(Friday Night History) Gyutan

Gyūtan as part of a set meal. (Image PD)

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is especially true in war and postwar reconstructions. Today’s subject, gyūtan, is the result of that kind of invention. Gyūtan is a portmanteau– gyu is beef, while tan is a transliteration of tongue– in other words, grilled, thinly sliced cow tongue. Today, gyūtan is one of the most recognizable quintessentially Sendai food items. But unlike zunda mochi and Sendai miso, it’s relatively recent– even if the history of oxen in Sendai is not so recent.

Let’s sidebar, because in order to talk about oxen in Sendai we need to talk about Date Masamune’s contingency plans for the likelihood of taking over Japan in the 17th century.

(Just wait. It’ll make sense!)

Four centuries ago, shortly after founding the castle town that became the modern city of Sendai, Date Masamune had aspirations of overthrowing the Tokugawa shogun and ruling Japan himself. If he was going to do that, however, he needed to make provision for the mikado– the emperor– from whom the ultimate authority to rule Japan originated. The Tokugawa family had made provision for this, which it ultimately maintained for the duration of the Edo period. Maintaining the goodwill of the emperor and the imperial court was essential to ensuring that the emperor continued to endorse the legitimacy of a would-be shogun or other kind of hegemon (as had been Toyotomi Hideyoshi).

The thing to remember, though, is that the ruling emperor needed extremely specific, extremely expensive provision for transport, lodging, food, and pretty much everything. Rather central to this was the ritual view that the emperor’s person, their body, was sacrosanct. And I’m not just talking in vague terms, here– I mean extremely sacrosanct to the point that a ruling emperor could not shave or trim their nails because blades were not allowed to touch the person of a ruling emperor. So with that understood, the place an emperor could sleep in also had to be special, not just the head of the room but a raised chamber or dais even more exalted than that. The most exalted room where the ruling lord or his family would stay was the jōdan-no-ma (upper room), but even they didn’t get the very highest place: a room for the Emperor and their family which was the jō-jōdan no ma (upper upper room).

So. To prepare for the emperor’s potential (and for awhile at least, quite likely) visit, Masamune had a jō-jōdan no ma built in Sendai Castle and another in Zuiganji, one of his family’s Buddhist temples. Yes, Sendai Castle was Masamune’s residence, but it was also a military installation and strategic asset, so it was a location that was off limits to people from outside Date lands. Local historian and folklorist Mihara Ryokichi notes that when the house of Date did receive dignitaries from elsewhere in Japan, any reception would happen in the residence of the Moniwa family, a senior vassal family in service to the Date who had quite a fabulous estate of their own in the Sendai castle town. So to build a room like this in Sendai Castle itself, when the Date family would receive no other outsiders, should say something about how seriously Masamune took these matters.

In both cases, this chamber was so exalted that even our man Masamune, fourth wealthiest daimyo in Japan, did not dare enter. He would open it once a year for cleaning, dress in his court garb, and bow reverently toward it before closing the door again.

But this wasn’t all. He also kept a herd of oxen in a barn in Haranomachi, in the Sendai Castle town, expressly meant to pull the emperor’s hōren 鳳輦. A hōren was a carriage made for the use of the Emperor and their immediate family. It could take the form of a palanquin borne by human bearers, but one type of it, which Masamune was concerned with here, was ox-drawn. 

Neither the castle’s jō-jōdan no ma nor the oxen were ever called upon for their original purpose. The herd of several dozen oxen, in the absence of an imperial visit, were maintained in their barn in Haranomachi by Masamune’s descendants, and used for the far more practical purposes of hauling official goods of Date retainers in the Sendai area as well as on duty alongside the local canals. Meanwhile, the first emperor to visit Sendai was Meiji, during his Tohoku tour in Meiji 14 (1881). He stayed at the other jō-jōdan no ma at Zuiganji Temple in Matsushima– by that point, Sendai Castle was headquarters of what became the 2nd Infantry Division and the old castle jo-jodan no ma no longer existed. I’ve seen this room in person, 15 years back, and it’s still marked, cordoned off, and carefully preserved.

Anyway, with all that said, this should give you an idea of how far back oxen go in greater Sendai. (Told ya it would make sense) But it was not the beginning of beef consumption– that wouldn’t come until after the Restoration. So oxen weren’t new in the area in the late 1940s, when gyūtan was invented.

