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  • Desiccated Vegetables

    Hi all,

    I was wondering where I might find or how I could make period correct dessicated vegetables. Any help would be much appreciated.

    I am, &c.,

    Ian Hutchison

    I am, &c.

    Ian Hutchison

  • #2
    Re: Desiccated vegetables

    Try this site. I've not tried this out myself, but maybe experiment this summer and see how it comes out.
    Jeff L. Underwood
    Company C Chesapeake Volunteer Guard


    • #3
      Re: Desiccated vegetables

      Wow, thanks for that site, its great!

      I wonder if the vegetables were always combined as in that method?

      I will experiment with it this summer and shall try both mixed and single types.

      I am, &c.

      Ian Hutchison


      • #4
        Re: Desiccated vegetables


        Desiccated mixed vegetables and desciccated potatoes go back at least to the 1850s in the US army's inventory, and as a product available for civilian use. Geo. McClellan's relative wrote a fine book that has held up well over the years, and he mentions these lightweight goods:

        Thank You, Captain Marcy


        Supplies for a march should be put up in the most secure, compact and portable shape.

        Bacon should be packed in strong sacks of a hundred pounds each; or, in very hot climates, put in boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away.

        If pork be used, in order to avoid transporting about forty per cent. of useless weight, it should be taken out of the barrels and packed like the bacon; then so placed in the bottom of the wagons as to keep it cool. The pork, if well cured, will keep several months in this way, but bacon is preferable.

        Flour should be packed in stout double canvas sacks well sewed, a hundred pounds in each sack.

        Butter may be preserved by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it raises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process.

        Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.

        Desiccated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and are put up in such a compact and portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved. They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven, becomes almost as hard as a rock. A small piece of this, about half the size of a man's hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men. It is believed that the antiscorbutic properties of vegetables are not impaired by the desiccation, and they will keep for years if not exposed to dampness. Canned vegetables are very good for campaigning, but are not so portable as when put up in the other form. The desiccated vegetables used in our army have been prepared by Chollet and Co., 46 Rue Richer, Paris. There is an agency for them in New York. I regard these compressed vegetables as the best preparation for prairie traveling that has yet been discovered. A single ration weighs, before being boiled, only an ounce, and a cubic yard contains 16,000 rations. In making up their outfit for the plains, men are very prone to overload their teams with a great variety of useless articles. It is a good rule to carry nothing more than is absolutely necessary for use upon the journey. One can not expect, with the limited allowance of transportation that emigrants usually have, to indulge in luxuries upon such expeditions, and articles for use in California can be purchased there at less cost than that of overland transport.

        The allowance of provisions for men in marching should be much greater than when they take no exercise. The army ration I have always found insufficient for soldiers who perform hard service, yet it is ample for them when in quarters.

        The following table shows the amount of subsistence consumed per day by each man of Dr. Rae's party, in his spring journey to the Arctic regions of North America in 1854:

        Pemmican 1.25 lbs.
        Biscuit 0.25 "
        Edward's preserved potatoes 0.10 "
        Flour 0.33 "
        Tea 0.03 "
        Sugar 0.14 "
        Grease or alcohol, for cooking 0.25 "

        This allowance of a little over two pounds of the most nutritious food was found barely sufficient to subsist the men in that cold climate.

        The pemmican, which constitutes almost the entire diet of the Fur Company's men in the Northwest, is prepared as follows: The buffalo meat is cut into thin flakes, and hung up to dry in the sun or before a slow fire; it is then pounded between two stones and reduced to a powder; this powder is placed in a bag of the animal's hide, with the hair on the outside; melted grease is then poured into it, and the bag sewn up. It can be eaten raw, and many prefer it so. Mixed with a little flour and boiled, it is a very wholesome and exceedingly nutritious food, and will keep fresh for a long time.

        I would advise all persons who travel for any considerable time through a country where they can procure no vegetables to carry with them some antiscorbutics, and if they can not transport desiccated or canned vegetables, citric acid answers a good purpose, and is very portable. When mixed with sugar and water, with a few drops of the essence of lemon, it is difficult to distinguish it from lemonade. Wild onions are excellent as antiscorbutics; also wild grapes and greens. An infusion of hemlock leaves is also said to be an antidote to scurvy.

