Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alcohol and other food for invalids.

Today, February 15th …

John Byrom was an English poet, hymnist, Fellow of the Royal Society, and inventor of a type of shorthand. On this day in 1728 he was in London, and wrote to his wife in Manchester:

“I am fain to keep to my bed all day for this disorder, which, when I stir, troubles me; I am got to sack whey, nettle broth &c”

Sack-whey was a mixture of sherry and whey, usually taken warm, and just the thing for any of the minor ills and colds and “universal cachexies” that annoy us. Whey is one of the latest (i.e rediscovered) health food fads, so surely sack-why must be on the cusp of a revival too? I’ll have mine without the whey, thanks.

Nettles are a diverse and widespread weed, cooked (to destroy the formic acid which stings) and eaten since beyond the mists of antiquity as peasant food, as a spinach substitute, and as in John Byrom’s case, for invalid food.

The types of food that have been considered suitable for invalids over the centuries makes for fascinating study. Mrs Arthur Webb’s “Invalid Cookery”, written in the early 1940’s has this recipe in its chapter on “Light Puddings”:

Banana Rissoles.
2 bananas, 2 teaspoonfuls flour, 1 tablespoonful breadcrumbs, I egg.
Cut each banana in half after peeling, roll each piece in flour, coat with beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in boiling fat. Serve with slices of lemon and sugar.

A favourite old alcoholic restorative for centuries was “cock-ale”. It was supposedly originally given to fighting cocks, to make them stronger and more aggressive, and minor variations of the recipe occur in many, many cookbooks. Samuel Pepys enjoyed it regularly. Here is a recipe from “The Closet Of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, 1677”. It may be useful if you are suffering from a “decay’d nature” at any time.

To make Cock-Ale
Take eight gallons of Ale, take a Cock and boil him well; then take four pounds of Raisins of the Sun well stoned, two or three Nutmegs, three or four flakes of Mace, half a pound of Dates; beat these all in a Mortar, and put to them two quarts of the best Sack: and when the Ale hath done working, put these in, and stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it.

Tomorrow: Extracting the goodness.

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