and friends through the good times and the bad and hope everyone else was as fortunate and will be in the coming year!

I love New Years as it really gives me a time to sit down and think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year and this year that means more posts and more reading books. I spent most of 2015 reading magazines and stuff on the internet but want to change that in the coming year. Books are better for the brain.

I urge everyone to try and pick up this New Year's resolution as there are tons of benefits to reading actual books in our media over-saturated world where thousands of things vie for your attention every minute. Reading books relieves stress, help with depression and anxiety, and can make you happier in general. Although, I'll never give up reading blogs, I have to get more books in this year. :)  

I'm going to keep this post short but, as always, I am thankful for my friends and readers and all the joy that blogging has brought me in the last year and can't wait to see what it will bring us in the new year. If you have a resolution this year, I'd love to hear it in the comments!

Some past New Year's Posts:

Why do we watch a giant ball drop on New Year's Eve?

1850s Shortbread Recipe for New Years.

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