        The most portable and simple preparation of subsistence that I know of, and which is used extensively by the Mexicans and Indians, is called "cold flour." It is made by parching corn, and pounding it in a mortar to the consistency of coarse meal; a little sugar and cinnamon added makes it quite palatable. When the traveler becomes hungry or thirsty, a little of the flour is mixed with water and drunk. It is an excellent article for a traveler who desires to go the greatest length of time upon the smallest amount of transportation. It is said that half a bushel is sufficient to subsist a man thirty days.

        Persons undergoing severe labor, and driven to great extremities for food, will derive sustenance from various sources that would never to occur to them under ordinary circumstances. In passing over the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1857-8, our supplies of provisions were entirely consumed eighteen days before reaching the first settlements in New Mexico, and we were obliged to resort to a variety of expedients to supply the deficiency. Our poor mules were fast failing and dropping down from exhaustion in the deep snows, and our only dependence for the means of sustaining life was upon these starved animals as they became unserviceable and could go no farther. We had no salt, sugar, coffee, or tobacco, which, at a time when men are performing the severest labor that the human system is capable of enduring, was a great privation. In this destitute condition we found a substitute for tobacco in the bark of the red willow, which grows upon many of the mountain streams in that vicinity. The outer bark is first removed with a knife, after which the inner bark is scraped up into ridges around the sticks, and held in the fire until it is thoroughly roasted, when it is taken off the stick, pulverized in the hand, and is ready for smoking. It has the narcotic properties of the tobacco, and is quite agreeable to the taste and smell. The sumach leaf is also used by the Indians in the same way, and has a similar taste to the willow bark. A decoction of the dried wild or horse mint, which we found abundant under the snow, was quite palatable, and answered instead of coffee. It dries up in that climate, but does not lose its flavor. We suffered greatly for the want of salt, but, by burning the outside of our mule steaks, and sprinkling a little gunpowder upon them, it did not require a very extensive stretch of the imagination to fancy the presence of both salt and pepper. We tried the meat of horse, colt, and mules, all of which were in a starved condition, and of course not very tender, juicy, or nutritious. We consumed the enormous amount of from five to six pounds of this meat per man daily, but continued to grow weak and thin, until, at the expiration of twelve days, we were able to perform but little labor, and were continually craving for meat.

        The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 lbs. of flour, or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 lbs. of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. of sugar; also a quantity of saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.

        These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's end, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbitant prices in making up the deficiency.

        It is true that if person choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amiable mood, supplies may sometimes be procured from them; but those who have visited them well know how little reliance is to be placed upon their hospitality or spirit of accommodation.

        I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route to California. They were perfectly ignorant of every thing relating to this kind of campaigning, and had overloaded their wagons with almost every thing except the very articles most important and necessary; the consequence was, that they exhausted their teams, and were obliged to throw away the greater part of their loading. They soon learned that Champagne, East India sweetmeats,,olives, etc., etc., were not the most useful articles for a prairie tour.

        Before I get lost in the usual ramble, here is a transcript from the plain text scan of an advertisement from the 1861 edition of A Practical Treatise on Military Surgery by Frank Hastings Hamilton:

        OF NEW YORK.

        Office, 56 South St., two doors from Wall St.

        Factory, Newburgh, Orange County, N. Y.

        By a, new and patented process, Meats, Yegctables, Fruits,
        Milk, and Eggs, are put up perfectly dry, and
        warranted to keep in any climate.

        P. II. COPLAND, S. E.

        All Articles are Packed in Tin and Wooden Canes.
        Price par Ponml.

        PLAIN FRESH BEEF— One pound equal seven $0 75

        BEEF SOUP— One-half fresh beef; one-half eight kinds of vegetables,
        one ounce producing one pint of rich soup, at a cost of three
        cents, or 60

        VEGETABLE SOUP— Consists of eight kinds of vegetables, without
        beef, at a cost of one and a half cents per ration, or 25

        WHITE POTATO— In tins of fifty pounds (eleven pounds equal one
        bushel) 12J Priee per Dozen.

