Based on a story in Memories by Mrs. Fannie A. Beers published in 1889.
It was Dec. 23, 1864. For some time I had been considering various plans for the celebration of Christmas. I wanted some change to the diet of the wounded soldiers who were under my care. But try as I might, I couldn’t see any way to achieve my goal.
We were at the Confederate hospital in Lauderdale Springs, Miss. My servant, Tempe, and I were living in one small room of a log cabin raised several feet above the ground. We occupied one side of the dog-trot style house. The doctor and his wife lived in the small room across the open central hall.
All around us as far as we could see in every direction were the hospital tents. Snow covered the tents and the towering pines. In the tents lay the sick, the wounded and the dying. Hospital supplies and rations were scarce. Items which in the first years of the war were considered necessities had become priceless luxuries. We got so few eggs and chickens that they were saved for the very sick.
Early in the morning I made my hospital visits to some wounded soldiers who had arrived during the night. In one of the bunks I found a man with his head and face bandaged and bloody. By his side was one of his comrades, also wounded but less seriously. In a tin cup he was trying to soften some corn bread with cold water and a stick. He explained that his comrade had been shot in the mouth and could only take soft foods. “Don’t give him that” I said. “I will get him some mush and milk or some chicken soup.” He sat down his cup and looked strangely at me saying “Yer ga-assin’ now, ain’t you?”
Once I finally convinced him that I was not, I went to get the soft food for his friend. As I slowly put spoons of the broth in the severely wounded man’s mouth, his friend stood by with his lips quivering. I looked at him “Now, what would you like?” After a moment he replied “Well, Lady, I’ve been sort of hankerin’ after a sweet potato pone, but I s’pose ye couldn’t noways get that?” Then I realized just what I would get them all for Christmas.
I immediately went in search of the doctor who gave me permission to go out the next day to area farms to attempt to collect ingredients for my feast. My search was somewhat successful. I returned that evening with some sweet potatoes, several dozen eggs and butter. The driver and I carried the food into my room where it would be safe.
After my evening rounds I returned to my room for my Christmas Eve meal of corn hoecake, a little smoked beef and a cup of corn coffee. It was so cold that I did not undress but wrapped up in a blanket and lay down on my bunk. Tempe also wrapped herself up and lay down by the fire.
Before I continue with my story, I must tell you that the boards in the floor of our room were only laid down, not nailed, because there were no nails to be had. I had just fallen asleep when Tempe woke me with a scream. She jumped on my bunk, shaking me awake, and crying “Miss Fannie, yearthquake dun cum!” Sitting up I realized to my horror that the floor boards were rising and falling with a terrible noise.
Wild hogs were attempting to raid my precious sweet potatoes. A real earthquake would have been less appalling as I have always been very afraid of hogs. Seizing a burning stick from the fire, Tempe began to beat the hog that had become wedged and could not advance or retreat. Her angry cries and the hog’s squeals brought help and soon all was quiet and my sweet potatoes safe.
My pone on Christmas day was a great success. All of those who were able came to my cabin for a generous helping of pone and a cup of sweet milk. That was our last Confederate Christmas.
Fannie’s Receipt (recipe) for Sweet Potato Pone
The improved housewife by A. L. Webster published in 1855 included the following receipt (recipe) for Sweet Potato Pone. Mix well three pounds of pared grated sweet potato, two of sugar, twelve eggs, three full pints of milk, the grated rind and juice of a lemon, four ounces of drawn butter, a spoonful of rosewater, little cinnamon and mace, a nutmeg, and a teaspoonful of salt. Bake two hours in deep pans. Eat cold, cake like.
However by 1864, a critical food shortage existed in the South. The shortage was caused by a number of factors including the following.
When the men went off to war, a major shortage of manpower to produce crops resulted. Women and children attempted to grow crops but were unable to keep up the level of agricultural production.
In areas of the South where fighting occurred, both the Union and Confederate armies impressed local supplies to feed their soldiers.
Railroads and bridges were systematically destroyed to impede the movement of enemy armies. This also prevented the shipment of foodstuffs to cities where shortages were critical and citizens were starving.
The Union blockade of Southern seaports eliminated the importation of food and supplies. The inability to obtain salt, sugar and coffee were particularly vexing to Southerners. No substitution was found for salt which had been used to preserve beef, pork and fish. This lack of preservation resulted in spoilage of meats. Once sugar was no longer available, the best substitute was molasses extracted from the sorghum plant. Citizens attempted to make “coffee” from roasted and ground corn, okra seed, sweet potato, chicory, rice, cotton seed, peanuts and beans.
Miss Fannie’s recipe for Sweet Potato Pone probably consisted of the potatoes, eggs and butter provided by local farmers. If available, molasses might have been added for sweetening.
Article provided for Parsons Rose #9, Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose. For more information, visit www.omroberts.com or tsocr.org.