“Things were fine. Then things weren’t.”
Donuts and Coffee, 1862 and 1968
John U. Rees
Dedicated to William D. Ehrhart, poet, chronicler, teacher, soldier.
(Originally published in
Food History News
, vol. XI, no. 3 (43), 2.)
Soldiers have few pleasures they can count on, particularly when campaigning, butdespite the fact that army rations are notoriously bland, and sometimes downrightatrocious, food can remind one of home, satisfy a sweet tooth, or boost a fatigued mindand body. Here are two incidents, a hundred years apart, telling of soldiers, coffee, anddonuts.
The Zouave’s Donuts.
Union soldier Alfred Davenport, 5
New York (Duryee Zouaves),Virginia Peninsula, 2 June 1862 (day after the Battle of Fair Oaks):
… the weather was very warm, a
nd the sound of battle was almost entirely subdued,
very little firing being heard during the day … Captain Warren supplied the men with
a quantity of flour, and bread-baking was the order of the day. Those who had tin plates were the favored ones; the rest were obliged to wait and borrow them fromtheir comrades. The flour was simply mixed with water and made into unleavenedcakes and baked; but the men relished them with great satisfaction, as it was anacceptable change in the diet to which they had been accustomed
… at times … someepicure … could not restrain from giving vent to his satisfaction … “ain’t this bully.”
Two of the boys … procured about a bushel of flour, and some sugar and saleratus,
borrowed a sheet-
iron kettle of one of the officer’s
servants, obtained a lot of salt pork,and went into business. They first washed all the salt from the pork, tried it out, mixedtheir flour with sugar and saleratus [baking soda], let it rise, and then made some of thefinest donuts, as they supposed, th
at were ever served up; at all events they were “done brown.” When they had a great pile of them, they opened shop, and never before was
there such a rush to procure some of those elegant donuts. The pile was soon gone at fivefor twenty-five cents, and the demand far exceeded the supply. Occasionally a man wasfound who had the temerity to express an opinion that they were rather tough, and weregood specimens of home-
made India rubber; but he was frowned upon as a barbarian …
by night the batter was almos
t exhausted … the firm closed up their business for the day… and talked over their plans for the future. But they were in a quandary. The batter was
nearly gone, and no more could be obtained within range of their guns.
Suddenly [“H.,” one of the entrepreneurs] … struck an idea … They still had on hand aquantity of saleratus, which up to this time was looked upon as dead stock … “What ideahave you struck, pards?” asked H.’s colleague. “Why you noodlehead, its very plain –
in more saleratus!” … Th
e saleratus was added in generous quantity, and they turned in
and went to sleep, probably dreaming of light donuts for the million … In the morning
the firm was roused from their dreams of wealth by the reveille, and jumped up in ahurry. But what a sight met their eyes! Dough, dough, dough everywhere! The fact of itwas, their stock had risen about one hundred and fifty percent, above par, and kept onrising. The floor of their tent, blankets, rifles, cartridge-boxes, and everything else, werecovered with a layer of dough, and they could be traced out to the line for roll call by a
string of dough … They, however, did well in business that day, and added saleratus, as