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The Confederate Cookbook: Family Favorites from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, edited by Lynda Moreau, Pelican, (504) 368-1175, 382 pages, $25.

There’s something about the Civil War that makes people want to travel back in time to find out what it was like to be a soldier, a sutler, a homemaker. Every year, thousands of reenactors across the country–and even in countries as far away as Australia–put on wool army uniforms or some other period garb and test their mettle in mock battle or in some other re-created 1860s circumstance.

This method of satisfying the yearning for a Civil War experience requires serious dedication–of time, energy, and money. For those who can’t make that sort of commitment, though, there are other ways to “sample” the period.

My vote goes for tasting food from the time. With a handful of modern ingredients and a recipe handed down from the 1860s, anyone with a heat source and some cooking utensils can whip up more or less the same dish someone could have enjoyed (sometimes not enjoyed) in the 19th century.

The Confederate Cookbook: Family Favorites from the Sons of Confederate Veterans has those authentic recipes–hundreds of them, every one from a descendant of a Civil War soldier. With nothing more than some corn meal, baking powder, milk, eggs, butter, and salt you can throw together more or less the same spoon bread that First Corporal James Henry Hereford, Jr., of the 10th Kentucky Infantry may have eaten at Sunday dinner right before leaving for war. And while you wait for the concoction to cook in the oven, you can read about Hereford’s war experience in the accompanying text:

James H. Hereford, Jr., was captured at the Battle of Ivy Mountain near Prestonsburg, Kentucky. A family member managed to get him paroled near Pikesville, with the proviso that he would no longer support the Confederate cause. After he was safely away from his Federal captors, he promptly reenlisted.

Native Southerners no doubt have grown up with many of these traditional dishes. But few will have tried all of them. And besides, most of the recipes have a family twist to them, so even though you’ve had chocolate cake, odds are you’ve never tried “Mama Hewitt’s Chocolate Cake.”

Carl Zebrowski