The Confederate Housewife, compiled and edited by John Hammond Moore, Summerhouse Press, South Carolina, 160 pages, $14.95.
The antebellum South was a land of plenty. But when the Civil War began, the South’s ability to meet its people’s everyday needs was strained beyond the breaking point. Invading Union armies absorbed the once abundant resources, and the great hordes of Confederate men off fighting these Yankees required vast stores of nonmilitary supplies. Southern women at home made do with what was left. Eventually, however, the shortages became overwhelming. What was a Confederate homemaker to do?
That’s the sort of question The Confederate Housewife, a combined history/cookbook, answers. Using excerpts from Civil War-era books and newspapers that spoke directly to the Confederate housewife, the book explains the shortages these women faced and the ingenious methods they used to circumvent them. Short on coffee beans? Supplement them with acorns or beets. Out of wax for candles? Use lard or mutton suet. Need soap? Use corn shucks or cotton seed. Want to kill some weevils? Burn some brimstone. And here’s a humorous, if less than helpful, hint from the Confederate States Almanac of 1865: “To keep meat from spoiling in summer, eat it early in the spring.”
Some of these recipes and remedies may seem strange by today’s standards; others, horrific (three such “remedies” offer cures for cancer that use turkey figs, sheep sorrel, and dock root). But still others are helpful even today. In any case, The Confederate Housewife offers a rarely seen look at the hardships of war faced by those not directly fighting in it.