The Hellfire Stew Mess


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SOUPS FOR TWO MEN - Camp Soup. - Put half a pound of salt pork in a saucepan, two ounces of rice, two pints and a half of cold water, and, when boiling, let simmer another hour, stiring once or twice; break in six ounces of biscuit [hardtack]; let soak ten minutes; it is then ready, adding one teaspoonful of sugar, and a quarter one of pepper, if handy.
Beef Soup. - Proceed as above, boil an hour longer, adding a pint more water.
[Those who can obtain any of the following vegetables will find them a great improvement to the above soups: Add four ounces of either onions, carrots, celery, turnips, leeks, greens, cabbage or potatoes, previously well washed or peeled, or any of these mixed to make up four ounces, putting them in the pot with the meat. The green tops of leeks and the leaf of celery as well as the stem, for stewing are preferable to the white part for flavor . . .]

From The Military Hand-Book and Soldier's Manual of Information, by Louis LeGrand, M.D. (Beadle & Co., New York, 1861).

BAKED BEANS. - If on the march, and you have not time to bake beans for dinner, you can have them for breakfast. Let them boil until soft, in two waters. In the first water put a teaspoonful of soda to a quart of beans; when they have cooked in this twenty or thirty minutes, pour it off, and add another water, enough for them to swell in until soft. Do this in the evening; before bed-time, put the beans in a pan, with a chunk of pork in the middle, and a little salt and pepper to season, and let them stand where they will bake slowly through the night - in a slow oven, if you have a cooking stove; if not, in hot ashes, with some coals or heated stones on the cover of the pan. They will be ready for breakfast; and this is the real Boston way of eating beans of a Sunday morning.

From The Military Hand-Book and Soldier's Manual of Information, by Louis LeGrand, M.D. (Beadle & Co., New York, 1861).

To Fry any kind of Meat.

Get your frying-pan very hot, put in some fat pork which will immediately melt, then put in the meat you wish to fry, (a small teaspoonful of salt and a quarter of a teaspoonful of pepper to every pound of meat.) When done, lay the meat on a dish, add a pint of water to the fat in the frying-pan, a few slices of onions, or 2 teaspoonsful of vinegar; thicken it with a little flour and pour it over the cooked meat. Any sauce, or a few chopped pickles, may be substituted for the vinegar or onions.

From Hand-Book for Active Service: Practical Instructions in Campaign Duties for the Use of Volunteers, by Egbert L. Viele (D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1861).

Folks "don't know beans" until they are cooked and eaten out of doors. Only once I saw them "ground baked." How? Well, dig a hole or trench, in it build a big fire, leave it all coals, put on top hot ashes, then kettles of beans. Then cover with twigs, grass, earth; let 'em stay ten hours, and then! Why doesn't Dr. [Oliver Wendell] Holmes crown his last laughing days with a serious poem on beans? That succulent, reviving muscle-building, brain-empowering vegetable!

From A History of the Eighth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers by John M. Stanyan (Ira C. Evans, Concord, N.H., 1892).


Hash should never be made of dry, stale, or gristly meat. The common habit of using meat unfit to be eaten, and old boiled or baked potatoes, in making hash, has created a just prejudice against it. Take savory bits of meat that may be left, and such other meat as can be spared for the purpose, and slices of raw potatoes; chop very fine; stew with just enough water to cook until thoroughly done; add salt. pepper, butter, and a little milk paste. If butter or milk cannot be obtained, add some of the gravy in which beef has been boiled, which, if properly stewed down and kept, will be a good substitute. A few onions added would be relished by most soldiers.

Muttom hash may be made in the same way.

From A Collection of Recipes for the Use of Special Diet Kitchens in Military Hospitals by Annie Wittenmyer (U. S. Christian Commission, 1864).


["Coosh," "Slosh," or "Cush"]

Now the question is, how to do the largest amount of good to the largest number with the smallest amount of material? . . . The meat is too little to cook alone, and the flour will scarcely make six biscuits. The result is that "slosh" or "coosh" must do. So the bacon is fried out till the pan is half full of boiling grease. The flour is mixed with water until it flows like milk, poured into the grease and rapidly stirred till the whole is a dirty brown mixture. It is now ready to be served.

From Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865, by Carlton McCarthy (Carlton McCarthy & Co., Richmond, Va., 1882).

[Crawfish Soup: This is not, strictly speaking, a period recipe, but documentation that Louisiana Confederate soldiers knew how to eat well on campaign!]

The days of April [1863] . . . were usually clear and pleasant. The valley in front of the hills was mostly open fields, and where timber once stood was a heavy abattis of felled trees, intersected with lagoons and ditches. These were swarming with cray-fish, and the men not only found amusement in catching them, but also a very palatable article of food. They were caught in immense quantities, all the tackle necessary for their capture being confined to pieces of meat tied to strings. They could be drawn out of the water almost as rapidly as three or four of these simple lines could be pulled up, sometimes five and six cray-fish clinging to a single bit of meat. It required but a very few moments to fill a bushel bag with these ravenous shell-fish. Cray-fish soup was no rarity in camp. The Mississipians looked with great amazement and much disgust at the keen relish with which "them ere Cre-Owl Louisianians" devoured this species of food. They could not appreciate such a peculiar taste.

From A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry by W. H. Tunnard (Orig. pub. 1866; Reprint: Morningside Bookshop, Dayton, Ohio 1988).

[Last but not least - Hellfire Stew]

When, as was generally the case on a march, our hard-tack was broken into small pieces in our haversacks, we soaked these in water and fried them in pork fat, stirring well and seasoning with salt and pepper, thus making what was commonly called a "hell-fired stew."

From A Drummer-Boy's Diary: Comprising Four Years of Service with the Second Regiment Minnesota Veteran Volunteers, 1861 to 1865, by William Bircher (Orig. pub. 1889; Reprint: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minn., 1995).