Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food for the Baby.

A reader who has a little son asked about baby food “back in the day”. This is for you and your boy, Michael B.

Where to start with the massive topic of how babies have been fed over the centuries? A long way back there was a constant debate about the best ‘alternative’ milk – and asses’ milk was a favourite - but I think I will jump to relatively recent times, because it is a bit more accessible, being within memory of some of our personal ancestors.

I have chosen as my source a book called Food for the sick and how to prepare it: with a chapter on food for the baby, by Edwin Charles French, published in Louisvile in 1900, for no other reason than that it was at hand. Wherever they are published, there is one great similarity amongst child-feeding books – their absolute rigidity. Where did they get such a sense of certainty from?

Edwin considers food for the baby under three headings: ‘Mother’s Milk, Cow’s milk modified, and the “Infant Foods” of Commerce.’

Naturally, and thankfully, Edwin was adamant that mother’s milk was best, so we are all pretty much in agreement there. He does insist however that it should be offered ‘at absolutely regular intervals, and the child should never be allowed at the breast for more than 20 minutes.’ Looks like I failed badly as a mother from day 1.

Of commercial Infant “foods” – which are milk alternatives, not “solids” - he is not particularly impressed with their digestibility or overall value, and sums up his position by saying ‘it is best not to use them until after the sixth month, then not in large quantities, and never as a permanent food, although they may be employed temporarily with advantage, when for any reason the child is unable to digest milk, as in various acute diarrheal diseases.

As time progresses he advises:

‘A child should be fed on a strictly milk diet until about the ninth or tenth month, when a little soft-boiled egg, soups (vegetable and mutton), beef juice (made by broiling rare-done a piece of beef and pressing the juice from same) , “infant foods”, and a small amount of starch food, as a bit of cracker, arrowroot, or farina may be given once a day in a bottle of milk. Potatoes may be given after the twelfth to fifteenth month if they are baked and well done.’

Of course it is just as essential to know what foods are forbidden. This is the list of foods that should be prohibited for ‘children under seven years, and all are improper for children under four years.’

Meats: Pork in all forms, dried, canned or salted meats, goose, duck, game, kidney, liver, bacon, meat stews, and dressings from roasted meats.
Vegetables: Potatoes (except roasted), cabbage, raw or fried onions, raw celery, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes (raw or cooked), beets, eggplant, and green corn.
Bread and Cake: All hot bread, biscuits, or rolls; buckwheat and other griddle cakes; all sweet cakes, particularly those containing dried fruits and those heavily frosted.
Desserts: all nuts, candies and dried fruits; all canned or preserved fruits, pies, tarts, and pastry of every description.
Drinks: Tea, coffee, cocoa, wine, beer, and cider.
Fruits: Bananas, all fruits out of season, all stale fruits, particularly in cities during the summer. Grapes are objectionable only on account of the seeds. With most of the other fruits it is the excess quantity which makes them injurious.

Edwin has a real set against bananas, which he does not justify in any great detail, and they are also on his ‘must avoid’ list for ‘anemia or debility and diseases of the liver and bile passages.’ Looks like I failed badly there too. Bananas were a staple baby food in our household. The kids turned out OK though. Maybe I was lucky?

Out of spite or guilt, I give you this recipe which I would not have hesitated to feed to my toddlers. Why cook two meals, when one will serve all? It is from the Good housekeeping's book of menus, recipes, and household discoveries [c1922]

Banana Bread Pudding.
½ small loaf bread, 2 ½ cupfuls milk
1 ½ tablespoonfuls butter, ½ cupful sugar
4 bananas, juice 1 lemon
2 eggs.

In a buttered baking dish place alternate layers of buttered bread and sliced ripe bananas sprinkled with lemon juice. Beat the eggs well, add the sugar and milk. Pour over the bread and banans. Bake in a 350 deg. oven one hour or till set. One half-cupful of tart jelly may be used in place of the lemon-juice and sugar.

Quotation for the Day …

My illness is due to my doctor's insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies. W.C. Fields


BalrogMB said...

Great info TOF and thanks for the dedication! We definitely fail in the rigid feeding intervals as well. Baby's stomach is in charge around our house. I love the rare beef juice idea... should it be served warm or cold? Is a sippy cup acceptable? Never mind, that's gross.

srhcb said...

Here's a fun and healthy recipe for babies:


No, these are neither the little tiny progeny of normal size biscuits, nor a recipe from Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal", but teething biscuits for human babies.

The first time my de facto grandson Zach, now nearly five, stayed at our house I was pretty much at a loss for anything to do. If there's one subject I knew next to nothing about it was babies. The last direct contact I'd had with an actual baby was long ago when my Sister was one. Since I was only six years old at that time I don't recall too much about it.

I did however notice that babies like to eat. Then I remembered that my King Arthur Flour 200th Aniversary Cookbook included a recipe for Teething Biscuits. I retired to the kitchen, leaving the hands-on baby care in the far more capable hands of Mom and Grandma.


1/2c Milk
1/4c Vegetable Oil
1/4c Molasses
1-1/2c AP Flour
1-1/2c Whole Wheat Flour


Blend the Wet Ingredients
Stir the Flours into the Wet Ingredients
Knead the mixture to make a smooth Dough
Let the Dough rest, covered, 20 minutes
Roll Dough out to 1/4" thickness
Cut into 1-2" shapes (I used a star shaped cutter because it provided several points for a baby to grab and gnaw on)
Place Biscuits on baking sheet, let them rest another 15-20 minutes while pre-heating oven to 350 degrees
Bake approx 30 minutes, until firm, almost hard
Store in refrigerator or freezer and serve cold

They tasted rather bland to me, but the baby I had available for testing highly approved.

(and our dogs liked them too)

PS: This past year I had the pleasure of making a batch for Zach's new sister, Baby Jenna!