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 Posted: Sat Aug 2nd, 2014 12:24 am
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Hellcat
Root Beer Lover


Joined: Tue Nov 15th, 2005
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Well, this isn't going to be my usual one of these threads. Usually I' trying a recipe out of Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady Book, edited by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding, and giving my opinion of the results. Today I'm going for a recipe I got from elsewhere. So today it's Cush. Now I've got at least three different sources here that discuss cush, either with a recipe for making it or in such a way that you can put together your own idea of a recipe. The first is William C. Davis's A Taste For War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray. On page 44 Davis says of cush:

Confederates, whose commissary-issue or self-made corn dodgers could be just as hard as Yankee hardtack, often crumbled their hard bread into a frying pan and cooked it in grease, adding whatever communal oddments of bacon, salt pork, or beef they could find at hand, making a dish they called "cush" or "slosh," most probably so named because of the explosive noise made by steam escaping from the gelatinous mass as it cooked.

Then there's Patricia B. Mitchell's Cooking for the Cause. Now this is where I had originally read of cush and when I first set out to try making it I had intended to try what was in her book, but as not everything is listed in the table of contents, and there is no index in the back, I had difficulty finding what I was looking for and overlooked it easily. Another search today turned it up. From page 13:

Another Southern improvisation, Confederate cush, provided a dinner entrée of sorts. It consisted of bits of cooked beef fried in bacon grease and then stewed with crumbled hardtack or cornmeal mush. It was seasoned with garlic. Iron-stomached readers might like to duplicate such a recipe.

Finally there's the book I did go with when I couldn't find the above in Mitchell's book. Rebel Cornbread and Yankee Coffee: Authentic Civil War Cooking and Camaraderie by Garry Fisher. On pages 59 and 60 Fisher describes cush as:

Probably one of the best-known Confederate recipes, cush is mentioned in a number of soldiers' letters and memoirs, testifying to it's popularity. Cush seems to have been the result of the Confederate army's perennial shortage of cooking utensils, which necessitated the practice of cooking as much food together as possible. When prepared properly, cush tastes rather good, and many a hungry Confederate soldier looked forward to it as a first-rate supper

Of the three Fisher actually provides a recipe, though should be easy from the descriptions by Davis and Mitchell to figure it out for yourself. On page 59 Fisher gives the recipe as:

Cush

1 large chunk cold, cooked beef
Bacon grease
Water
1 piece of cornbread or hardtack


Cut a chunk of cold cooked beef big enough for a meal into small pieces. In a skillet, heat enough bacon grease to cover the frying surface of the pan. Add the beef and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.

Add enough water to almost cover the beef, then stew the beef in the water about 5 minutes, stirring often, until it is soft.

Crumble a chunk of cornbread or a square of hardtack into the meat and stir well.

Stirring occasionally, cook the cush until the water is absorbed, giving it a hashlike consistency. You genuine Confederate cush is now ready to eat!


Ok I actually tried this about a couple weeks ago and then again yesterday and today. But today is the first time to actually meet more the recipe. As I've said in the There's something fishy here, there's a jar of bacon grease in the fridge for use either in recipes or to fry up in. So getting the bacon grease is even easier than saying "let's fry up some bacon just so I can try this recipe."

The first time I tried making the cush I had the bacon grease and the cornbread, but I didn't have the cold cooked beef. Maybe if I'd looked in Davis's book I'd have just made it with bacon. But there was some raw stewing beef chunks in the meat drawer. Nice large chunks so I took a couple pieces and cut them down into tiny pieces. These I then proceeded to fry up in the bacon grease until they were largely cooked. Add in the water, it's looking at this point like a beef stew. All I'd need is a little potato, maybe some onion and garlic, carrot, celery, and maybe a little thickener. The only real difference is a little bacon grease floating on the water along with those beef juices, usually use butter to cook the beef in if I'm browning it before making the beef stew. But this is supposed to be cush, so once the beef had stewed a little I crumbled up the cornbread and let it absorb the water. This I cooked a little until I got it to the consistency I was looking for. Then it's tasting time.

My question, why does cush have to be made with cold cooked beef. That first attempt was great. The cornbread wasn't hard, in fact it was about a day old. But it gives a slightly grainy taste that reminds me a little of mashing up cornbread with buttermilk. That goes back to childhood for me, fairly fond memories of that. It's not a grainy that's off putting to me, it's more like having something where I know I'm clearly sinking my teeth into something. This isn't cornbread with too much cornmeal in it or uncooked cornmeal, it's more just a texture I kinda like that helps set cornbread apart from other breads, biscuits, and muffins. And the beef was more like if I had made a beef stew. I will say they could have gone a little longer, really been tender. But the flavor was very good. Absolutely a do again. But maybe some time when I have the beef.

Well yesterday I had the beef. Had a beef pot roast a couple nights ago. Portions of the roast were a little tender, quite a bit wasn't shoe leather but it was certainly tough. What was left over was put away in the fridge for use as leftovers. So it fit the cold cooked beef Fisher's recipe calls for. But this time instead of having the cornbread I had to make do with drop biscuits.

I sliced some slices off the roast and sliced these into small pieces, frying them up in the bacon grease. Give it a few minutes, a bit more than what Fisher called for. But taking and trying one of the cubes I could already tell it was getting softer. At this point I added the water. Well, I added too much water and had to let it stew for more than five minutes to let liquid evaporate as I only had a couple of biscuits available to use. When I thought I'd let enough liquid evaporate I crumbled in the biscuits only to learn my mistake, too much liquid had evaporated. So I had to add in a little extra water, just enough to be absorbed. Again I got it to the consistency I wanted and then it was time to try.

Where the first attempt had a slightly grainy texture I like, this attempt had a more silky texture. The beef was nice and tender, some fall apart and some just before that fall apart tenderness. But what was really missing from this attempt was the corn taste. This might be a little more like how it may taste if made with hardtack. Though maybe a little salt or pepper could have been added to taste. Even so, the flavor was quite good and I made the comment that if that was that good I bet with cornbread it would be even better.

And then there's today's attempt. Fresh batch of cornbread made up. Still got the bacon grease and the pot roast. Again slice off a couple slices pot roast and melt the bacon grease. I should have pour some back into the jar because I had a little too much grease, was a little more boiling the beef chunks in bacon grease than frying. Still it accomplished the same as yesterday before I added the water. Today I also watched the water a little more carefully to make sure I didn't have to add more when I crumbled in the cornbread.

This time the consistency ended up being a little looser than what I was looking for, a little between a hash and a thick potato soup. But that was certainly fine. It wasn't really a runny dish and the flavor was very much what I was expecting it would be like yesterday. It combined the flavor of the cornbread from the cush I tried making a couple weeks ago with the flavor of the beef as it turned out yesterday. I can certainly see why Fisher claims it could be considered a first-rate supper. It's a dish I'd be willing to make for supper. Maybe even trying it with a little garlic added in.

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