Cooking for the Sick Isn’t All Tea and Toast

Many of the cookbooks in the collection, especially those from the 19th century, include a section on cooking and preparing food for the sick. Others feature instruction on feeding children and infants. This week’s feature, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, has a little of everything. A combination textbook for cooking school students and cookbook, it was written by well-known teacher/author Fannie Merritt Farmer. The book went through multiple editions between 1904 and the early 1920s (ours is from 1911), and it has been reprinted occasionally since then.

The book contains information on nutrition and food values, feeding children and infants, and a lengthy list of recipes. While many cookbooks include simple recipes for the sick (teas, gruels, and toast),  Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent is much more elaborate, as you can see from some of the images above. Chapters have detailed instructions on preparing luncheon and dinner trays appropriately so they look neat and aren’t overcrowded. Recipes range from teas, soups, puddings/gelatins (it was too hard to resist the image of a carved orange basket!) and toast to chops, oysters, and custard souffles. The latter is not quite the simple fare you might expect.

However, if you look at Farmer’s list of things to consider when feeding the sick, the first two are appealing to sight and taste. “Never consult a patient as to his menu, nor enter into a conversation relating to his diet, within his hearing,” she advises, but “…the best means of stimulating the appetite is to have good food, well cooked, and attractively served.” (Admittedly taken to some strange extremes–see “Flowering Ice-Cream” above.) Chapters on specific types of food include notes on nutritive value, recommendations on the best ways to serve, and a variety of recipes.Contradictions aside (“Cream and Mayonnaise dressings, although highly nutritious, are so complex as to render them difficult of digestion” followed by recipes for both),  the fact that the book addresses different types and phases of illness, and, to some extent, transitioning back to a regular diet, is a change from many other publications from the time period. And it clearly had an audience for nearly 20 years!

And for those of you wondering what kind of stance the book takes on alcohol, there are cases of illness that justify its consumption, as “[t]he use of alcoholic beverages in some diseases seems almost imperative.” Before going on talk about when and why to drink a little brandy or  a lot of whiskey, however, Farmer includes the following statement: “Lives, without doubt, have been saved by the use of champagne.” There is a very brief explanation about champagne putting those with fevers into beneficial sleep, but either way, it might be my new favorite quotation.

And, on a vaguely related note, since it’s graduation weekend here at Virginia Tech, a little champagne might just be in order. Congrats and good luck, Class of 2012! Go out into the world…and find something good to eat. That’s my advice.

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