Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Condensed Breakfast.

The technological advances of the nineteenth century were a rich source of material for newspaper journalists of the time. In the area of food science and technology this was particularly true, for every reader also has to eat - and most want to do it as economically as possible. The New York Times of April 24, 1870 contained an article with the header ‘Cheap Living’ which focussed on the new science of ‘condensed’ food - with the writer musing on the potential evolutionary changes to the physique of ‘the coming man.’

Condensed Food as an Alimentary Element.
The whole tendency of Americanism is to abridge the processes – to grasp the essential as the essential, rejecting the husks in which it is enveloped. Mastication was long since out of date, especially in large cities, and the day may not be far distant when digestion will have been abrogated also, and nutrition will have been reduced to the single process of assimilation – when eating, considered as eating, will have become extinct. What curious modifications of physique may result from the abrogation of the processes constitutes a question for speculative scientists. For instance, whether the coming man will have teeth, not having occasion to use them; whether the occasion for gastric juices having passed away with the abrogation of the digestive process the coming man will secrete that fluid; what essential modifications of internal structure will occur in respect to the coming man:- these are questions for the evolution of learned papers to be read before learned associations.

There followed a discussion of the development, advantages and disadvantages, and future of condensed foods, and finally, the section of most interest here on this blog – the actual, practical use for the consumer (which includes our ‘recipes’ for the day.)

Useful Hints for Bachelors.
In a city like New York, where two hundred thousand people live in lodging-houses, owing to its convenience, the application of the art to alimentation has been very rapid. The sales of condensed beef, condensed milk, and other condensed articles, have attained an enormous figure. Given a small room at $6 a week, and one may limit his expenses for lodging and food to $10. You prepare your breakfast, needing only (for one) a cup and saucer, a quart of boiling water, a can of condensed milk, a pound of block sugar, and egg or two, a bottle of tomato or other sauce for flavouring, a couple of bowls, a couple of teaspoons, a couple of tablespoons, three or four plates, and a little coffee or tea. A pound of beef extract will last four weeks at an average taking of a pound and a half of beef per day. Take a bowl with two gills of boiling water, break an egg or a couple of eggs in it, and beat them in the water. In a minute they are completely cooked. Dissolve next a teaspoonful of extract of meat in the liquid; add a large spoonful of salt, a teaspoonful of butter, and a teaspoonful and a half of tomato sauce – stirring until all the elements are thoroughly dissolved; and you have created a nectar which is equal in nutrition to two eggs, ten ounces of beef, and the ordinary quantity of butter used in cooking it. Fill a coffee-cup with boiling water; add a tablespoonful of [cocoa?] paste and a teaspoonful of condensed milk, stirring well together, and you have a cup of the theobroma that an epicure might envy. A little fruit and ten cent’s worth of bakers products completes the breakfast, and constitutes a meal the nutrition and digestibility of which are complete. The menu, so various are the condensed articles in the diet, may be varied indefinitely … The advantage is that the preparation of the diet requires no skill, no appliance beyond the few articles mentioned, and  a quart of boiling water, and takes not more than from seven to ten minutes… and the whole repertoire may be packed within a cubic foot daily of space – bread and fruits, which you renew daily, excepted. It is obvious that condensed living therefore, is, both in point of economy and convenience, adapted to the wants of a large class of population, who are now compelled to bear the heavy pecuniary strain engendered by restaurant profits, on small salaries …

Quotation for the Day.

Gastronomers of the year 1825, who find sateity in the lap of abundance, and dream of some newly-made dishes, you will not enjoy the discoveries which science has in store for the year 1900, such as foods drawn from the mineral kingdom, liqueurs produced by the pressure of a hundred atmospheres; you will never see the importations which travelers yet unborn will bring to you from that half of the globe which has still to be discovered or explored. How I pity you!
Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin  (1755-1826)

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