March 10, 2016

Civil War Era Blockade Coffee Recipe

"Everybody had to use parched wheat, parched okra seed or parched raw sweet potato chips for coffee. Not even tea came in. We used sassafras and other native herb teas both daily and at parties when the herb teas were in season. Some were good, but the substitute coffee was not...I liked the okra seed better than any of the coffee substitutes." -Ida Baker,  REMINISCENCES 1937

Civil War Era Blockade Coffee Recipe | This Recipe is a substitution recipe due to the blockade. | World Turn'd Upside Down

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

Coffee has been a staple of the American table since before the Revolution. It the 1800s it was sipped with breakfast along with bread and butter and was even used to treat sick patients. The beans typically came whole and needed to be ground at home. In the armies beans frequently came green and had to be roasted.

When the Civil War broke out, coffee, a long with many other items became difficult to obtain. In July of 1861, the Union Navy had blockaded of all the major southern ports in an attempt to end the war quickly as the south relied on imports. Coffee was also a part of soldiers rations of both the Northern and Southern troops which led to further shortages.

The citizens of the south craving coffee made do with using cornmeal, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicory, cotton seeds, dandelion, okra, and even acorns. (1) Universally people complained of the lack of real coffee and disappointment in the substitutions. Kate Cummings, a Confederate nurse, documented her dismay at the coffee substitutes until she tried sweet potatoes at a friend's house in 1862: "At Mrs. Houghton's We had sweet potatoes as a substitute for coffee, and it was very nice. Mrs. Houghton informed us that she did not intend to use any other kind while the war lasted."

Even in the North, coffee prices soared during the war years and publications printed recipes for coffee substitutes, the most common being, chicory, rye, barley, pea, carrot, dandelion root, and chestnut as well as sweet potato. (2)

The Challenge: Roasts (February 26 - March 10) They’re a staple of the historic table, in many different shapes and forms and types. It’s also a cooking technique. Try a historic recipe for a roast, or a recipe that involves roasting, and tell us how it turned out.

The Recipe: 

"Peel your potatoes and slice them rather thin, dry them in the air or on a stove, then cut into pieces small enough to go into the coffee mil, then grind it. Two tablespoons full of ground coffee and three or four of ground potatoes will make eight or nine cups of coffee, clear, pure and well tasted."
Albany Ga. Patriot, December 12, 1861.

The Date/Year and Region: The New England Farmer published a recipe for it in April 1862.

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)


-Sweet Potatoes


Peel your sweet potatoes. Using a peeler or knife, peel the sweet potatoes into thin strips and lay on a plate or cookie sheet and lay in the sun. Depending on weather it can take 5-10 hours of direct sunlight. Once dry, you should be able to crush the potatoes with your fingers. Break the pieces small enough to grind in a mill or coffee grinder. Grind it up and put into a dry container for storage. When you are ready to make the coffee, use 3 Tablespoons of Sweet potato mixed with 2 Tablespoons of Coffee.  

Civil War Era Blockade Coffee Recipe | This Recipe is a substitution recipe due to the blockade. | World Turn'd Upside Down

Time to Complete: The peeling was quicker than expected, about 20 minutes. The drying took about 6 hours in the sun.

Total Cost: $5 The sweet potatoes shrink significantly. I would get 5x the amount you think you need.

How Successful Was It?: The dried sweet potatoes tasted terrific but I was afraid to try the coffee. The sweet potato did not scare me but I find coffee frightening.

How Accurate Is It?: Pretty accurate. I tasted mine a little bit on the stove top but do not think it's necessary. If you would like to be more accurate, The Confederate Receipt Book (1863) gave the following recipe for a cream substitution " Beat the white of an egg to a froth, put to it a very small lump of butter, and mix well, then turn the coffee to it gradually, so that it may not curdle. If perfectly done it will be an excellent substitute for cream. For tea omit the butter, using only the egg."

1 Porcher, Francis Peyre. Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural: Being Also a Medical Botany of the Confederate States: With Practical Information on the Useful Properties of the Trees, Plants and Shrubs. Charleston: Steam-power Press of Evans & Cogswell, No. 3 Broad Street, 1863.

2 Hall, W. W. Hall's Journal of Health. Vol. 9. New York: Trubner, 1862.


  1. Wow that's fascinating! I had no idea there were so many substitutes for coffee (and sweet potatoes of all things!). I remember when I was first learning about herbs, I excitedly told my mother about how chicory root could be used instead of coffee, and she gave me a super dirty look, and said "that's DEPRESSION coffee. We own REAL coffee now."

    But now I'm curious about trying this! As an actual coffee drinker, I can give you an idea. :-P

    -- Tegan

    1. Hi Teagan!

      I hope people do try it. I will be bringing some to the next reenactment to see how people like it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.
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