        PURE EXTRACT OF JAVA COFFEE— (Pints equal to one and a
        half pounds of coffee) 4 50

        PURE EXTRACT BIO COFFEB-(Producing fifty times its bulk),
        quart bottles 5 00

        CREAM COFFEE IN TINS— Consists of the extract, sugar, and
        cream 4 00

        CREAM COCOA — Requiring only hot water 5 00

        CONCENTRATED MILK — In cans, producing six times its bulk of
        rich milk 7 00

        PREPARED EGGS — In one pound cans, each containing twelve
        eggs , .- 5 00 .

        The above are only a few of the many articles prepared by this Company.
        Directions for usirg the trtiolf « accompany each package, but at a (jerieral ml?,
        they are to be cooked the same as tltt frtxh articlf., r/nly in a yrfi'vr iIaaritity of
        Egads! With so many typos in the Googlebook scan, the actual ad on page 237 is far better reading:

        Frank Hastings Hamilton's Military Surgery Book

        You can buy ready to use desiccated potatoes from commercial food vendors, such as Harmony House here in the US of A, and Belgium probably has similar food service suppliers. Here is a link to Harmony House Foods:

        Diced Potatoes

        We know from the descriptions of the two sizes of desiccated mixed vegetables that the US Army had at least two different sources, with Chollet & Co. of Paris having an agent in NYC (as mentioned by Capt. Marcy), and with American Desiccating likely being a second vendor. The fabled Lord's collection has a scrap of tin with a label from a tin of desiccated vegetables, and I'd love to find an intact tin in a collection somewhere. It's out there.

        If you find a reliable source for dehydrated parsnips, then please let me know. I'm having to make these with a regular food dehydrator in the kitchen.

        A while back, we tried several experiments with desiccated vegetables using a partial rehydration process, and starting with commercially available dehydrated vegetables. After the third attempt, the veggies held up well in blocks, and I'm getting close to a product upgrade in size, content, and (I hope) flavor this summer. This following quote is from an article from a couple of years ago in Civil War Historian, and I hope it has encouraged people to do more than just think about making desiccated vegetables.

        Desiccated Vegetables

        Legends have been built around the manufacture of reproduction desiccated vegetables. The stories told around campfires range from men who used gallons of wood glue to fellows who build wooden boxes and weighted down the contents with their pickup truck in the driveway. Both of these stories are true; however, here is a method anyone can use.

        This being our third experiment making desiccated vegetables in this manner, the first being Antietam 2002, and the last being McDowell 2005, they vegetables met the goals of being edible (some will debate this with vigor) and holding together for at least a few days. This method does not yield a vegetable block with a long shelf life. The following gives a good description of the appearance of desiccated mixed vegetables: "Too many beans with salt junk demanded an antiscorbutic, so the government advertised proposals for some kind of vegetable compound in portable form, and it came--tons of it--in sheets like pressed hops. I suppose it was healthful, for there was variety enough in its composition to satisfy any condition of stomach and bowels. What in Heavens name it was composed of, none of us ever discovered. It was called simply "desiccated vegetables." Ben once brought in just before dinner a piece with a big horn button on it, and wanted to know "if dat 'ere was celery or cabbage?" I doubt our men have ever forgotten how a cook would break off a piece as large as a boot top, put it in a kettle of water, and stir it with the handle of a hospital broom. When the stuff was fully dissolved, the water would remind one of a dirty brook with all the dead leaves floating around promiscuously. Still, it was a substitute for food. We ate it, and we liked it, too."- "The Blue and The Gray" by Henry Steele Commanger, An Article From Abner Small's "The Road to Richmond."

