The Civil War: Lack of Coffee Lead to Many Ersatz Substitutes

Traumatic times led to many substitutes for missing foods, such as an ersatz coffee made from parched corn.

| Good Old Days

Grandmother was a young lady of 16 in 1861. She passed along memories of those traumatic times to her youngest son. Grandmother told about the many things they experimented with as coffee substitutes. Coffee was scarce, and when it was available, it was too expensive. They parched corn or other grains and baked them until nearly black before the grains were ground and boiled for ersatz coffee. They even tried roasted acorns, but those needed much soaking and leaching to remove the bitter acids from the final drink.

She mentioned the lack of good flour. The best flour was sent to the Army. They struggled to make edible breads from less desirable grains. Corn pones or journey cake made with coarse cornmeal, water and no leavening was a mainstay in their daily fare.

She told of a star formation that appeared as a great "W" in the sky. In those days, people were very superstitious. It is likely they saw what they wanted to see. Everyone took it as a sign that a great war threat hung over the land.

Many community young men were leaving to join the Union forces. Their young friends decided to have a last "play party" to honor them. The girls made great preparations, combining all the goodies they could manage to hoard for gingerbreads, corn cakes, molasses and sugar cookies, and vinegar sling to drink.

They held their party at the largest home available, where they sang and danced to old-time folk tunes and sing-song games. A zealous minister heard about the party and broke it up with exhortations against their sinful playing. Because of that, Great-Grandfather vowed never to attend that church again.

Grandmother was an expert stocking and mitten knitter. She made countless pairs to send to friends and relatives in the Army. Her clothing was all stitched by hand, and all worn garments were taken apart, turned wrong side out and re-sewn to look newer.

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