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How to Feed a Muster
My Grandmother Bunger’s old cookbook
gives me some ideas how it was done

By Ms. Sharon Combs

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Civil War Mess Kit
Civil War Mess Kit

Back in the 1800’s when a call for volunteers and troops was announced, the men would gather at a specified place on a specified date. This was called a general muster. Tents would be erected; men signed up and got assigned to companies and chores. How do you feed such a large group of several hundred men descending on a small community?

My Grandmother Bunger’s old cookbook gives me some ideas how it was done. This old book, published in 1876, is called Practical Housekeeping and is dedicated “to the Plucky Housewives of 1876, who master their work instead of allowing it to master them.” It covers everything from recipes to ice houses to accidents and sudden sickness to maintaining a cistern.

One of the recipes which states it is over fifty years old (1826) and was formerly used for general muster days, is called ginger bread. Here it is as follows:

"One gallon molasses or strained honey, one and a quarter pounds butter, quarter pound soda stirred in a half tea-cup sweet milk, teaspoon alum dissolved in just enough water to cover it, flour to make it stiff enough to roll out; put the molasses in a very large dish, add the soda and butter melted, then all the other ingredients; mix in the evening and set in a warm place to rise over night. In the morning knead it a long time like bread, roll into squares half an inch thick and bake in bread-pans in an oven heated about right for bread.

To make it glossy, rub over the top just before putting it into the oven the following: one well-beaten egg, the same amount or a little more sweet cream, stirring cream and egg well together. This gingerbread will keep an unlimited time. The recipe is complete without ginger, but two table-spoons may be used if preferred. Always use New Orleans or Porto Rico molasses and never syrups. Soda is used to act on the “spirit” of the molasses."

Now that we have a LOT of gingerbread, we need a recipe for "coffee for one hundred." "Take five pounds roasted coffee, grind and mix with six eggs; make small muslin sacks, and in each place a pint of coffee, leaving room for it to swell; put five gallons boiling water in a large coffee urn or boiler having a faucet at the bottom; put in part of the sacks and boil two hours; five or ten minutes before serving raise the lid and add one or two more sacks and if you continue serving several times add fresh sacks at regular intervals, taking out from time to time those first put in and filling up with boiling water as needed. In this way the full strength of the coffee is secured and the fresh supplies impart that delicious flavor consequent on a few moments boiling."

A note about the eggs added to the ground coffee; mix eggs and crushed shells both with the grounds. This is supposed to help clarify the coffee and to make the grounds drop to the bottom of the pot if used without the muslin sacks.

Now here is the recipe for Hulled Corn, “an old fashioned luxury era 1876,” and how to prepare it. “Take a six quart pail full of hard wood ashes and put them into an iron kettle with three gallons of water. Let them boil about five minutes then set off from the fire and turn in a pint of cold water to settle it. Turn off the lye and strain: put it into an iron kettle and put in six quarts of shelled Indian corn; put it over a brisk fire and let it boil half an hour, skimming and stirring frequently. The outside skin of the kernels will then slip off. Strain off the lye and rinse thoroughly in several clear waters. When the lye is thus weakened turn the corn into a large dishpan and turn in water enough to cover it. Rub thoroughly with the hands till the black chits come off.

Rinse and strain off till the water looks clear then put back into a clean kettle with water enough to cover it. Let it boil, then turn off water, put on again and parboil three or four times. The corn will swell to about double the first quantity. The last time boil till quite soft, adding water occasionally and stirring so as to not burn at the bottom of the kettle. When quite soft, put in two large tablespoons of salt and stir well. Eat this with milk or butter and sugar. It is good hot or cold.”

Today we call this dish hominy. Also, if you let this prepared corn dry, you can then grind it into what we call grits. Many an old cookbook calls corn by the term “Indian corn” because it had been introduced to the European settlers by the Indians.

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