Let’s fast forward to 1948. The Second World War was finally over, and the US occupation was in its third year, at the tail end of what MacArthur’s report on the Occupation referred to “the military phase” of the Occupation. There were GIs at bases all around Miyagi Prefecture; a US Army Japan list I found noted 13 bases in the prefecture, most of which are still Japan Self Defense Forces bases today, like Kasumi-no-me Airbase or the Ojojihara Maneuver Area. Most notably and centrally placed was Camp Schimmelpfennig, a base in the Kawauchi district, inside the Hirose River’s bend, on the site of Sendai Castle’s outer baileys and the former headquarters of the IJA’s 2nd Infantry Division. It doesn’t exist anymore; SDF forces in the Sendai city limits are mostly at Kasumi-no-me Airbase, but some of its buildings are still extant as part of Tohoku University’s Kawauchi Campus.

A robust logistical network brought the GIs at those bases the necessities of day to day life. They were not allowed to eat the local produce– my doctoral advisor, who did a tour of duty in Japan not long after the Occupation ended, mentioned more than once that there was a standing order for GIs to not eat local produce because nightsoil was still a common fertilizer and thus considered a potential health risk. He once told me that one of the turning points of his life was realizing that he could, in fact, eat the local produce off-base in Japan and not die of dysentery. As for meat, as there isn’t very much arable land in Japan, beef had to be imported for the Occupation troops’ culinary use, just like beef in general even today has to be imported for the general public there. Generally speaking, these GIs were living mostly in a bubble on their own bases, and they generated a lot of food waste while everyday Japanese people were by and large still food insecure.

So as a result, a great deal of innovation happened in order to address that urgent need by the civilian population. Remember, this is also the era that gave us instant ramen, the most enduring and ubiquitous form of that innovation. Ando Momofuku, a Taiwanese-Japanese entrepreneur, witnessed the hardship and food scarcity in early postwar Japan and developed instant ramen as an alternative to the bread that the Ministry of Health had been encouraging people to eat. His rationale was that it would have wider appeal with the Japanese public, as bread’s history in Japan was relatively short, and noodles’ history was far longer– his noodles went on to feed not only people in need in the postwar reconstruction, but of course went on to be a staple food worldwide, and beloved even by the denizens of many a college dorm.

Meanwhile in Sendai, a chef originally from Yamagata named Sano Keishirō who ran a grilled chicken restaurant called Aji Tasuke realized that the US mess halls around greater Sendai were getting a lot of beef, but throwing out the tongues and tails. He was able to buy them for the proverbial pennies on the dollar, and experiment with them in dishes at his restaurant over the next few years. While oxtail is a well known dish, as in oxtail soup, this didn’t do too well in Sendai. But after that early period of experimentation, gyūtan debuted on Aji Tasuke’s menu in 1950. Marinated overnight, then barbecued over charcoal, it’s excellent bar food. It did amazingly well, and started a local and then national phenomenon.

Today, along with things like zunda mochi and Sendai miso, gyūtan is established as a renowned item of Sendai cuisine, in grilled form on its own or served as part of donburi. It’s a little tricky to make at home because of how hard the cow tongue meat is to cut, but I’ve done it successfully before, with a good knife and by putting the meat in the freezer for a little bit, first. Depending on where you get your meat, you can find cow tongue pre-sliced in some places. Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook, my go-to for a lot of Japanese recipes, has a recipe for it here https://www.justonecookbook.com/gyutan-bbq-beef-tongue/ — if you’re listening to the podcast version, follow the link in the blogpost. And when international travel to Japan becomes possible again, drop by Aji Tasuke– its main location is still in downtown Sendai and still serving up gyūtan today, at Ichibancho 4-chome 4-13, in Aoba ward, and in the meanwhile, you can check out its website at aji-tasuke.co.jp 

And something tells me even Date Masamune, who built a barn of oxen for a longshot bid to welcome the Emperor upon taking over Japan, would’ve approved of Sano Keishirō’s ingenuity.

I’m Nyri, and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?

Sources

(Friday Night History) Zunda mochi

“Toasted mochi,” by Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868) [image in PD]

Food and food supply is an important part of winning a war. After all, a saying attributed to either Frederick the Great or Napoleon Bonaparte has it that “an army marches on its stomach.” Meanwhile in the 16th century, the warlord and first of Japan’s Three Great Unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, also observed that if your stomach hurts, you can’t go to war. Therefore, in the interest of going to war with the best food and food-adjacent equipment for supporting an army on the march, there has always been innovation in military cuisine, because soldiers are human, and regardless of the era, food has always been a basic human need. In the US Army, these needs are currently overseen by the Soldier Sustainment Directorate which is part of Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, which in turn is a tenant unit of the United States Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, in Natick, Massachusetts. The Soldier Sustainment Directorate describes its mission as follows:

“The Soldier Center’s Sustainment Directorate executes customer focused research, development, engineering, and testing to ensure Warfighters are equipped with state of the art equipment capabilities. The Directorate is focused on developing novel capabilities and providing engineering support in the aerial delivery, combat feeding, and expeditionary maneuver disciplines.”

