Christine’s Chronicles: Catch a Rare Glimpse into What Food was Like During the Revolutionary War – the original article


Savor the Flavor of the Revolutionary War: Spruce Beer, Anyone?

General George Washington enjoyed sipping spruce beer, a revolutionary concoction brewed from spruce twigs, turtle soup and pickled oysters during the Revolutionary War era. In the field, soldiers’ daily menu featured bread, meat, and a “gill” of dry beans as the primary main courses. They also received rations of rum. Ironically, drummers played Reveille to awaken the troops early each morning, a feature of military life that probably did not mix well with the rum.

The common Revolutionary War combo meal of bread and meat almost sounds appetizing. But it quickly loses its appeal upon closer scrutiny. The bread was extremely hard because it was crudely made with only two ingredients, water and flour. Army planners ordered bread to be prepared in this manner so that it would not spoil during long journeys.

Pieces of pork or beef were soaked in salt water, which acted as a preservative. Most soldiers prepared their own meals, so they boiled the meat with the dried beans for quite a lengthy period of time, until some of the salt was boiled out of the meat, and the beans softened.

This salty stew is indicative of the type of food that sustained life during the Revolutionary War.

Drink-wise, soldiers usually drank water from canteens, or rations of rum that were distributed by the officers. When troops were issued rum rations, they were instructed to mix it with water prior to drinking it. Historical records indicate that there were various ways to earn extra rations of rum:

  • Holidays
  • Victories
  • Defeats
  • Extra work performed

For dessert, earthy recipes such as “A Nice Indian Pudding” were all the rage. This recipe is from “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, the first cookbook written and published in America in 1796:

  • “3 pints scalded milk,
  • 7 spoons fine Indian meal,
  • stir together while hot, let stand till cooled;
  • add 7 eggs,
  • half pound of raisins,
  • 4 ounces butter,
  • spice and sugar,
  • bake one and a half hours.”

Other foods that early Americans relied upon heavily include corn, mutton, bacon and corn meal. Meats were frequently smoked or salted and made into jerky. Vegetables and fruits were canned to help settlers and soldiers survive the rough winter months. Fish and small game were caught and immediately cooked to ease consumption of stored food whenever possible.

Many Revolutionary War soldiers’ wives and children were not fortunate enough to remain “at home” because of geographic instability. They often became “camp followers,” a term that evolved because these family members followed the Army whenever it pulled up stakes and transferred to another encampment.

Women helped with laundry, sewing and cooking. Dutch ovens, grills, broilers, large pots and kettles were toted from camp to camp for ongoing food preparation. This level of strenuous effort was put forth because it was imperative that soldiers stayed strong during this history-changing war.

Near cities and towns, settlers had established small farms, where they worked the fields and raised livestock. Crude markets cropped up as farmers began to peddle wheat, hogs and cattle in urban areas, so meat became more accessible to the military as they traveled.

However, one of the drawbacks of becoming a successful farmer was that when there wasn’t enough food to feed the troops, crops and livestock were frequently requisitioned by force.

Congress and the states encountered financial difficulty when trying to supply food to the Continental Army.

George Washington estimated that the army required 20 million pounds of meat and 100,000 barrels of flour each year to meet the nutritional needs of his soldiers.

No word on how many gallons of rum or spruce beer were necessary to win the Revolutionary War. That part is up to our unlimited imaginations. But whatever the amount was, it obviously hit the spot because it helped us quench our thirst for victory.

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