Selection, Preparation, & a Physicians’ Ready Reference for the Non-Professional

Last week I taught three instruction sessions relating to Special Collections in three days (which is a lot for me, who usually averages maybe three such sessions over the course of a single semester). Two of those had to do with aspects of food history and elements of the third touched on the topic as well. Add that to the guest lecture in another course about food history in late September, and the students from those classes who have followed up with me or the department to do research, and, when I can spare a few moments, improving and/or creating some new resources guides on some food and drink topics, it’s safe to say this is turning out to be a food history-full semester. You’d think all of that would make it easy to find something to blog about this week, but with so many items in hand lately, well, choosing is never easy. But, since I pulled several volumes by this woman and mentioned her in another writing project, I thought we’re revisit an author and educator we last featured back in 2014: Sarah Tyson Rorer. More specifically, her Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick: Dietetic Treating of Diseases of the Body, What to Eat and What to Avoid in Each Case, Menus and the Proper Selection and Preparation of Recipes, Together with a Physicians’ Ready Reference, 1914 (available online: Below are the cover, title page, and two sample pages from the table of contents.

pages-from-rm219-r7_1914 pages-from-rm219-r7_1914-2 pages-from-rm219-r7_1914-3 pages-from-rm219-r7_1914-4

Mrs. Rorer was, over the course of her lifetime, was an author, educator, lecturer, columnist, and radio program host. She took all of these roles seriously and this book highlights that. Many recipes books/cookbooks dating back to the early publishing of such books in America included content on diets for the sick or invalid. The same is true of household management guides. Though these sections, as they often appeared as separate chapters or topics in books,  largely consisted of recipes for beef teas, milk toast, and other simple dishes, they were a key skill for household managers. Some of Sarah Rorer’s other books include such chapters, too. But in Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick…, we find a far more specific, detailed book, as indicated in the forward (along with some beef teas and gruels, of course):

      This book has been written especially for the sick. The foods here recommended for special diseases are not suited to the well…Simple, easily digested foods recommended for the sick are not necessarily good for even children or invalids; in fact, foods for the well and foods for the sick are not interchangeable.

My sole desire in writing this book has been to assist those persons who must care for their sick  at home, and the doctor and the nurse, without trespassing on the domain of either. In disease each case requires special attention, and the knowledge that comes from observation cannot be supplanted by any dictated rules. Book directions are valueless unless modified by common sense.

The fact of the matter is that, in this volume, Sarah Rorer has packed in the information. At well over 500 pages, there are suggested and restricted foods for a range of diseases and hundreds of recipes.

There are a lot of things that make this book different. It isn’t usual for a non-medical professional to study up and impart this degree of food and medical knowledge in a book of the time period. Plus, with all the expected recipes, we find a wide variety of the unexpected: directions for vegetable dishes like cardoons; the use of “Edible Weeds” (common and uncommon herbs); surprisingly “luxury” foods like coconut or oysters (depending on where on lived); and even some remedies whose roots are more on the “home” than professional side, like “Irish Moss Water.” In short, Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick… is one diverse household manual, designed to prepare anyone providing home care to an ill family member.


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.

Kentucky Home Cooking

We featured several pages from the Kentucky Receipt Book a while back, in a post about the variety of lettuce sandwich recipes. However, this is a LOT more to this wonderful publication from 1903 and it’s high-time the cookbook had its moment in the spotlight…

One of the most noticeable things about this cookbook is the lack of a table of contents. The index at the back gives pages numbers for recipes by category (see image above), but if you’re looking for something specific, it takes a little digging. But, if you’re willing to dig, this book is full of surprises. A few examples:

  • the Kentucky Receipt Book is believed to contain one of the earliest printed recipes for banana pudding–however, if you look at the images above, you’ll notice the vital absence of vanilla wafers (although Nabisco was producing a cookie similar to the modern wafer by 1903).
  • there is an entire section devoted to oysters: fried, baked, skewered, curried, griddled, broiled, creamed, deviled, roasted, fricasseed, pickled, raw, in pastry, on toast, in an omelette, as a croquette, in a sauce…the book even contains directions for feeding oysters (keep them in your cellar!).
  • a whole host of unique animals and particular parts appear, including wild grouse, squirrel, terrapin, hog and calf head (for scrapple and mock turtle, respectively), backbone, and sweetbreads.
  • there is a section on beverages with directions for making fruit wines, cordials, beer, vinegar,  punches, and cocktails (gin fizzes, manhattans, and of course, the mint julep!). Several of the tea recipes also include rum.
  • directions on how to pickle everything from cucumbers and peppers to figs, melons, and walnuts
  • household hints and remedies like treating freckles with horseradish, cleaning zinc with kerosene, and curing headaches with lemon slices.