In other words, driving innovation in military food and rations is positioned alongside innovations in aerial delivery– as one form of delivery for that food as well as for other needed supplies– as well as engineering support for manufacturing things like walls and tents and other things necessary for housing in the field.

So, food is clearly an important point of interest for this particular present-day army as it has been for others.

There are many cases in history of military needs that have driven culinary advancements that you probably would recognize, because these military innovations eventually work their way out into the broader civilian population. Spam, Worcestershire sauce, Japanese curry, hot pot, and other foods we hardly bat an eyelash at today have their origins in military cuisine. If you’d like to learn more about US military food innovation and how it unfluences US food production and consumption, check out Anastacia Marx de Salcedo’s 2015 book Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat.

In last week’s episode, we talked about how the Date clan’s military needs for miso that tasted good and lasted for a long time drove the popularization of the variant of red miso that’s now known as Sendai miso. But it isn’t just staples that military exigencies and research is invested in: sometimes, war will even make dessert.

US meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) include desserts like muffins, lemon pound cake, or cinnamon buns, in shelf-stable packaging aimed at survivability and longevity before being opened for use. Meanwhile, larger Unitized Group Ration, A Option (UGR-A) rations that require some refrigeration and the support of a field kitchen even feature things like cheesecake bites and poundcake.

So like I said last week: let’s go to Sendai and this time, let’s talk dessert.

Zunda mochi remains famous as a local cuisine in Miyagi Prefecture in general and Sendai city in particular. It appears in different forms with slightly different names throughout northern Honshu like jinda or jindan or nuta, but it’s ultimately all the same thing, and it’s fundamentally very simple. It features mashed, sweetened soybeans (edamame) made into a paste and then served over pounded rice mochi. But as was the case last week with Sendai miso, this too was a product of the Date armies and their culinary needs. While it might not be obvious without some awareness of the local dialect, its origins are alluded to in its name.

Tohoku dialects are sometimes derisively called “zuuzuu dialects” for their voiced consonants and how the phoneme “zu” frequently appears where it wouldn’t in standard Japanese. For instance, “mata” as in “again” is read “Madzu” まづ in Sendai dialect. So, while “mochi” is modern standard Japanese for a pounded rice cake, Zunda is not.

Well then what is it?

Turns out, this is unclear. But as a scholar of the house of Date and the lands it inhabited, I can tell you the version of the story that I first received. According to this version of the story, it comes down to the following: “zunda” is a contraction of “zundadzu,” known far more readily especially to modern practitioners of Japanese martial arts as jintachi: a campaign sword. Which raises the obvious question: why name a dessert after a sword meant for use on campaign?

In last week’s episode we talked a little bit about how Date Masamune was unusual among his lordly peers owing to his interest in cooking. This is attested to in several period sources. One of them is the book Date Masamune Genkoroku, a collection of his off-the-cuff comments on history, life, and current events, along with observations about his life and the circumstances of his private living accommodations and daily schedule, compiled by Kimura Uemon, who was his close attendant later in life. Another is Masamune-ki, Masamune’s first biography written in 1638 just a few years after his death by his cousin Date Shigezane. Masamune-ki begins with the man’s earliest campaigns, and chronicles the rest of his career, and while battles are front and center especially in the earlier chapters, this biography also includes reproduced correspondence, commentary on how the locations of some things have changed as time, weather, and human intervention have rearranged the terrain, and also commentary on the fine details of things like food that was served at a given setting.

We can even see a glimpse of Masamune’s philosophy about food in his last will to his descendants. It’s short, so I think it bears quoting in full, here. Translation is my own.

