In the aftermath of the inevitable food excesses of Thanksgiving, I thought it might be interesting to look at the work of an evangelical vegetarian of the mid-nineteenth century. Our inspiration for the day is A Treatise on a Vegetable Diet, With Practical Results; Or, A Leaf From Nature's Own Book, Illustrated by Facts And Experiments of Many Years' Practice (1848) by Asenath Nicholson. I give you an extract from the Preface:
The following pages are written with a sincere desire that they may be read, and be read with that attention that the subject (not the style) demands. They are written with a view to direct some dispirited dyspeptic to nature's fount, where he can be healed; some toil-worn student, grown pale by the midnight lamp, how he can find rest to his body and wings to his mind; some tattered and torn inebriate, how he can rise out of the mire, put on a new coat, and slake his thirst for ever from the love of the burning lava that has scathed his vitals and frenzied his brain. They are written to admonish some tea-sipping maiden of the wrinkles and hollow eye she is prematurely inviting; some snuff-taking, tobacco-eating devotee of the sallow skin, the nasal voice, the besmeared teeth, and offensive breath, which are the undeviating companions of the filthy weed; and some care-worn mother how she may keep out the druggist's shop from her closet, and prevent night watchings over her too highly fed children, and eat her bread with a cheerful heart with the happy ones she loves, knowing that while she follows nature she follows God, and while she follows God she is safe. Will you read it?
This work makes no pretences to science. It gives no details of Anatomy, Surgery, or Medicine. Neither is it a hap hazard budget of odds and ends, flung together to be hung up in a dark closet for the hurried housekeeper in some exigency to find a string or bit of edging to eke out an inefficient cuff or collar. It is a work of fourteen years' practice, carrying out principles, and making the experiments here introduced. It is a work not to be proven, but a work that has been proven. Eleven years of the fourteen were spent in researches after truth, by practically testing the efficacy of a vegetable and fruit diet on about six thousand persons from every civilized country on earth.
The nature and effects of flesh eating have the Bible; the natural laws; the test of all vegetable eaters of every clime; the testimony of some able physicians, and a host of disciples converted from flesh eating by the lectures of Sylvester Graham, and residents in the house before named. The remarks on tea and coffee have been proven by actual experiment on living bodies. Those on spices, butter, and fat from ocular demonstration by Dr. Beaumont of New York, who had a person with him, whose stomach had been perforated by a ball, the ball extracted, and the wound never healed, giving an opportunity for the Dr., with the help of a glass tube, to see the process of digestion, which he carefully watched for years, on all kinds of food and drink, in almost every clime. ….
… The recipes, simple and unobtrusive as they may be, are the result of much persevering labour to bring them to their present perfection, without the aid of a deleterious substance, either butter, eggs, or deadening spices.
So, if Thanksgiving has left you a dispirited dyspeptic, this book may help heal you – although the missionary zeal with which the author promotes his cause may give you a slightly different form of indigestion in the process. I will save exposing you to the author’s hell-fire and damnation, and proceed directly to the recipes I have chosen from the book. Some of you may be relieved to note that the simple, unobtrusive recipes are almost entirely free of “deadening spices.”
Gingerbread Without Ginger.—One pound of flour, one quarter of a pound of sugar, three quarters of treacle, two teacups of good cream, a little soda, made into a stiff paste, and boiled on tins, rolled thin.
Carrot Pudding.—Carrots should be well washed and scraped, then grated into cold milk, a little hard biscuit or flour stirred in, sweetened and well baked. They are a healthy, light food, having something the properties of eggs, in being light; a little cinnamon may be added.
Plum Cake.—Three tea-cupfuls of flour to one of oatmeal grits, one tea-cupful of cream to three of sour milk curdled, one half pound of raisins, one tea-cup of sugar, and two teaspoonfuls of soda, stirred with a spoon, and made into a thick loaf.
Pies.—Pies and pastries may be made to have a very bad effect on the stomach and blood, and they may be made to have at least no injurious effects.
Apple Pies.—Take wheaten meal and sift out the coarsest of the bran, grate a few boiled potatoes and rub them In as you would butter into the flour, then put soda into thick sour milk, adding more than half good cream, and wet it without much kneading quite dry, roll it in fine flour, and put it on a flat plate, then your green apples, if quite sour and tender, may be sliced very thin and laid over, adding sugar and one-half treacle if the treacle be pleasant, and sprinkle over this a little flour to thicken the juice, and a little cinnamon, but if no treacle be used, water must be poured in to make the pie juicy and more sugar used, this should be covered with a thin paste and a hole cut through the top. If the apples be tough they should be stewed a little before putting into the pie.