Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Beer & Pretzels in the 1860's: An Authentic American Treat

Anybody who drinks beer likes it with pretzels, right?  Beer and pretzels are just made for each other. Well I have good news for you Civil War pards out there: There are two authentic brands of beer and pretzels that were around in the 1860's still being sold today.

Yuengling is America's oldest traditional brewing company. It was founded in 1829. I have heard stories that Yuengling Traditional Lager was the beer of choice among Union soldiers. (See, it even has an eagle on the label and everything!) It was particularly enjoyed by the Germans and Irishmen of the Delaware Infantry regiments, and no doubt by many other groups of fighting men.

I mean, just look at the label for Yuengling. It screams "Union Forever" doesn't it? You don't get any more Yankee than a beer with a big eagle on every bottle. It was brewed right here in Pennsylvania, too.  It doesn't get any more authentic than this.

Here is an interesting article about a Yuengling brewery from the period. (Source:

In the 1860s, James River Brewery Could Roll Out the Barrels of Brews Down by the River

Brewery Tunnel. Beer ad. Nineteenth Century cooler: The image on the left is one of the James River Steam Brewery tunnels opening onto the James River stands idle and is filled with water that has seeped in. The image on the right is an ad for David Yuengling's beer.
Rocketts Landing on the James River right at the Richmond/Henrico line has undergone a number of transitions. The area's development began with a ferry service operated by Robert Rocketts in 1730, for transporting goods. Through the nineteenth century it housed a number of industrial enterprises like the Richmond Cedar Works, whose building still stands with its identifying sign repainted on the building after its conversion to condominiums. Besides upscale condominiums, the 20-block mixed use Village at Rocketts Landing has become the site of swimming facilities, walking trails, restaurants and boat docks. But there is also a crumbling remnant of its industrial past waiting to be brought back–the site, or at least what is left of the site, of the James River Steam Brewery.
In 1866, David Yuengling, Jr., son of the founder of "America's Oldest Brewery," established the brewery at 912 East Main Street near what was then Wharf Street. Its location seemed well suited for the enterprise because river boats could tie up at the brewery's dock and trains could stop along the railroad to load the beer from the vaulted tunnels that served to keep the brew cool in the days before refrigeration. 

The operation seemed to be rather successful, and in 1867, the Richmond Whig indicated that it produced 400 barrels (12,400 gallons) per day. And many enjoyed their share of the 400 barrels, as Alexandria's Daily State Journal of September 15, 1873, reported: "Alois Rick, the well known pavier, has returned from the Vienna exposition and resumed operations in the line of his profession. He says the Vienna beer is not as good as Yuengling's Richmond article." However, Yuengling found the endeavor disappointing and sold the operation to the Richmond Cedar Works in 1878.
According to the April 3, 1883, Staunton Spectator, Yuengling complained, "We make the best beer in the world in the United States. . . After the war I went to Richmond, Va., and put $500,000 in a brewery, and came back without a dollar, and by hard labor have made another in New York - the farmers of Virginia forced their taxes upon the manufacturer, making me pay eighty-five cents a barrel on my beer and admitting distant bring beer from New York and Baltimore at less than they would carry it twenty miles out of Richmond for me. The brewery is there yet, idle, and no brewer has been successful in the south. They won't drink beer."

Brewery ruins. Beer ruins.
A fire destroyed the building in 1891, and the cellars have stood vacant since then. There are four vaulted tunnels - the largest of which is ten to seventeen feet wide and 146 feet long - and water seeps into them flooding the floor. The state's Department of Historic Resources board voted to add the remnants of the brewery to the Virginia Landmarks Register and nominate it to the federal list to protect historic and archaeological resources. Possible plans for the cellars involve the developer's hope to convert them to a restaurant - a use that almost brings the tunnels' lives full circle.

Brewery location. The ad shows the layout and location of David Yuengling, Jr's James River Steam Brewery.

On to pretzels.  I was walking by a catered luncheon at work today and someone offered me a small snack bag of Tom Sturgis Artisan pretzels. I had never had this particular brand of pretzels before. The info on the package jumped out at me:

Apparently, Sturgis made the first family-owned pretzel factory in America. In 1861, no less. Seeing the "150th Anniversary" logo in the corner, I decided to hop online and do some research. Check out this blurb from the Sturgis company website:

The tasty baked snack food that we know as the pretzel had its origin in southern Europe about 610 AD. The first pretzels were soft pretzels. These dough treats were given to the children as rewards for learning their prayers. The familiar shape of a twisted pretzel represents arms crossed over the chest in prayer. Pretiola (as they were called back then) means "little rewards" in Latin.

Eventually soft pretzels came to America via Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The first American commercial pretzel bakery was founded by Julius Sturgis in Lititz, PA in 1861. At that time, the crispy (hard) pretzel was developed by Julius.

Julius Sturgis died in 1897, but his descendants continued the pretzel baking tradition. In 1946 Marriott D. "Tom" Sturgis, grandson of Julius, founded the Tom Sturgis Pretzel Company after spending years learning pretzel baking from family members. In time Marriott’s son, Tom joined the company and now Tom’s son, Bruce has taken a place at Tom Sturgis Pretzels. Five generations of pretzel baking has made the Sturgis family the "First Family of Pretzels."

Pretzels were originally made by hand from start to finish. As technology progressed, parts of the procedure were mechanized. Through all these changes (from hand twisting at a top speed of 40 pretzels per minute to extrusion of thousands of pretzels per minute) pretzels remain a favorite, healthy snack food for young and old.

Although pretzel machinery has changed a great deal over the years, Tom Sturgis Pretzels still bakes some of our pretzels on a soapstone hearth surface which produces the highest quality pretzels available.

And to think I was being "farby" by sneaking pretzels out of my haversack at Civil War events!  Pretzels were a well known food in the 1860's, and it's not hard to imagine some ladies baking some homemade ones to send to the starving troops. They do make a great snack. No refrigeration needed, They are a nice dry food to mix with peanuts (keep a little dessicant bag in there and they stay dry too), they are salty to help replenish what you lose in sweat, something to munch on while on the march, and they go great with your authentic Yuengling Civil War beer.  Tell your friends!

Also, a great non-perishable snack idea at Civil War reenactments is a sack of peanuts (don't remove the shells)  "Goober peas" as they were called were a staple in just about any Confederate soldier's haversack, and they would take them wherever they could get them. They were so famous, in fact, that the men even wrote a marching song about them.

Sitting by the roadside on a summer's day
Chatting with my mess-mates, passing time away
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees
Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas
Eating goober peas
Goodness, how delicious,
Eating goober peas.
Verse 2
When a horse-man passes, the soldiers have a rule
To cry out their loudest, "Mister, here's your mule!"
But another custom, enchanting-er than these
Is wearing out your grinders, eating goober peas.
Verse 3
Just before the battle, the General hears a row
He says "The Yanks are coming, I hear their rifles now."
He turns around in wonder, and what d'ya think he sees?
The Georgia Militia, eating goober peas.

Verse 4
I think my song has lasted almost long enough.
The subject's interesting, but the rhymes are mighty tough.
I wish the war was over, so free from rags and fleas
We'd kiss our wives and sweethearts, and gobble goober peas.


**Note: There sat the Georgia Militia, is reported in contemporary accounts as underlying the battle of Griswoldville where they fought fiercely.
"The Tennessee Militia" is sung instead in some versions.)

Beer, goober peas and pretzels....the stuff of life. You can't go wrong!

Fun Fact: The color guard of our battalion has a Yuengling flag which they like to display in front of their tent in camp, but only on Saturday nights when the Colonel isn't around.

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