Deals, steals, and news from author Michelle Isenhoff.

Anybody else like to buy recipe books as souvenirs anytime you visit someplace new? I have food-related books from the Smokey Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, Maine, Florida... You get the idea. I love to eat! But I also appreciate the culture and history that focuses around food. So you know how much fun I had researching meals for Beneath the Slashings, set in a lumber camp at the close of the American Civil War.

(Slashings--n. Broken branches, splintered trunks, and other debris left on the ground after lumbering.)

The day of a 19th-century lumberjack started well before the sun rose and didn’t end until after dark, broken only by a hasty meal in the woods at noon. You can imagine the kind of appetite he brought back to camp with him at night. Now picture 10, or 50 or 80 more men just like him and you can begin to understand why the cook was the most important and highest-paid person in camp, after the foreman.

Cooking in a lumber camp was nothing like cooking today. During the Civil War-era, all food preparation had to be done over an open fire. The main staple of these early camps was beans buried in the bunkhouse fire (the "beanhole") and left to simmer all night. If you were with one of the finer organizations, they might be supplemented with salt pork, biscuits, and molasses. Even after cook stoves became common, fare remained simple and was contingent upon the supplies the cook was able to procure. Often these men, and later women, had to be extremely clever with what they had available. If a cook proved to be a “belly robber” and popular opinion turned against him, he was quickly replaced.

Here are some real recipes I dug up from the logging era. It wasn’t uncommon for a cook to go through 50 pounds of flour every other day and sack after sack of beans, so the proportions have been cut down. Beans and biscuits were time-honored staples from the very earliest days in the woods. Vinegar pie was popular in northern Michigan where my story takes place. And molasses cookies were another old favorite. Notice that none of the recipes require milk or butter, which did not keep. Eggs were not common until the later days of lumbering.

(These recipes come straight out of my free Classroom Resources booklet that helps parents/teachers get the most mileage out of this historical middle grade series.)

Beanhole Beans

1 pound dry navy beans
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/4 c. molasses
1/2 t. salt
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound salt pork or bacon

Lumber camp directions: Soak beans overnight. Add remaining ingredients except pork to the beans and stir slightly. Beans must be covered with water. Slice salt pork and lay across the top. Cover. Place them in the camboose (bunkhouse fire pit), cover with coals, and bake for 8 hours or overnight.

Modern directions: Place beans and 2-1/2 qts. water in a 6-qt. Dutch oven; bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans; return to pan with new water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour or until beans are tender. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Return beans to pan; add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed. Serves 8-10.

Lumber Camp Biscuits

2 c. flour
3 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
6 T. oil or soft shortening
2/3 c. water

Mix all ingredients together. Add enough flour to knead easily. Knead on floured board about 30 seconds. Roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with small cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 450°F for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 15 to 20 biscuits.

Vinegar Pie

1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1/3 c. vinegar
1/3 c. cornstarch
Dash of nutmeg
3 eggs
1 T. lard
Baked 8" or 9" pie shell

Separate eggs and beat the three egg yolks together. Stir the first five ingredients together and cook until clear and thick. Stir half the mixture into three beaten egg yolks; add mixture to remaining mix in saucepan and stir until combined; let rest off burner for one minute. Stir in a tablespoon of lard until melted. Pour into a baked pie shell.

Molasses Cookies

1 c. sugar
1 c. lard
1 c. molasses
2 eggs
4 c. sifted flour
1 t. soda
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger

Cream sugar and lard. Add molasses and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Have at hand a small bowl of sugar. Dipping fingers into sugar (or flour), pinch off a ball of cookie dough, about walnut sized. Dip ball into sugar, arrange on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 12 to 14 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Beneath the Slashings is the third book in my Divided Decade Collection. (Each book is a separate story; they don't need to be read in order.) Written at a middle-grade level, this highly acclaimed series brings the Civil War years to life for young readers. They're always priced at just 3.99. Visit my "Teachers" page for FREE classroom resource booklets. 

Series nominated for the 2012 Great Michigan Read.
Awarded two Readers’ Favorite 5 Star Seals.

Before you go, be sure to check out the books and promos featured below. They're always free or bargain priced. I generally bounce between speculative and historical fiction (the main genres I write in), and sometimes some fantasy, middle grade, or a bit of romance, just to keep things interesting. 

Happy reading!


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Michelle Isenhoff

A former teacher and longtime homeschooler, MICHELLE ISENHOFF writes for children and adults. Her work has been reader-nominated for a Cybils Award, the Great Michigan Read, and the Maine Student Book Award. Michelle writes from Michigan where she bikes all summer and wears flip-flops all winter.