Anyone reading Regency or Victorian novels will be all too well aware of the obsession with remedies for invalids that were handed down from generation to generation. Some may have worked (most were at least nutritious) and we cannot really blame them for quacking themselves when terrible diseases lurked in their homes and haunted their nightmares. With medical hindsight we can, of course, laugh at some of their ‘cures’ but huge reliance was placed on traditional recipes. Many books were written on the subject and newspapers were full of advertisements for all sorts of medicines and remedies (often lethal ones at that).
My well-thumbed edition of Beeton’s Book of Household Management is always a delight to peruse. There was no area that she feared to give advice on and there is an entire chapter on recipes for invalids. Here are a few of the more well-known ones you may have come across and always wanted to know how to make.
Arrowroot is an easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea. It is extremely bland, making it suitable for neutral diets, especially for people who are feeling nauseous. The Victorians considered it ideal as a food supplement as it was easily digestible. However they often flavoured it to make it more appealing.
The plant is native to the tropics of South America. The roots are washed and pulped and finally forced through a sieve. The fine powder left is dried.
2 teaspoons of arrowroot
3 tablespoons of cold water
Half pint of boiling water
Lump of sugar
Grated nutmeg or cinnamon
Port or sherry
Method: Mix arrowroot to a smooth paste with cold water then pour in boiling water, stirring all the time. Put thickened mixture in a tumbler, sweeten with sugar and flavour with nutmeg, cinnamon, or lemon-peel or 3 tablespoons of port or sherry.
2 oz of barley
Half pint of port wine
Rind of 1 lemon
1 quart and half pint of water
Sugar to taste
Method: Wash barley; boil in half pint of water for a quarter of an hour. Pour water away. Put barley into quart of fresh boiling water and boil until the liquid is reduced to half. Strain. Add wine, sugar and lemon-peel and simmer for 5 minutes.
There are three recipes in Mrs. Beeton’s book; here is the basic one:
1 lb of lean gravy-beef
1 quart of water
1 saltspoonful of salt
Method: Dice the beef and put in a saucepan. Add cold water and bring to the boil. Skim well. Add salt and simmer gently for about three quarters of an hour, removing any scum from the surface. Strain and put in a cool place. Ideally make the day before. When wanted, remove any fat from the top and warm up, adding more salt.
Calf’s Foot Broth: (Strangely she doesn’t give a recipe for Calf’s Foot Jelly)
1 calf’s foot
3 pints of water
1 small lump of sugar
1 egg yolk
Nut-sized portion of butter
Method: Stew the foot in the water with lemon-peel until the liquid is half wasted. Skim off any fat that rises. Put aside and cool. Warm up about a half pint, adding butter, sugar and grated nutmeg. Then add beaten egg yolk stirring until mixture thickens but do not let it boil. Serve.
I have saved the most insipid recipe till last:
Toast-and-Water (I haven’t made this up!)
Slice of bread
1 quart of boiling water
Method: Toast a slice of stale loaf to a lovely brown on both sides. Put in a jug and add the boiling water. Leave until cold. Strain and always serve cold.
Reference: Beeton’s Book of Household Management 1859