        We ordered dehydrated mixed vegetables, cabbage, greens, and other vegetables from commercial food service suppliers. These ingredients were mixed in a large bowl, placed in a pan, and then covered with a solution of corn starch. The corn starch solution should be approximately the consistency of a cheap drive-in milkshake. Take a spatula, mush this down hard, and place in a preheated oven at 210 degrees for about an hour. Remove, mush down again, and replace. Repeat this heat, mush, and heat some more process for about four hours, or until the veggies begin to brown slightly, and the veggie block solidifies enough to be removed in one section. These blocks should be 12” x 12” x 1”; however, we settled for 6” x 12” x 1” since we were going to break them apart for issue. We made approximately square feet of desiccated vegetables. Through our trial and error, the blocks of vegetables range from being just right, in that a block could be held on one edge without falling apart, however, some of the blocks of vegetables have a tendency to crumble especially after being stored in the fridge for a few days. Our blocks contained cabbage, spinach, potatoes, celery, peas, corn, beans, onions, turnips, pepper, salt, and some other odds and ends, missing only the corn stalks, and parsnips. We did add in some bay leaves for that “what the heck is this” effect. These desiccated vegetables are best cooked in bulk. Allow the water to come to a high boil before crumbling the blocks of veggies in to the pot. An attentive cook may have noticed what appeared to be white mold in the vegetables. This was not mold, but residual corn starch, which will eventually thicken the vegetable soup.

        Desiccated Potatoes

        Desiccated potatoes are perhaps the easiest part of the ration issue. The modern variety looks like the period description of something akin to parched corn. Just buy the dehydrated potatoes in bulk form from the sources previously mentioned, decant the potatoes from the handy gallon jugs or cans into a more appropriate container, and then issue as is. No muss. No fuss. If a man has developed the skill to boil water, then he can handle desiccated potatoes. The 2nd Bull Run living history marked the second time these were issued, and they went over well. The first time was at McDowell 2005, and the men assumed the potatoes to be small cubes of cheese floating in their stew. As stated earlier, Sunday morning found us with a quantity of homeless salt pork and desiccated potatoes. This we made into a pork and potato hash. They are exceeding bland without some form of seasoning, and the freshened salt pork still had enough saline taste to work well with the potatoes. A bright man with a small container of milk may be able to make some fine mashed potatoes with few lumps for his section.
        The recipe portion is not that difficult:

        Desiccated Vegetables for 50


        Note: We ordered dehydrated mixed vegetables, cabbage, greens, and other vegetables from commercial food service suppliers Abby’s Best located online at: and Harmony House Foods also on the web at are two excellent suppliers of bulk dehydrated vegetables.

        32 oz dehydrate cabbage
        32 oz dehydrated mixed vegetable soup.
        16 oz dehydrated carrots
        16 oz dehydrated spinach
        16 oz dehydrated parsnips (not available commercially)
        12 bay leaves
        32 oz corn starch


        Very large mixing bowl
        Spray bottle
        12 inch square pans or common bread pans
        Narrow Spatula


        Preheat oven to 210-degrees. Mix cornstarch and water into a milkshake consistency, and set aside. Combine the dehydrated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Dust the bottom of the pans with corn starch, add ¼ inch of vegetables, and another dusting of corn starch four times until a 1” layer is achieved. Use the spray bottle filled with water to wet down the layers of corn starch in between layers of veggies. Add in a bay leaf here and there for that “what is this?” effect. Pour in the cornstarch liquid until the vegetables are soggy, but not floating. Press the vegetables in the bread pan firmly with the spatula.

        Place the pans in a preheated oven at 210 degrees for about an hour. Remove, mash this mush down again, and replace. Repeat this heat, mash, and reheat process for about four hours, or until the veggies begin to brown ever slightly, and the veggie block solidifies enough to be removed in one section. This process will yield the best looking, and best functioning desiccated vegetables you have ever used, without having to place the block of veggies under the full weight of the pickup truck in the driveway (don’t ask).

        Yield: Approximately 8 square feet of desiccated vegetables.


        These blocks should be 12” x 12” x 1”; however, we settled for 6” x 12” x 1” since we were going to break them apart for issue anyway. We were unable to find or construct a correct tin container for these desiccated vegetables, but that is a project for a later time. Unbleached blue army paper was used as a separator between the veggie blocks. An attentive cook may notice what appeared to be white mold in the vegetables. This was not mold, but residual corn starch, which will eventually thicken the vegetable soup.

