What a Difference a Century Makes! 1914 – 2014


Music – “Sick Feeling Blues” from Remember Me by Lightnin’ Hopkins. Released: 2000

Back on August 23rd, 2013, I posted “Invalid Cookery – Feeding The Sick”. So many of my older cookbooks, predating 1940, feature chapters on Invalid Cookery. I was curious about when this aspect of cooking generally faded from cookbooks.

Good old "Milk Toast" for the upset tummy (Photo Credit:  paulmurray.typepad.com)

Good old “Milk Toast” for the upset tummy (Photo Credit: paulmurray.typepad.com)

In 1914, in the USA, many cookbooks had recipes dedicated to nursing the invalid, and, like social studies, reading these books sheds a great deal of light on what was happening at the time, which diseases were prevalent, what the technology was and a good many other bits of information to give us a picture of life in the USA in 1914, just on the cusp of World War I.

According to federal mortality statistics for the USA in 1914, deaths from a number of infectious diseases were common. The biggest killers were typhoid fever, measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, diptheria, influenza, tuberculosis, pneumonia and polio. Naturally, the very young and the very old (at least, old for the time), succumbed with more frequency. In 1914, the average male born in the US could expect to live approximately 52 years, and females, 56.8 years. What a difference a century makes! A male born today, 2014, can expect to live approximately 76 years, and a female, 81 years, on average. Improved sanitation, dietary changes, medical advances and technology have played a huge role in extending our lives.

But, back to “invalid cookery”. Reviewing some of the older books in my collection again, I was curious as to how some of the recipes for the sickroom claimed to improve the health of the patient. For example, “Prune Puff” or “Broiled Frogs Legs” don’t exactly excite my taste buds at any time, let alone when I’m feeling under the weather.

A pile of raw beef is just the thing when you're feeling ill.  Heck, toss on a raw egg, while you're at it! (Photo Credit:  en.wikipedia.org)

A pile of raw beef is just the thing when you’re feeling ill. Heck, toss on a raw egg, while you’re at it! (Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org)

Nor does “Tea Brewed in Milk”, “Rice Coffee”, “Egg Gruel”, “Raw Beef Sandwiches” or “Scorched Codfish”, yet all of these recipes, and more, are featured in the 1914 (revised edition of the 1908 original) “Good Housekeeper’s Cook Book” by Emma Paddock Telford.

Rice Coffee for the "invalid" (Photo Credit:  puttingweirdthingsincoffee.com)

Rice Coffee for the “invalid” (Photo Credit: puttingweirdthingsincoffee.com)

Some nice broiled frog legs when your tummy is turning? (Photo Credit:  bbqbrethren.com)

Some nice broiled frog legs when your tummy is turning? (Photo Credit: bbqbrethren.com)












In the general cooking department, Emma also recommended boiling string beans for 1 to 2 hours, and beets for 4 to 6 hours! I can only imagine the mush that must have resulted for this death by boiling.

But, perhaps, Emma, in her quest to keep families healthy, recommended balanced menus for meals throughout the year. For a Friday in early summer, you might try a breakfast of raspberries, cereal, a parsley omelet, coffee and rolls. For lunch on the same day, how about tomato toast, green pea salad, cruellers, cream cheese and tea. (excuse me, “luncheon”). After a long hard day of work, come home to relax to a dinner of clams on the half shell, scalloped fish, baked potatoes, broiled tomatoes, sponge corn bread, lettuce with French dressing, raspberry float and black coffee. Whew. Sleep on that if you can! Emma also says that raw ripe tomatoes should be eaten at every meal during the day in order to cure biliousness. And, should you suffer from nervousness, eat onions. Blood problems? Eat a cabbage.

Blood problems?  Eat cabbage! (Photo Credit:  www.stylecraze.com)

Blood problems? Eat cabbage! (Photo Credit: http://www.stylecraze.com)

Torpid liver? Dig up some dandelions for yourself.

"Torpid Liver"? Graze on some dandelions! (Photo Credit:  www.pesticide.org)

“Torpid Liver”? Graze on some dandelions! (Photo Credit: http://www.pesticide.org)

Also in 1914,  in several cookbooks of mine, “nourishment” includes “Lime Water”, made with a piece of unslaked lime the size of a walnut and placed into an earthen vessel. Cover with 2 quarts of boiling water, stir thoroughly and allow to settle. Pour off the clear liquid and have yourself a cold one.

The Women of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Hamilton, Ohio, published the “Hamilton Cook Book”, in 1914, and like many others at the time, feature invalid recipes: “Peach Foam”, “Wine Soup” and “Milk Toast” are among some of them. In the same cookbook, but clearly not in the “invalid cookery” category, are “Rinctum-Dity” : 1 cup grated cheese. 1 chopped green pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 can tomatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 eggs, 2 grated onions and a dash of pepper. Mix tomatoes, cheese, onion, and chopped pepper. Melt butter in a chafing-dish, add the mixture, and when heated add the eggs, well beaten, and the seasonings. Cook until the eggs are of a creamy consistency, stirring all the time. Serve hot. This also goes by the name of “Rinktum Ditty” in other cookbooks.

"Rinctum Dity" or "Rinktum Ditty" (Photo Credit:  www.recipetips.com)

“Rinctum Dity” or “Rinktum Ditty” (Photo Credit: http://www.recipetips.com)



If “Rinctum-Dity” is not to your liking, you might try “Rum Tum Tiddle” (cheese, tomato soup, onion, Worcester sauce and throw it into a chafing dish). How about “English Monkey”, with breadcrumbs, milk, cheese, eggs and butter, which is poured over crackers?

What I find fascinating is the gradual decline of the inclusion of chapters for “invalid cookery” or “sickroom cooking” and this surely reflects the changes in our health and dietary status over the past century, in addition to medical advances. I’m not sure which of the more recent cookbooks I have in my collection feature such chapters, but I’d be willing to guess that somewhere around the 1940’s, as health and diets improved, the invalid cookery chapters went the way of the dinosaurs. However, although the “general” cookbooks of today don’t feature sickroom cookery, there are plenty of “specialty” cookbooks out there with diet recommendations for just about everything that ails you. The more it changes, the more it stays the same!

My EatYourBooks cookbook collection


About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
This entry was posted in Comfort Food, Cookbooks, Cooking, Cooking and Social History, Cooking Technology, Eating, Food Trends, Menu Planning, Recipes, Vintage Cookbooks and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What a Difference a Century Makes! 1914 – 2014

  1. I remember being fed milk toast as a kid! The others are new to me…

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