仁に過ぎれば弱くなる。
義に過ぎれば固くなる。
礼に過ぎれば諂となる。
智に過ぎれば嘘をつく。
信に過ぎれば損をする。
気ながく心穏やかにして、よろずに倹約を用い金を備うべし。
倹約の仕方は不自由を忍ぶにあり、この世に客に来たと思えば何の苦もなし。
朝夕の食事は、うまからずとも誉めて食うべし。
元来、客の身なれば好き嫌いは申されまい。
今日の行を送り、子孫兄弟によく挨拶して、娑婆の御暇申するがよし。
“Excessive benevolence will lead to weakness.
Excessive rectitude will lead to hardness.
Excessive ceremony will lead to flattery.
Excessive wisdom will lead to lying.
Excessive faith will lead to damage
Have great patience and a calm heart, and be thrifty:
set aside money for all eventualities.
The means to thrift is by enduring inconvenience.
If you treat your place in this world as that of a guest, then you will have no trouble.
Even if your meals are not tasty, praise them and eat them.
If you treat your usual place in this world as that of a guest, then you will find no room for likes and dislikes.
Do today what you can do today, keep up with your family ties, and when your time comes at last, take leave of the world”

Note that line near the end, there: “Even if your meals are not tasty, praise them and eat them.” This seems a little strange when you consider that Masamune is also the man who is on record as having fussed over the specifics of preparation and seasonality of which foods to present in the meals served at official functions and major holidays. But I think it likely speaks to his experience as someone who was a product of an era of constant warfare. If war’s always somewhere in your peripheral vision, then when it comes to your everyday food, does it matter whether or not it tastes great? Whether or not you’re actually on the battlefield or in encampment or at home in the castle town, what matters is nutrition and being able to get back to work– and if necessary, being able to get back to the fight.

So! with all of that said, let’s circle back to zunda and pick up with the Date version of the story. This version has it that while on campaign, Masamune improvised this in the field, smashing the boiled edamame into a paste with the flat of his sword, in which form it could be easily served over mochi. Because he used a jintachi, in the local dialect, this became zundadzu, and from thence, we get the modern word “zunda.”

While there are a number of different versions of zunda’s origin that dispute this, I think that  given Masamune’s attested interest in cooking according to multiple sources including his own words recorded by others, the story is at least plausible, even if it isn’t actually uncontested.

Is it true? I don’t know if it is. Does one single version of the story particularly matter, as long as there’s zunda mochi to eat? I’d say no.

Now, unlike Sendai miso, Zunda mochi is a little easier to make from scratch, because its ingredients are a little bit more ubiquitous. If you can find edamame and mochi, you can make it right at home. Hey, after all, it was field-expedient dessert! Here’s a recipe for reference for those of you who want to give making this a shot — for the podcast listeners, follow the link in the blogpost. And let me back up a moment here and just try to be absolutely clear– just to be ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY clear– don’t make it with a sword. Please please please, spare your sword and spare your kitchen– we have modern tools actually made for the kitchen that can do what you need to do to make zunda happen. But if for some unfathomable reason you do make it with a sword, rest assured that I marvel at your badassery and dedication in the pursuit of this field-expedient historical dessert.

Or at least, of one version of its origin story.

I’m Nyri, and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?

Sources

(Friday Night History) Sendai Miso

Modern miso soup. (Image in PD)

Soup. Yeah, that’s where we’re going to start out this week: we’re going to start out with soup. Specifically, let’s talk about miso, which doesn’t have to be soup but is most famous for being soup. Now, miso ingredients can vary, but generally, all types of miso have soybean, salt, and rice malt, and include the fungus aspergillus oryzae. It’s usually in the form of thick paste that  can be spooned into boiling water and made into soup, but it can be used for other cooking applications as well– everything from sauces, to pickling to grilling and more besides. There’s a variety of miso types, too, but the most broad distinction is the groupings of red miso and white miso. Red miso is more a hallmark of eastern Japan, while white miso is more of a hallmark of western Japan, but of course, today, you can eat both kinds anywhere. Nowadays in the US, both red and white miso are fairly ubiquitous where miso is to be had, and within that, the variety I’ve most often seen of red miso is Shinshu miso– miso from Nagano Prefecture– but Shinshu is not the only type of red miso.

Yeah, you guessed it. Let’s go to Sendai.

Among the many forms of tangible heritage left behind by the roughly two hundred and fifty years of Sendai domain under the house of Date is a variety of red miso called Sendai miso after the domain’s capital, where it was first made. Even before the Edo period, miso was ubiquitous in Japan, and because it was salted and fermented and could be carried in a form where all one needed to add was water to make soup, it was also important to any feudal domain’s system of military provisioning. So, while there was miso in Date lands before the early 17th century, it was only with the development of the Sendai castle town that the stage was set for the creation of what we now call Sendai miso, in the early 17th century.

