Blackpowder Artistry and Cornbread a Cookin’
I have had an affinity for firearms since the days of my youth. While I may have been born long after the demise of the Musket as the weapon of choice, my affinity includes blackpowder pistols, long-arms, rifles (noted by the difference between the smooth bore and rifled barrels) and even cannons (sometimes also properly referred to as rifles) and mortars.
When I was a kid, I was also part of an Historical Reenactment group reenacting battles of the American War Between the States. Despite popular beliefs, myths and misconceptions, most of these people are merely ardent lovers of history and not mental midgets with some deep-seated and masked desire to see this horrible event in our history occur once again in the present day.
Among my great many friends I made in those days, was one old-coot by the name of “Boom Boom” who, as you may have guessed from the name, was in charge of the ordnance or cannons and mortars. Having, as I did, an affinity for blowing things up, even at such a young age, I came to work closely with Boom Boom and learned a great many things … not the least of which I will share here … in case any of the readers ever open a vendor stand at a blackpowder shoot or a reenactment event.
As part of the show at the reenactments, we would place various sizes of charges in the ground to be detonated in a short delay after the cannons or mortars would be fired. While it would not give the full impact as the deadly air-bursts of the original mortar rounds, it would not be as lethal either. In a reenactment, this is an imperative and should be a given.
Like the original mortar rounds and selected cannon rounds, these charges would be filled with black powder. Unlike the original rounds, the placed charges would often be stored in old cardboard, generally Quaker Oat or Cream of Wheat boxes with thick cardboard that would contain the charge sufficiently to allow it to detonate without just sitting there and burning off.
All of these cannot and mortar shots and “resulting” explosions downfield were carefully orchestrated and timed and controlled via a battery bank we had made using toggle switches to detonate the charges.
Somewhere along the way, Boom Boom had discovered that mixing the blackpowder with a certain percentage of corn meal would greatly increase the amount of smoke created. Given the fact that we often lacked the number of cannons as were deployed during the actual battles, and the fact that the crowds seemed to love the smoke, this became a common practice in order to add to the (perceived) “realism” of the reenactments.
In fact, this practice became so common that we began using the cornmeal in all of the musket and pistol shots as well.
Our Quartermaster was kind of a strange and squirrely old fellow, though good enough of heart and spirit. However, he was not always the most organized person in the bunch. One day, he had somehow or another managed to forget the grease that we generally used to pack our pistols. Given that we were partisan rangers, most of carried pistols and not merely our long guns.
Being the intelligent guy he was and having no shortage of clever ideas, he proceeded to the local town store where the only thing he could find as a suitable replacement was butter-flavored crisco. We quickly packed our cylinders and made ready to enter the fray but the strangest thing happened … and we tested it over the course of time so as to make sure what we were experiencing was real and actually caused by our efforts.
After the “battle”, we happened to be in a Settlor’s Camp … the Settlors being the traders of the day and in the case of reenactments, loaded with people selling period goods and items … and we noted that a great many of the conversations from one group of people, were noting how their food sales had skyrocketed over those of any previous that they had attended.
During the battle, we had all noted that when we fired off the cornmeal powder mix, greased with the butter flavored crisco, that the resulting smoke did in fact smell an awful lot like cornbread cooking, but we had not really thought it all the way through. We began conducting some experiments in cooperation with some of the food vendors, and sure enough, whenever the butter flavored crisco and the cornmeal were used together, the food sales inevitably increased.
While I do not know how many of the other groups may have established this as a practice, as long as we could work out a spot next to certain vendors, our particular group was always allowed free food with certain settlors that routinely showed up, and apparently, their sales increased as well.
Let us know what you think please!