Yet during the Civil War, food shortages plagued the South, and empty cupboards required resourcefulness.
In An Irresistible History of Southern Food: Four Centuries of Black-Eyed Peas, Collard Greens & Whole Hog Barbecue, respected southern food historian Rick McDaniel discusses these challenges.
“Three-quarters of a million Southern men marched off to war, many of them from farms and plantations. This led to a shortage of manpower for planting and harvesting. Slaves were taken away from tending crops and pressed into service digging trenches and breastworks for the army. The manpower shortage, coupled with the dwindling supply of food from the Shenandoah, soon led to food shortages.”
To make ends meet, women dealt with the scarcities by substituting ingredients and inventing more practical recipes. Chef Rick describes how
“…cookbooks such as Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times, published by “A Confederate Lady” in Richmond in 1863, offered recipes to help Southern women cope with the chronic shortages of everyday foods. It included tips for making coffee out of acorns, bread without yeast and piecrusts out of potatoes. Other recipes included apple pie without apples, artificial oysters made from green corn and, perhaps appropriately, a cure for dysentery.”
Even five years after the war’s end, southerners continued to suffer shortages of flour, a rare and pricey commodity. Sweet potatoes were a popular means of extending the flour needed to bake.
For today’s Antique Eats recipe, we’d like to commemorate the important role that these mashed, starchy tubers played in the history of southern food. What other local foods have influenced southern history in a unique way?
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Yields: about one dozen
1 2/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup cooked and pureed sweet potato
¼ cup half and half
vegetable oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture until mix resembles coarse crumbs. Add sweet potato and half and half; using a wooden spoon or dough whisk, mix until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently until dough holds together, about five or six times.
Roll out dough to a thickness of ½ inch. Using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour between each cut, cut out biscuits and place on a sheet pan sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray. Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.