        Desiccated Potatoes

        There is no recipe for these little potato cubes. Just open the container and use them. Simply pour from the container into a poke bag or box and reissue. The potatoes can be had from Abby’s Best or Harmony House foods, as listed in the desiccated vegetable recipe above. If a man has developed the skill to boil water, then he can handle desiccated potatoes. The 2nd Bull Run living history marked the second time these were issued, and they went over well.
        Abby's Best still has a website, but they had some customer service issues the last time I attempted to use them, so I've gone with the friendly folks at Harmony House. Abby's website is: Abby's Best Circa 2002

        Chollet's building in Paris still exists, and now I wonder if American Desiccating's building in Newburgh, NY, still exists. More fun....
        [B]Charles Heath[/B]

        [URL=""]12 - 14 Jun 09 Hoosiers at Gettysburg[/URL]

        [EMAIL=""]17-19 Jul 09 Mumford/GCV Carpe Eventum [/EMAIL]

        [EMAIL=""]31 Jul - 2 Aug 09 Texans at Gettysburg [/EMAIL]

        [EMAIL=""] 11-13 Sep 09 Fortress Monroe [/EMAIL]

        [URL=""]2-4 Oct 09 Death March XI - Corduroy[/URL]

        [EMAIL=""] G'burg Memorial March [/EMAIL]


        • #5
          Re: Desiccated vegetables

          Thanks for the great reply Charles. I've got a free recipes to try out now and ill compare my results with some bought products.

          I am, &c.

          Ian Hutchison


          • #6
            Re: Desiccated vegetables

            Sorry for opening an old thread but I felt it was best to try and contain a discussion in the same thread.

            Cornstarch is mentioned as an ingredient and method of making a desiccated vegetable product today. Does anyone know if that is known to be in the original product or is it added to make it work since we don't have presses?

            Only reference I have found so far is from Hardtack and Coffee saying "a large residuum of insoluble and insolvable material which appeared to play the part of wrap to the fabric. ... powdery glass thickly sprinkled through it.." The glass part he says was found by an inspector and thought to be from a CS emissary or sabotage. I wonder if thats not a soldier story trying to figure out the white powdery residue in the blocks.

            Further in the 1864 The Army Ration book it gives a description but just says "seasoned" besides the list of possible veggies and quick description of the process. Life of Billy Yank says it was peppered.

            Anyone have any other info to support seasoning and/or cornstarch?

            Jeremy Bevard
            Civil War Digital Digest
            Sally Port Mess


            • #7
              Re: Desiccated vegetables

              I would guess the cornstarch is used to help congeal the mixture into something like a block. We built a press and are looking at different methods of getting the vegetables ready to be pressed into the cakes. We have a dehydrator so that may make the process a little cheaper since we do not have to purchase dehydrated vegetables and have them shipped. We attempted the recipe espoused in this article ( ) but went about it with different methods. After boiling the vegetables, we patted them dry (not completely, just no longer soaked) and then bathed them in prepared unflavored gelatin. We then placed them into our press and applied several tons of pressure to them to squeeze as much excess water out of them. We then removed the wet cakes from the press and placed them in a dehydrator for 24 hours. The result was a dry but loose "cake" that fell apart almost immediately. Tried again but this time we left the veggies in the press overnight. Again with the 24 hour dehydration and the result was somewhat better. Now we are going to try and chop the veggies up first then dehydrate and press. We may still do the gelatin bath to encourage cohesion rather than the cornstarch
              Pvt. K.R. Malcolm
              Co. H, 8th USI


              • #8
                Re: Desiccated Vegetables

                I was always under the impression that they were dehydrated first, and then placed under enormous amounts of pressure. It just seems that pressing non-dehydrated veggies would just crush them beyond recognition and into some sort of paste.

                I'm curious how the LR's food with their recipe.

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                Mark Krausz
                William L. Campbell
                Prodigal Sons Mess of Co. B 36th IL Inf.
                Old Northwest Volunteers
                Agents Campbell and Pelican's Military Goods