Although this article references campfire cooking by soldiers on
campaign, this recipe is well suited for open hearth cooking or
civilian outdoor cooking in a "camp of convenience" setting and roast
corn was popular in our era.
By Vincent A. Petty
Throughout the war one of the most common aspects of the Confederate diet was corn bread or corn meal. This article is intended as a guide to learn how to make corn bread or use corn meal in the field or at an event.
Corn bread should be made at home prior to leaving for an event. I have found that most mixes and receipts are acceptable (I have found that the number of corn bread receipts are incredible) and will give good results but, it will be important to remember that corn bread may be prone to crumbling in the haversack.
Receipts for Corn Bread:
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Mix eggs, milk, and shortening together. Sift remaining ingredients together and add to the eggs, milk and shortening. Pour into a well-greased pan or skillet and bake in a hot oven at 400 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.
½ cup yellow corn
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into a well-greased skillet or 9x9 baking pan and bake in a hot oven (about 400 degrees) for about 20 minutes.
Instead of corn bread there are other options when using corn meal. These can be cooked in the field or even prepared prior to the event. For good results with corn meal in the field I prefer to fist mix 2 parts corn meal with one part flour and use this "mix" in the field. This corn meal and flour mix will give you good results and it will be much more edible. However, the quality of corn meal issued to troops was usually very poor, often having broken up corncob in the meal. Once issued soldiers had to sift their corn meal to make it edible.
Corn Cakes To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar and fry it in a canteen half (make sure you use plenty of bacon grease) until golden brown and a little crunchy.
Hoe cakes To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar. Instead of frying, prop up a canteen half close to the heat of the fire and bake rather than fry (an ideal method when there is no bacon grease available to fry with). By propping up the canteen half very close to the fire you are using it like a reflector to bake with. It is because these corn cakes were often cooked on the blades of hoes and shovels that they were often called hoe cakes.
Ash cakes When no mess gear is available the ash cake is another option for using corn meal. Prepare your dough as you would for hoe cakes or corn cakes. Once prepared wrap up the dough in corn husks, tie the husks closed and bury in ashes and coals of a fire. Allow to bake for about 30 minutes. Following is one soldiers account of baking ash cakes: "The next morning we drew bacon and meal from which the commissary had presses in the country. This was the first food we had had for three days, except the small ration of beef on the day before, but there was not a cooking vessel of any description in the brigade, so we had to make up our dough on boards, pieces of bark or any flat material we could procure. Probably more ashcakes were made in one hour than had ever been made in the same length of time and everybody knows they are hard to beat for bread, but I made an improvement on the style of cooking mine without the unpleasant feature of having it coated with ashes. I found a corn shuck from which the ear had been removed and, making my dough on a broad piece of bark, filled the shuck, tying the end with hickory bark, covered it with hot ashes and coals. My experiment proved a complete success, for when I uncovered it and stripped of the shuck, I had a beautiful 'pone' of bread just the size and shape of an ear of corn and I can truthfully say it was the best bread I have ever eaten before or since." J. P. Cannon, 27th Alabama Infantry.
© Article Copyright, Vincent Petty, 1999-2005. May not be reproduced without the permission of the author.