The idea of ‘medicated gingerbread’ takes the discussion of food as medicine and medicine as food to a whole new level, doesn’t it? I found the recipe in Household Hints to Young Housewives (London 1852), by the pseudonymous Mary Careful (London 1852), and here it is:
1 ¾ lb. of flour, 1 lb. of treacle, ¼ lb. of butter, ½ lb. of sugar, ¼ oz. of pearlash dissolved in a little milk, ½ oz. of ginger, and 1 tablespoon of magnesia.
The author does not specify for what medical condition the gingerbread was intended, but I think the ingredients give it away. The magnesia suggests that it was for digestive problems – as was the popular twentieth century dyspepsia remedy - ‘milk of magnesia.’ I am not aware of any good evidence for its value as a supplement or treatment today, but no doubt will get a flood of emails assuring me of its magic.
Ginger has been used since ancient times for digestive disorders, and is still a popular treatment for travel sickness and other episodes of nausea today. Gingerbread would, then, by definition, make an ideal vehicle for a remedy for digestive upsets. In modern times, interest in ginger as a medication is increasing in the medical and scientific world, and there is much investigation of its properties underway. It will be interesting to see the evidence as it unfolds.
Treacle of course has an ancient reputation as an antidote for poison, and although it was almost certainly used here as one of the traditional sweetening agents for gingerbread, to an ancient practitioner it would have made sense too.
The above instructions for medicated gingerbread were preceded in the book by the following very minimalist recipe for Doctor’s Biscuits, which I also give you. The biscuits contain caraway seeds (which also have a reputation for improving digestion.) They are awfully similar in concept to Dr Abernethy’s Biscuits, which we have discussed previously (here).
1 lb. of flour, 1 lb. of loaf sugar pounded, 3 eggs, and carraway seeds.
Quotation for the Day.
Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.