Civil War Project – Sweet Potatoes a L’allemande

With the new year I thought I would start a new project.  I have had this cookbook on my shelf for well over a year now.  I ordered it right before Thanksgiving of last year.  I had been researching old Thanksgiving recipes and stumbled upon this cookbook, Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Page of Godey’s Lady’s Book.  I had planned to do a full Thanksgiving spread using this book, but then I got reeled into a 2 month-long project and the idea was put on the shelf.  Literally.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

Godey’s Lady’s Book was “the” ladies magazine from 1830 to 1898, reaching its highest circulation of some 150,000 in the 1860s.  It was a magazine much like women’s magazines today, with articles about fashion, entertaining, recipes and general life issues.  The magazine was founded by Louis Godey, but it achieved its peak circulation during the time Sara Josepha Hale served as editor from 1837 to 1877.  She was also responsible for starting the campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

 The recipes in this cookbook are not like the recipes we are used to seeing today.  There is not list of ingredients, hardly any measurements and the instructions can be a little challenging to understand. But, I though how fun would it be to attempt this recipes and document the results.

Over the next year I plan on posting a weekly recipe from this cookbook on Friday.  The book has everything from cakes, drinks, meats, vegetable, soups, bread and more.  I plan to keep as true to the recipe as possible.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

The first recipe I choose was Sweet Potatoes a L’allemande, which was published in 1867. You would probably think, cool sweet potatoes! But, it’s not the kind of sweet potato you would think.  The “sweet potatoes” are regular potatoes with sugar and “a L’allemade” is French for German. I find it hilarious that the name of the recipes is basically Sweet German Potatoes, but the name is in French.

This is a very simple recipe with only 5 ingredients. First the recipes calls to:

“Boil or steam some potatoes very nicely,”

I chose to steam them because I thought it would be a better way to control how much the potatoes are cooked and keep them from getting water-logged.  I steamed the potatoes until they were fork tender, but still firm.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

“peel them, cut them in slices”

Holding the hot potatoes using a clean kitchen towel I used a paring knife to peel the skin and then cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick.  The recipe does not specify what kind of potato.  I had Yukon gold on hand and decided to use those although I expect russet would work just as well.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

“cut some bread into similarly-sized pieces (without crust),”

I assume that the bread they would have on hand would not be white sandwich bread, so I bought some artisan bread boules. Using a small round biscuit cutter I cut rounds out of slices of bread. I did my best to cut the bread slices as thin as possible, but they were mostly 1/2 inch thick.  To get enough rounds I had to use almost 2 loves.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

“butter a tart dish, line it with bread and potatoes, alternating them regularly.”

I got a 10 inch tart pan and buttered the heck out of it. I then lined the tart pan with the potato and bread slices alternating and slightly overlapping. If the potato slices where too small in diameter when compared to the bread rounds I would double up on them.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

“Thicken some scalding hot milk with a sufficiency of potato flour, add sugar and bruised bay or laurel leaves to impart a flavor, put it into the dish and strew some sugar upon the top.”

In a sauce pot I heated 2 cups of milk over medium high heat with 2 fresh bay leaves that I bruised with a pestle.  I added 1/4 cup of potato flour and 3 tablespoons of sugar to the milk.  I  continued whisking the milk until it began to thicken.  It should coat the back of a wooden spoon.  I then poured the sauce over the tart and spread it using the back of a spatula. Then I sprinkled roughly 1/3 cup of sugar over the tart.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

“Place it in an oven until slightly browned on the surface.”

I placed the tart on a sheet pan and baked it in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. I also broiled it for a few minutes to brown the top.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

You probably want to know how it turned out. 😀  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.  I think my biggest complaint was probably the texture.  It’s just kind of weird, sort of potatoey bread pudding.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

Also, they are not as sweet as you would think and the taste of the fresh bay leaf almost gave it a minty taste.  I found it very confusing.

Sweet Potatoes a L'allemande - Civil War Recipes -

What would I have like to have done? It could have really used some aromatics like onions, garlic and herbs. Also, I think the bread would have been better if it had been dried out some or left out all together. The texture had an odd chewiness that I couldn’t get down with. Also, I am not going to lie, I really wanted to add some cheese, but cheese and sugar just seemed weird.

I feel that I did what the recipe called for, but it could definitely be improved upon.  Would I make this again? No. But, if you think about the time that the recipe was written (1867) it’s very fitting.

Stay tuned next week! I pan on using a dutch oven over hot coals!


  1. says

    I’m referring to your page on Ancestors in Aprons, where I talk about historic foods each week. I know the editors of the Civil War Recipes book say you should use white potatoes, but I’m not sure why. I’d like to try the dish with sweet potatoes, too. My ancestors who fought in the Civil War wrote letters home extolling the sweet potatoes they saw in the South, and I have the feeling a lot more sweet potatoes were cultivated and eaten in the north after the war. It is quite common to cook sweet potatoes with some kind of sweetener–maple syrup, brown sugar, etc., so even though they don’t specifically say “sweet potatoes” in the ingredients, I’m suspecting this was a sweet potato recipe.

  2. Manuela says

    May be substituing the laurel for vanilla pod, some butter on the bread and serving with a creme patissierwill improve….

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