The Kentucky Receipt Book  is available here at Special Collections if you’re in the area and looking for a gelatin salad or pigeon dish for your next party. You can also view it through the Internet Archive, since it is out of copyright.

And remember, you only need to feed those oysters every other day, so take today off and bake a lemon pie, instead. This cookbook has seven variations…

The Cure for What Ails You

This week is a sort of mini double feature. As is often the way of working in Special Collections, looking at one item reminds you of one (or six!) more. So, while scanning Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, I was reminded of the trade card for Dr. Thomas’  Eclectric [No, that’s not a typo, I promise] Oil. Suddenly I had patent medicines on the brain [I blame the book I’m reading on the history of bitters]! There is plenty of history on patent medicines out there, so if you’re interested, I encourage you to go looking. But in the meantime…

Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, produced in 1868, combines baking recipes, advertisement for Dr. Sears’ cough syrup, and testimonials into a neat, if someone puzzling, package. On a single page, there are pudding recipes, directions for making horse liniment, and treatment for infections in the finger. The focus of the little pamphlet, however, are the testimonials. Written by the general public, physicians, and even a minister (and admitted long-term friend) of Sears. Of course, no one could have a bad word to say about the cough syrup, though in the modern age, one can’t help but wonder about the contents of a bottle. Samuel J. Sears (1815-1894) was a real physician in New York, though, which is more than can be said for some producers of medicines, legitimate or not. Dr. Sears’ syrup, at least, has specific claims and intentions–it is meant for coughs, colds, and a series of other lung-related complaints. 

When it comes to Dr. Thomas, the claims are not so humble. Eclectric oil apparently cures it all! 

woman with fan

description of ailments cured

Although the actual date of the trade card is unknown, Dr. Thomas’ oil was marketed from the mid 19th century well into the 20th century in the US and Canada. While it seems unlikely a blend of botanicals (and probably more than a little alcohol) would cure deafness in only two days, it seemed to do something for someone!

In addition to more patent medicine materials, there is also a great deal of information in our collections relating to home remedies. In fact, few 19th century cookbooks with complete without at least a page or two for dealing common injuries and recipes for useful household products. There are a whole range of books devoted in full or partially to the correct foods to feed the sick or invalid, too, but that might just be a blog post for another day…Until then, here’s hoping you don’t require a remedy of any kind.

Advice from 1692


This week, let’s take a trip back in time! The oldest publication in the Culinary History Collection here at Virginia Tech is from 1692. It’s 24 pages of selected material, excerpted from a larger work. The title, you ask?

A Pocket-Companion, Containing Things Necessary to be Known by all that Values Their Health and Happiness: Being a Plain Way of Nature’s Own Prescribing, to Cure Most Diseases in Men, Women and Children, by Kitchen-Physick Only. To Which is Added, an Account of How a Man May Live Well and Plentifully for Two-Pence a Day/Collected from The Good Housewife Made a Doctor, by Tho. Tryon. 

(Excuse me a moment, my fingers need a rest…) The text block is in a modern binding—you can see some of the marbled paper in the images above—but the original pages are chock full of “ſ” (long s) and “i”s replaced with “y”s.

Although the title says it all, basically, in 20 pages, we’re provided a selection of recipes—from sugar-candy to wine, to “sallads”—as well as brief nutrition information about these and a few other specific foods, how to eat/prepare them, and in what quantities one should consume them. The excerpt related to living on two-pence is a summary of how much food one can live on in a day, with a couple of household hints thrown in for good measure.

It’s worth noting that Thomas Tryon, the author of the larger work, wrote many books on a variety of topics during his life: nutrition and food, wine-making, how to find happiness in life, the treatment of slaves, and of course, the perils of alcohol and tobacco. All without a formal education! He was also a convert to vegetarianism, interested in both animal rights and conservation, and a hatter by trade.