While the so-called Great Man theory of history is BS, the fact of the matter is, Date Masamune (1567-1636), 17th Lord Date and the founder of the Sendai castle town, was not only an experienced battlefield commander by the time he founded his new city, but was also personally invested in cooking and known for that being one of his many interests. He built a brewery in his castle grounds to produce sake for the clan’s use, and he himself took hands-on involvement in brewing experiments that produced one of Japan’s earliest forms of energy drink. The brewery, whose ruins I’ve visited in person back in 2005, was run by Kayamori Mataemon, who Masamune had lured away from the latter’s prior service as a brewer to the sword-slinging Yagyu clan of Yamato Province– yes, as in Yagyu Munenori– but let’s save that particular story for another time now, shall we?

But along with a sake brewery and other such amenities for his new capital, Masamune also established Japan’s first miso factory, the Omisogura (Official Miso Warehouse), with an eye toward developing miso production technique and also supplying miso for the use of his clan and its forces. While this was a period where active armed conflict was becoming increasingly rare, Masamune had seen war firsthand, and wanted to invest in the security and better supplying of his clan’s armies. This is, after all, the man who once said (quoted in Date Butoku Ibunroku, p. 20.):

No matter whether they’re good or bad, one must equip one’s bannermen and soldiers uniformly. Though we are warriors far in the hinterland, I have made this my family’s military protocol. Our battle array could easily be mistaken for one from central Japan.

Equipping doesn’t just involve weapons and armor– though in that realm as well, the house of Date invested in improved and uniform equipping of its forces. It also involves food, for after all, as Masamune’s hero Oda Nobunaga once said, “if your stomach hurts, you can’t fight.”  And so, let’s talk about Sendai miso.

Upon the founding of the Miso Warehouse, the Makabeya family took charge of its operations. This was one of the families that was of longest standing in the castle town; the local term for families of long standing was konin 古人, and Makabeya was the leading family of the konin. Makabeya first advertised Sendai miso in the third month of Kan’ei 3 (April-ish, 1626), and after seeing its success and popularity, the house of Date selected Makabeya to manage the warehouse. Makabeya also became both the official miso purveyor as well as the official salt wholesaler in service to the clan. Why salt? Because salt is necessary in miso production, and salt was one of the products of the greater Sendai area– remember, the town of Shiogama, just up the road, is named after salt kettles, the most famous of them being the ones enshrined as goshintai, or divine vessels, at Shiogama Shrine. Legend has it that the gods of Shiogama Shrine taught the local humans how to make salt out of the sea water. The miso that Makabeya produced on behalf of the house of Date became the forerunner of all modern forms of Sendai miso.

So what makes Sendai miso so different? First, it is saltier than other red miso. Second, it’s fermented for longer, as long as a year! Having tasted it, the best way I can describe its potency is “imagine if kimchi was miso.” Because of its higher salt content, it also keeps for longer.

Major military conflict in Japan may have ended, as of 1638, but Date forces would continue deployment in border patrol roles. They especially saw service on coast patrol in the north, in Ezochi (modern day Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands) where the Russian Empire’s ships and people were coming into increasing contact with the extremes of territory under Japanese control. The last military engagement of Date forces was in the Boshin War, in late 1868 near the tail end of the Northern Alliance’s existence. But through it all, miso production remained a service that the Date clan kept as a necessity, for its armies as well as its use at home. But this variety of miso soon spread elsewhere. The Date lord would bring an entourage of roughly three thousand retainers along on his alternate-attendance tours to the Shogun’s court, and the clan also made provision to keep them supplied with the hometown miso variety while they were on assignment in Edo. Date vassal turned early 20th century Sendai mayor Yamada Kiichi’s treatise “Sendai Bussan Enkaku”– written in 1917, published 1925– is a treatise on noteworthy local handcrafts or products in the old Date lands. In it, he notes that miso production according to the Makabeya family’s recipe eventually set up at the Date estate in Shinagawa (then outside Edo, now Shinagawa city of Tokyo metropolis), and it was from this source that Edoites at large were properly introduced to Sendai miso.

