Now Civil War Army Rations were fairly similar for both sides on paper, in reality the southern rations were normally not as good due to manufacturing and transportation problems. Everyone probably knows about the hard tack and salted beef and pork served to the troops by both sides during the civil war. But have you heard about desiccated vegetables.
Since fresh vegetables spoiled quickly, were heavy and hard to transport, a product called desiccated vegetables was issued to the troops. This product was a mixture of potatoes, cabbage, turnip, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, beans, lentils and celery. The vegetables were cleaned, shredded, mixed, dried and pressed into hard blocks. From the description of the products, they use a massive press to compress them and then dried the compressed blocks in large ovens. These blocks were expected to soften when boiled. They claimed a cubic yard of desiccated vegetables could contain 16,000 portions.
As a member of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry Regiment reported, however, “We have boiled, baked, fried, stewed, pickled, sweetened, salted it and tried it in puddings, cakes and pies; but it sets all modes of cooking in defiance, so the boys break it up and smoke it in their pipes!” These were never very popular with the troops and were often called “desecrated vegetables”. These were supposed to provide a reliable source of fiber and prevent scurvy. They were issued to US troops starting in the 1850 and continuing well past the Civil War.. From what I can find out about them, their quality depended on two things. How they were stored and who made them. The ones that reached the troops were often old and of poor quality.
Gen Gorge McClellan described them thus, “Desiccated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and are put up in such a compact and portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved. They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven, becomes almost as hard as a rock. A small piece of this, about half the size of a man’s hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men. It is believed that the antiscorbutic properties of vegetables are not impaired by the desiccation, and they will keep for years if not exposed to dampness”.
I have a press in the garage and intent to try making some in the near future. The press I will use is an olive oil press I made that has a five-ton jack to apply the pressure. Hopefully this is enough. I will then take a selection of beans and fresh vegetables and squeeze the liquid out of them. The juice will be saved, my wife will figure out a use for it. I will then dry the cakes in a solar oven and hopefully I will end up with desiccated vegetables.
If anyone has a good recipe or ideas for this I would appreciate it if you could share them.