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:

This site uses affiliate links. If you are planning on making a purchase, I would greatly appreciate if you would use the affiliate links above. It doesn't cost you any more but it does help me keep the website running. Thanks!

September 15, 2020

Civil War Era Kids Craft: Paper Boats | How to

What kid doesn't like playing with paper boats? It seems like magic that you can make a boat out of paper and even more so that paper can hold out water! You might find that kids today have never made or have seen paper boats and will find them as exciting and novel as kids in the 1860s and before.  

The instructions call for a piece of paper 6" x 4" but we also had luck with 8.5" x 11" sheets. They can be a little tricky to make so you might have to help the first few times but they'll get it eventually. These instructions are from The Boy's Own Toy-Maker (1859) but can be a little confusing, especially to younger readers. I've included a short video tutorial to try to clear things up a little bit.

Please let me know if you are interested in more Civil War kids activities or if there's a certain game or toy you'd like me to write about. 

These instructions are from The Boy's Own Toy-Maker (1859.) 

September 9, 2020

How to Render Lard and Tallow for Cooking, Soap Making and Cosmetics

In early America, grease pots were a ubiquitous part of a kitchen. Grease was collected during cooking and butchering and was later rendered (made clean), and used to make soap, candles, grease pans, for cooking, and cosmetics. Tallow is the rendered fat of a ruminant and lard is fat from pigs. 

Today, so much good fat goes to waste.   

I'm using fat that my family saved for me from tacos and meatloaf. I don't eat meat so I'm reliant on friends and family whenever I need lard or tallow. My fat wasn't too gross. Yours might have chunks of meat on it, and that's fine for this. Just chop it into pieces and melt.


How to Render Lard

Put your fat in a pan on medium heat and add enough water to cover it.

Add 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of fat.

Heat until melted.

Pour into a sieve over a bowl.

Let the bowl Rest for 24 hours. 

Cut the tallow out of the bowl.

Rinse the tallow under running water.

You can repeat the process a second time with a finer sieve. Freeze in zip lock bags for up to a year. 

In the next few weeks I'll hopefully post a few tutorials on what you can do with rendered tallow. Stay tuned! 

September 2, 2020

Civil War Era Apple Pancakes Recipe

Civil War Recipe for Apple Pancakes

I was very interested to try this recipe as it has molasses, cornmeal, and apples, three flavors that were very common during the Civil War that have since fallen out of fashion. I found the recipe in
The American Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book, 1850. The Housekeeper and Gardener (1858) stated to add "a little more flour than is given to a common pancake batter," so I added a bit more than I would for normal pancakes. 

We served ours with "maple molasses", as it was called then. They were very good. You can barely taste the cornmeal at all. We will be adding these to our regular food rotation. The recipe made about 12 pancakes so I would half it in the future.

Civil War Recipe for Apple Pancakes


- 2 Cups Milk
- 1 Teaspoon Saleratus (Baking Soda)
- 1 Cup Corn Meal 
- 1 Cup Molasses
- 3 Apples, pared and minced 
- 3 +/- Cups Flour
- Fat or Oil for frying


Combine cornmeal, molasses, baking soda,minced apples, and milk. Mix in enough flour to make a slightly thicker than usual pancake batter. Fry in oil on medium heat until solid (about 1 minute). Flip pancakes over. Fry other side for another minute.  

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