Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shall I Pour You A Cup Of Rye?

March 18, 1862 - Page 2 cropped
Whenever I see a historic newspaper archive website, I type in the name Pendleton for the heck of it since it’s not a very common name.  On the website American Civil War Newspapers, compiled by the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, I found the letter shown over on the left.  (It appears that the only newspaper thus far on this website is the Macon Daily Telegraph.)  The letter was written by Edmund Munroe Pendleton, my 3rd great uncle (brother to Philip Coleman Pendleton), to the editor of the Chronicle & Sentinel (maybe the Augusta Daily Chronicle & Sentinel?) about rye coffee.  It was reprinted in the March 18, 1862, Macon Daily Telegraph  There was a debate going in the newspapers about whether or not drinking rye coffee was good for you or bad for you.  Uncle Edmund was perturbed about some things that a Dr. Roberts had said about the dangers of drinking rye coffee, and he wanted to set the record straight.  Below is a transcription of Uncle Edmund’s letter.
Rye Coffee
To the Editor of the Chronicle & Sentinel:
An extract in your daily of Tuesday, signed L. J. Roberts, M. D., taken from the LaGrange Reporter, contains two such grave errors, that we cannot refrain from correcting them, particularly as many persons who use rye as a substitute for coffee, might be frightened out of an innocent beverage.
50196_rye_grass_smThe extract says:  “The grain when burnt, contains fifty per cent of phosphoric acid.”  Now, unscientific people would suppose this to mean when parched.  We suppose the Doctor intended the ash of the grain.  What is the true analysis of rye according to the best authorities?  1,000 pounds produces only 10-1/2 pounds of ash; and of this 10-1/2 pounds only 0.46 of a pound is phosphoric acid; not quite half a pound to 1000 pounds of the grain, and not quite 5 per cent of the ash instead of upwards of 50 per cent; being not quite the one-fifth of one per cent of the solid grain.  Besides, the Dr. forgets that not one particle of the earthy salts is probably held in solution by a common weak decoction of the rye; and if the whole grain was swallowed there would only be the medium amount of phosphoric acid contained in wheat and other cereals, must about enough to make bone instead of destroying it.
The effects of rye or the phosphoric acid in it, on utero-gestation, is equally fallacious, and quite as grave an error.  It is the ergot of rye that produces abortion, not the common, healthy grain used for coffee.  It is a long, black, stinking grain, easily distinguished from the other, and only occurring under unfavorable circumstances.  The common rye is quite as innocent as wheat or coffee in this respect.
Will the papers (we have seen it in several) which published the extract, give this an insertion?
E. M. Pendleton, M. D.
Sparta, Ga., March 12th, 1862.
ChicoryNow, this got me wondering…people really drank that stuff?  Apparently, yes.  It was used as a coffee substitute during the Civil War, and so were corn, sweet potatoes, cotton and okra seeds, peas, and beans.  Folks tried a lot of things including chicory[1].  A friend introduced me to chicory a few years ago.  I drank half coffee and half chicory for a while when I was trying to cut back on caffeine.  It’s quite tasty.  It seems to give coffee sort of a richer flavor.  I’ve also had just chicory.  Not bad.  At the time, I was thinking of buying chicory by the case from the company in Louisiana who sold the brand that I was buying, because it isn’t easy to find here.  I never did, though, and I went back to straight coffee and caffeine jolt.  I can thank my lucky stars that I haven’t had to live through a coffee shortage!


*Rye clipart is from
Chicory plant clipart is from
[1]  Confederate Coffee Substitutes, Articles from Civil War Newspapers.  Electronic document,, accessed November 18, 2011.


  1. Amazing, the substitutes that people will try. I wonder if any of those other things had any "jolt"?

  2. That's a good question Linda. I may have to do some more research into this. Might be useful to know :)