Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Pennsylvania IV - The War Between the States, Installment II (or "You call this sheet iron!?")

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and in a counterpoint to the final Mississippi post recreating of a lovely Confederate hors d'oeuvre featuring bacon-wrapped oysters on horseradish-covered toast, we cross the Mason-Dixon Line one final time to explore the not-so-glorious provisions found in the mess kits of Yankee soldiers all around Gettysburg.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
State Nicknames: The Keystone State, The Quaker State
Admission to the US: December 12, 1787 (#2 - Delaware beat 'em to the punch)
Capital: Harrisburg (9th largest)
Other Important Cities: Philadelphia (largest), Pittsburgh (2nd largest), Allentown (3rd largest), Erie (4th largest)
Region: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsMaple SyrupClambakeCrabcakeChestnutWild Rice
Bordered by: Maryland & the Mason-Dixon Line (south), West Virginia (southwest), Ohio (west), Lake Erie (northwest), New York (north & northeast), New Jersey & the Delaware River (east), Delaware (southeast)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (animal), milk (beverage), ruffed grouse (bird), chocolate chip cookie (cookie), brook trout (fish)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: German & Amish foods; Polish & Eastern European foods; pretzels, water ice, hoagies & Philly cheese steaks (particular to Philadelphia); city chicken, halupki halušky, chipped ham, kielbasa (particular to Pittsburgh); scrapple; Hershey's chocolates; birch beer; Herr's Potato Chips, Hanover Pretzels & (yes) Utz Potato Chips; people (if you're an extra in a George Romero movie, that is - the big ones were all filmed near Pittsburgh)

As the website points out, the Northern army was better funded than the Southern one, and that included its wartime provisions.  That isn't to say that rations were particularly edible - today's MRE's are gourmet meals compared to what the military was forced to eat a century and a half ago.  And without our fancy freeze-drying technology, soldiers needed things that would last a while.  The website describes what both Yankee and Secesh had to deal with in their messkits.
Choices of what to give the troops was limited as they did not have the conveniences to preserve food like we have today. Meats were salted or smoked while other items such as fruits and vegetables were dried or canned. They did not understand proper nutrition so often there was a lack of certain foods necessary for good health. Each side did what they could to provide the basics for the soldiers to survive. Because it was so difficult to store for any length of time, the food soldiers received during the Civil War was not very fancy and they did not get a great variety of items. [, date unknown]
Enter hardtack.

Ah yes, the incredible, edible... er, edible?  Semi-edible hardtack.  This little brick of flour in the form  of a cracker was desiccated to ensure that it didn't rot en route to the soldiers.  This was a plus for the Union soldier because it could last for months - and often didn't get to him until a few months had passed.  The problem was eating it: it was hard, like a piece of stone, and all you had to do was bite it the wrong way to break a tooth.  And who in the dickens wanted to see a 19th century dentist!? ***shudder***  As the ACW website notes [date unknown], hardtack was even nicknamed "tooth duller" or "sheet iron cracker" for this very reason.  Even worse, if somehow it had gotten moist anyway, you could even expect to find the occasional weevil squirming around on it.  Ah, fun.  Mind you, you could moisten it with some water yourself and fry it up in some bacon fat.  The soldiers called this "skillygallee" [, date unknown].

Curious to try and at least make this historical MRE (or MRBYTO - Meal Ready to Break Your Tooth On), I went ahead and made some myself.

The Recipe: Hard Tack

The recipe is very basic: some variation of flour, water and salt, occasionally fat, and that's it.  The version on suggests Crisco or vegetable fat.  The recipe I used is on page 28 of the Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook [2004], from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the editors of Stackpole Books.  It is even less complicated than that.

All you will need are unbleached flour (I wasn't sure if bread flour was bleached or not, but the all-purpose sure was, and this said nothing about it), salt and warm water.

Mix the dry ingredients, all two of them.

Slowly add the water and mix (use a spoon - it's not as messy)  until not too sticky but not too dry.

Next roll it out until it's about 1/2 - 3/8" thick.

Yes, I used the parchment paper sandwich again.  Make sure you flour both the bottom parchment and the dough first.

If you don't (oops), it just becomes one big mush of dough stuck to both sheets and you will have to throw it out.  At least you still have all of the ingredients to start again.

There, that's better.

Transfer to a baking sheet and cut into squares about 3 or 4 inches to a side.  Cheat and use a pizza cutter if you don't want to get all "authentic" about it.

I wasn't planning to make a whole lot of these things here.

Poke holes in each piece, about sixteen, using a dowel or (in this case) a chopstick.

And now you're ready to bake them.  This will take a while.

Put them in a 400°F oven until they just begin to brown.

Next, turn the oven down to 200° and bake for two hours.  Finally, turn the oven off and leave in overnight. Now they should keep for months.

Tada!  These things are hard.  Hard, hard, hard. I must admit, I haven't tried to eat these yet.  I was more curious to see how long they held up than what they tasted like.  Perhaps I'll store it with that pemmican from Montana and see which lasts longer.

- - - - -

Like hardtack, our final Keystone State post is done.  Now for those of you keeping track, the next state in alphabetical order is right up Interstate 95. But Rhode Island will have to wait just a wee bit longer, wee state that it is.  First we are taking a segue to the Caribbean, and the largest US territory-not-a-state off our coast.  It's time to visit Puerto Rico, with nary a Menudo record in sight.


Amish America.  "What do Amish eat?"  Copyright 2010 Amish America, All rights reserved.

Amish Homestead Cookbook.  Tourist cookbook, date of publication unknown.  "American Civil War Recipes: Union Hardtack and Confederate Johnnie Cakes".  Date unknown.  Copyright 1997-2012, maintained by Central Design Lab. All articles are public domain and clearly credit and link to the author when possible.

Batz, Bob, Jr. "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'".  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012.  Copyright ©1997-2012 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved.

Brieda, Luboš.  "Potato Dumplings (Halušky)".  Slovak Cooking, posted November 3, 2009.  Updated March 24, 2010.  Copyright 2009-2011 Slovak Cooking.  "Slicing Ribeye roast for philly cheese steak".  Discussion on "Home Cooking" board, Thread started September 6, 2008.

Pat's King of Steaks. "Pat's King of Steaks Philadelphia Cheese Steak".  Featured on the episode "Best Sandwiches" of the show The Best Of.  Food Network, 1999.

Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.  "Pennsylvania Amish history & beliefs".  Copyright 2012 Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, site maintained by Cimbrian.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  Pennsylvania Cookbook Trail of History.  From the Editors of Stackpole Books and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, foreword by William Woys Weaver.  Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, PA, 2004. ( "How to Make Haluski (Cabbage and Noodles)"  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012  All rights reserved.

Robinson, Douglas.  "City Chicken".  Recipe in I Grew Up in Southwestern Pennsylvania: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up in the Pittsburgh Region.  Recipe featured in the article "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'" by Bob Batz, Jr. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012)

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Pennsylvania" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Pennsylvania".