Vinegar's role in 18th-19th cooking

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Gene L

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I've read old military rations lists, and vinegar was an apparently common part of a soldier's rations in both the AWI and the ACW, and I wonder why. Was it a condiment to make the soldiers' bland rations taste better, or did it have some medicinal use? Now, we hardly ever use it for modern cooking (salads, pepper juice/vinegar we use for cooked turnip/collard greens) but you don't see it in many recipes for cooked food. I saw a video of Townsend using it in a stew, I think as a flavoring. Since vinegar isn't all that pleasant straight, I wonder how it enhances foods of that era.

Or maybe I'm missing something here.
 

sawyer04

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Apple cider vinegar is incorporated in my diet daily. Drink it with water or fruit juice. It will also shine up a fuel tank off of a motorcycle if left to soak for a week.
White vinegar, I use to flush out the on demand hot water heater. Many uses for vinegar, to many to list.
 

BullRunBear

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Vinegar's many uses go back for centuries if not millenia. I start each day with a glass of water and cider vinegar. It has numerous health benefits which I believe were known back then. We use it to make pickles and other food preservation, in German potato salad, and a bunch of other recipes besides salad dressing. I've read it was used for feminine hygene in the colonies. (Don't recall the source.) I find it freshens the taste of food generally and serves as a marinade for tough meat. It also acts as a cleaner for a lot of things. I believe it was cheap to buy and easy to make, even on the frontier.

Okay, I got carried away but I hope this addresses your question.

Jeff
 

buckskinner35

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Apple cider vinegar was also used to make apple pie when fresh apples were not avaliable. They also used something called "verjuice" which is juice from unripe grapes, crab apples, or other sour fruit, while it was not actually the same thing as vinegar, it was similarly acidic. Also ketchups at this time were basically vinegar and the juice from fermented fruits and vegetables or even fish like the fish sauce used in Thai food. Worcester sauce is basically a spiced fish sauce and is very similar to some of the ketchups used in the 18th century. Also sauerkraut was prepared and eaten all over the world, not just the German states, which was a great way of preserving food, and getting the Vitamin C they needed. Some recipes for sauerkraut called for vinegar, and some called for simply salting the cabbage down and letting it make its own vinegar. Pickles were similar, sometimes the recipes would call for vinegar, and sometimes the food being pickled would be just put in a salt brine, and the vinegar would be produced naturally in the food.
 
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tenngun

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I like vinegar, malt on fish or greens, cider or red wine too, though I use it less.
It keeps well, and is tasty as a sauce on food. Plum-Martin complained of meat served without sauce.
And it was used for cleaning.
We know the American army sometimes prepared their own preserved food and vinegar was used for that.
 

Eutycus

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There are alot of uses for vinegar both apple cider and white. And I'm sure some of those uses were known or ar least suspected over 200 years ago. Whether eaten , rubbed on,or drank (drunk?)
 

tenngun

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And, and this counts for many Americans Indians and Siberia peoples, along with our ice age ancestors, they ate guts.
Fresh organ meat is rich in vitamin c, but it breaks down with in a day or two of death. It has to be eaten fresh. Small intestine was eaten fresh or in soup. And rich in vitamin c.
 

Gene L

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Everyone is right about the history and uses of vinegar, but soldiers didn't make sauerkraut or preserve meat (others did for soldiers). So, with the issuance of vinegar to individual soldiers in small quantities (I assume) was the main use of it as a condiment, and if so why do we seldom see it used as such today?

I don't know, but I don't think the Navies of that time issued vinegar. The had other methods of issuing vitamin C.
 

buckskinner35

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So, with the issuance of vinegar to individual soldiers in small quantities (I assume) was the main use of it as a condiment, and if so why do we seldom see it used as such today?
If you think about it hot sauce is vinegar with some heat added to it. Here in NC our barbecue sauce is vinegar based with various other stuff added, and also almost all the condiments we use today contain vinegar. So really we still do.

I don't know, but I don't think the Navies of that time issued vinegar. The had other methods of issuing vitamin C.
Navies started issuing lime juice, and including sauerkraut in sailor's rations to help prevent scurvy.
 

buckskinner35

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Also speaking about vinegar used as a condiment historically, we can not forget to mention the ancient Roman sauce called "Garum" which was a vinegar based sauce with fermented fish, spices, and sometimes honey added.
 

Gene L

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If you think about it hot sauce is vinegar with some heat added to it. Here in NC our barbecue sauce is vinegar based with various other stuff added, and also almost all the condiments we use today contain vinegar. So really we still do.
But not exclusively vinegar. And I don't know what peppers were available to soldiers of that era, not mentioned in any documentations I could find. I read Continental soldiers were rationed half a pint of vinegar a week, if it could be had. I think vinegar was still issued in the Civil War, but I'm not sure. Sounds like a condiment, to me. May have had additional medicinal value, but that's not a lot of vinegar for a medical treatment.
 

buckskinner35

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But not exclusively vinegar. And I don't know what peppers were available to soldiers of that era, not mentioned in any documentations I could find. I read Continental soldiers were rationed half a pint of vinegar a week, if it could be had. I think vinegar was still issued in the Civil War, but I'm not sure. Sounds like a condiment, to me. May have had additional medicinal value, but that's not a lot of vinegar for a medical treatment.
Oh, I get what you are asking. I do not think that the vinegar was issued specifically to be used as a condiment for food, I think is was issued because it was very versatile. You have to remember that there were only a limited number of chemicals available to average people, and vinegar was considered a necessity. Also remember military brass had to be kept polished, and vinegar is excellent for that. Vinegar cleans pewter, silver, and other things really well also. And as an added bonus it can be used in cooking, and put of food as a condiment. Straight malt vinegar is great on cabbage hash, (as well as more contemporary fare like fish and chips, and steak sandwiches!)
 

Gene L

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Saw another reference that said it was to prevent scurvy, but wasn't always available. Question answered up the page. Thanks.
 

Eutycus

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Its a shame soldiers didn't have a better understanding of germs and bacteria back then. Vinegar could have been used more as a topical treatment instead of consumed as a condiment. But it probably helped with stomach ailments like wine did when poor quality drinking water was present.
 

Carbon 6

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Its a shame soldiers didn't have a better understanding of germs and bacteria back then. Vinegar could have been used more as a topical treatment instead of consumed as a condiment..
Why? They had Iodine. Much more effective than vinegar.

Sorry, In the civil war anyway.

What they needed to do was teach people to wash their hands.
 
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Loyalist Dave

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Cause and Effect
It was known that it helped preserve food. Poured over a finished meat dish, it could prevent contact contamination from flies landing on food.
One could boil the meat ration and then carry the cooked meat for several days before it made the men sick. In the diet, the men were healthier than when vinegar was omitted from the ration for long periods of time. Some theorize that the vinegar when a regular part of the ration helped to ward off insect bites that were a vector for other maladies. (I have a diet rich in various vinegars, and I am not bothered by mosquitos ;)) Some have wondered about cider vinegar being good to regulate blood sugar, but I doubt the soldier's ration or even the less than prosperous civilian was exposed to enough sugar to have diabetic concerns as we do today. It may also have been thought to be a partial antiscorbutic. Finally there is the use as a condiment.

LD
 
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