Spicy food was hot

September 09, 1997

Civilians' tongues were under fire in the 1860s.

People of the period liked their foods hot, said Carol Anderson, a historical cook who lives in Harrisburg, Pa.

Pickled hot peppers were very popular, and chili pepper vinegar often was used.

Ketchup, sometimes spelled "catchup" at the time, was a mix of tomatoes and onions that differed from the smooth concoction we know today.

"They dumped it on everything," Anderson said.

The phrase "buyer beware" applied in this period, as housewives had to be careful about quality. Unscrupulous salesmen often would cut cayenne pepper with red lead or add plaster dust to white flour to increase the weight and volume.

"If you weren't vigilant, it could literally kill you," Anderson said.

Home canning techniques weren't safe, as no boiling water bath was used. Fruits or pickles would be put into a jar, then wax would be placed on top and the jar would be clamped. Foods also would be preserved in crocks.


Sweetmeats - fruit taken to the stage where sugar has replaced the moisture - also were popular, Anderson said.

Drying was another method of food preservation during the period.

Commonly used spices included nutmeg, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Herbs weren't used as frequently as they were in the colonial period, Anderson said.

Many of the fruit and vegetable varieties raised back then have disappeared, said Kevin Rawlings, a Sharpsburg author who does living history.

In those days, there were about 200 types of apples, he said.

Tomatoes looked a lot different then, and one example is a white tomato with black stripes. Seeds saved from old-time varieties are known as heirloom seeds, and they are not as resistant to disease, he said.

- Teri Johnson, Staff Writer

The Herald-Mail Articles