Mayor Yamada Kiichi, author of Sendai Bussan Enkaku (1847-1923). Image in PD

Despite its position overseeing the official Miso Warehouse, Makabeya wasn’t the only family in the Sendai miso business; other businesses sold miso in Sendai domain even in the Edo period, especially in the late Edo period: Ōta Yohachirō, which used to be an inn company with an establishment in front of Shiogama Shrine serving pilgrims to the shrine, went into the miso and soy business in 1845! It was first a side business serving the inn, but has now become the main focus of its business to this day. You can learn more about it at its beautifully illustrated homepage here https://oota-yohachiro.com/about/

Service to the house of Date in the production of Sendai miso, over many decades, brought the Makabeya family great prestige in both business and in the hierarchy of the warrior caste. It remained a merchant family and chief of the konin of Sendai, but also was a stipended warrior vassal family of the Date, with a modest stipend of 100 koku and the use of the warrior family name of Furuki. When you consider that merchants were at the bottom of the Edo period caste structure, a merchant that also held special status as a stipended warrior, especially one in the service of the fourth wealthiest clan in Japan, was in a rare and for the time enviable position. But by the 5th generation Makabeya, Makabeya Ichibe’e V, the family’s business ventures were faring so well, that this Makabeya submitted a request to the Date government to give up this stipend. He wasn’t giving up the warrior caste status, just the stipend, which he didn’t need, given how his business was flourishing.

Given the Date government’s chronic problems with its budget  this could only have been a welcome gesture. Particularly starting in the mid-Edo period, northern Honshu in general and the Date lands in particular were hit with a long stretch of running famine and crop failure; I wrote about this in one of my dissertation chapters, because it had long term implications as far as what the clan could afford to invest in and the kind of force and resources it could field in an actual shooting war as opposed to a passive border guard action. One less stipend it was obliged to pay could only have been a relief to some bureaucrat in the accounting office at Sendai Castle.

But in recognition of the family’s loyal service, the domain granted Makabeya a new, nominal stipend of 24 koku. Makabeya again refused. When this refusal was rejected by the domain, they reached a compromise: the 24 koku would be split in half, 12 koku going to its family funerary temple of Kinshōji and the other 12 going to Jūkokuji, a different temple in the Kitayama district; both are still extant today. The Date government accepted this counter-proposal, so piety ultimately won out. And all in the name of success from soup.

Sendai Miso’s military role didn’t end with the disestablishment of the feudal domains in 1871. Advances in technology and brewing technique allowed for quicker production. The Imperial Army used this form of Sendai miso as its own miso ration– again drawn by how long it would keep– through the end of the Second World War.

Today, Sendai miso remains overwhelmingly produced in Miyagi Prefecture in general and Sendai and its surrounding municipalities like Shiogama in particular. It can be hard to get ahold of outside Japan sometimes, but if you get the chance, I encourage you to give it a try! If you do, check out these recipes from the Sendai Miso Shoyu Company: http://www.sendaimiso.co.jp/recipe/ — if you’re listening to the podcast version, check out the blogpost and follow the link.

And just think: you’re tasting Date history right there in your soup.

I’m Nyri, and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?

Sources

(Historical Cooking) General Casey’s Stew

Major General Silas Casey (1807-1882) [public domain]

It’s been a little while since I last got the chance, but something I’m very fond of is replicating historical recipes. Ages ago, I played with recipes from the Roman Apicius cookbook, then tried my hand at late Sengoku and early Edo period Japanese sweets, and I’ve been wanting to try something new for awhile. So I’m really excited to note that today, my partner and I are making General Casey’s Stew.

General Silas Casey was a career US Army soldier who commanded a division of IV Corps Army of the Potomac, under Erasmus D. Keyes. He was also an educator of new soldiers, and published the training manual Infantry Tactics in 1862, which you can read online here. Understanding that most of his soldiers likely came to the Army with little understanding of how to cook, but were issued cooking equipment and rations as if they knew how to cook, and seeing that they needed some understanding in order to get the nutrition they needed, he created this recipe for stew.

  • One pound of stew beef, cut up.
  • Quarter pound of pork
  • One onion, sliced up
  • Two potatoes, cut up
  • One pound of dehydrated vegetables, soaked
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough water to cover

Casey says to cook it for 3 hours, and while 3 hours in a crockpot on HIGH setting isn’t the same as a campfire, it’ll do. We used frozen vegetables (peppers, onions, cauliflower, broccoli), sliced ham, and steak bits for ours. Also an adaptation, yes, but remember, even in the Civil War, one had to adapt and use what was at hand!

Our attempt at General Casey’s Stew

How is it? Pretty good! I had mine with some hardtack we made awhile ago. Plus, this much stew will make for good leftovers for a few days!

What’s your preferred historic recipe- or, is there a historic recipe you’d like to see me try? Let me know in the comments!


This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!