In my cookbook collection, I have a number of older, out-of-print cookbooks, dating from about 1890 through the early 20th century. Many of them feature chapters on ‘Invalid Cooking’. Most are general-purpose cookbooks. Once again, cookbooks are like time capsules and reflect aspects of the culture at the time they are written. When these cookbooks were published, some diseases were likely bigger killers than they are today and many have either vanished or have become relatively benign.
In 1908, in Ontario, Canada, The Sparta W.T.Z published ‘The Spartan Cook Book’, which featured a chapter entitled ‘For the Sick Room Diet’. Beef tea, egg broth, milk sherbet, ice cream were included, as were ‘Albuminized Milk’: milk and egg white put in a jar and shaken. It was permissible to sweeten to taste. Alternately, one might have ‘Peptonized Milk’, in which one half of the powder in a peptonized tube was combined with cold water, shaken and fresh cold milk added. It was warmed briefly before serving to the patient. The note indicates that this was a very acceptable beverage for patients suffering from typhoid.
In 1910, ‘Home Helps’, ‘A Pure Food Cook Book’ was published by The N.K. Fairbank Company in Chicago. Recipes were contributed by well-known culinary experts at the time: Mrs. Mary J. Lincoln, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer, Marion Harland, Mrs. Helen Armstrong and Lida Ames Willis. The last chapter, ‘Invalid Cookery’ notes the many food preparations in the market at the time: ‘malted, peptonized, albumenized, etc.’, which apparently were adapted to address nearly any ‘degree of invalidism’. The authors stress that in addition to the value of the meal served, it should be done with ‘…delicacy in all appointments, and dainty serving…’
Common was ‘beef juice’, ‘gruel’, which was essentially boiled oatmeal rubbed through a strainer and diluted with milk or water, and ‘hot eggs’, which the authors suggest is more acceptable to the invalid, than a ‘cold raw egg’, which definitely sounds much less appealing! ‘Junket’ or gelatin was also suggested, which might contain a tablespoon of wine, just to perk up the invalid’s spirits (no pun intended).
Jennie Ellis Burdick, in 1922, wrote ‘What Shall we Have to Eat?’, published by The University Society, New York. A chapter entitled ‘What Shall I serve my Patient?’ has food lists for a liquid diet, a soft diet and a semi-solid diet, also known as the ‘convalescent diet’. The liquid diet ranged from apple water to whey. If you had graduated to the soft diet, you could choose from a variety of selections ranging from arrow-root pudding to toast with broth (yum). When you reached the convalescence stage, you knew you were making progress and could choose from a broiled lamp chop, creamed fish, raw oysters, and steak tenderloin. When I was 7 or 8 years old and recovering from the chicken pox, my Mother never served me stuff like this! Just as well, as I’m not an oyster lover.
Elizabeth Craig wrote ‘Cookery Illustrated and Household Management’, probably in 1936, which was published in London. It is a massive 760 page tome, with chapters for everything, including diets for children and ‘Invalid Cookery’. She writes that food is part of the cure and the patient likely has a poor appetite. Dainty dishes might tempt the patient’s appetite and the invalid’s tray should be colourful with linens and flowers. A light meal for an invalid might consist of unsweetened calves’ foot jelly with wheaten wafers, cold lamb mousse or a fish soufflé. Ms. Craig features sections to address common complaints and what foods should be served to the patient suffering from them: dyspepsia (indigestion), gout and rheumatism, diabetes, obesity, extreme thinness, fever, and consumption. ‘Extreme Thinness’ is described as a single ‘condition’, although Ms. Craig indicates it may be due to various causes. Nonetheless, the remedy is to drink lots of milk, cream, eat butter, fat bacon, puddings of all kinds, breads, cakes and sweet dishes and a little beer or stout. Consider the next time you are suffering from exhaustion: a little brandy, egg, and cinnamon water beat together might just perk you up.
‘Toast water’ seems to feature in many cookbooks with invalid cooking ideas; a slice of bread is toasted, put into cold water, soaked and strained. Eating a piece of toast and washing it down with water apparently won’t do the trick. The water should have a nice brown tint to be effective, as Elizabeth Craig notes in her cookbook. ‘Peptonising Fluids’ are recommended for indigestion and other gastric troubles. Fish is to be boiled, as is chicken, sweetbreads, and lettuce.
I’m not sure when cookbook authors began leaving sickroom cooking behind. Certainly, as medicine advances and new cures are found for old diseases, the cookbooks reflect these changes. Today, we have numerous specialty cookbooks to address our issues: cookbooks for diabetics, cookbooks for lactose or gluten intolerance, cookbooks to maintain good health, and many more, but the general purpose cookbooks that served our mothers (and fathers) generations ago, no longer address feeding the sick, for the most part. We must be making progress!