Monday, September 20, 2010

Losing it with Liquorice.

I am leaving Sydney today to return to Brisbane after a marvellous weekend. Just for the fun of it, I decided that for my final Sydney-themed post I would try to find at least one food-related story in the Sydney newspapers of one hundred years ago today.

Sadly for us, the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 September 1910 (a Tuesday) did not contain any recipes. There was mention of the Lord Mayor’s dinner the previous evening, with an extensive discussion of the speeches, but none of the bill of fare. Several other articles covered the success (or not) of the market for Australian products such as oranges, butter, and chilled beef in Britain. And there was this interesting ‘scientific’ article:

The marvellous progress of modern medical science shines all the more markedly for the acknowledged ignorance of old-time practitioners in their treatment of many diseases – especially that of obesity, with which nobody can deny that they boggled [?] deplorably. Nowadays the matter is simple. Any over-fat person can make up the following efficacious prescription, or get his (or her) chemist to do so: Take one ounce of fluid extract of Glycyrrhiza B.P., one ounce of pure Glycerine R.P., one half-ounce of Marmola, and mix with peppermint water, to make six ounces in all. Dose: Two teaspoonfuls after each meal. The rapid reduction of weight effected by this simple and harmless remedy is delightful to every stout person who tries it, especially as there are no exacting dietary or other restrictions imposed. The tonic value of this remedy is as highly appreciated as is its reductive properties; the entire digestive system undergoes a beneficial change. Health, vigour, pure rich blood, renewed muscular development, are amongst the valuable results of this truly scientific and reinvigorating treatment, which leaves no wrinkles, however great the reduction effected.

It seems that the weight loss industry was already alive and well a hundred years ago. So, how efficacious would this ‘remedy’ have been? It might actually have worked – at a price. The active ingredient was Marmola - a patent medicine of the time containing ‘thyroid substance’ which was sold over the counter as a cure for obesity. Sufficient of this product would cause the equivalent of an over-active thyroid gland, so it would certainly have had the potential to cause weight loss – or death due to heart damage. The American inventor of this product, Edward D. Hayes, had for several decades been the subject of much activity on the part of government agencies in his own country, over his claims for the benefits of several of his snake-oil nostrums, including Marmola. The dangers and controversy must not have reached Australia – so the marketing in Australia may well have been a clever move on Mr Hayes’ part.

The other ingredients were presumably in the product for reasons of taste and texture.
Glycerine (glycerol) is a sweet, viscous liquid obtained from the saponification of fats and oils, and which has many applications in the food, pharmaceutical, medical, and beauty industries. Glycyrrhiza is an ingredient derived from the rhizome (‘root’) of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra – commonly known as licorice (or liquorice). Licorice was used for medicinal purposes since at least since the early middle ages - long before it became used as a sweetmeat (beware: nowadays, ‘licorice’ candy is frequently actually flavoured with anise.)

The story seems a good excuse to give you a recipe for licorice. If you take out the thyroid extract, the ‘remedy’ for corpulence given above would probably make a quite delicious ‘tea’, but I thought you would want more. I had a mind to give you a recipe for licorice toffee, but was unable to find a convincing historical version. Instead, I give you licorice tablets – intended presumably for medicinal use, but quite an acceptable confection, methinks. There are two particularly interesting points about this medicine/confection. One is that the resulting cake is white, not black as we think of liquorice today. The other is that it takes three hours beating (never suffering it to stand still during that time) – in the days well before electrical appliances were available! Kitchen hands must have had a lot of stamina in those days.

Cakes, Liquorice.
Take hyssop and red rose water, of each half a pint, half a pound of green liquorice, the outside scraped off, and then beat with a pestle; put to it half a pound of aniseeds, and steep it all night in the water; boil it with a gentle fire till the taste is well out of the liquorice; strain it, put to it three pounds of liquorice powder, and set it on a gentle fire till it is come to the thickness of cream; take it off, and put to it half a pound of white sugar candy seered very fine; beat this well together for at least three hours, and never suffer it to stand still; as you beat it, you must strew in double-refined sugar finely seered, at least three pounds; half an hour before it is finished, put in half a spoonful of gum dragon [gum traganth], steeped in orange-flower water: when it is very white then it is beat enough; roll it up with white sugar; and if you want it perfumed, put in a pastil or two.
The cook's own book, and housekeeper's register, by Mrs. N. K. M. Lee (1854)

Quotation for the Day.

Not on morality, but on cookery, let us build our stronghold: there brandishing our frying-pan, as censer, let us offer sweet incense to the Devil, and live at ease on the fat things he has provided for his elect!
Thomas Carlyle.

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