Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dinner in the Lunatic Asylum in 1873.

The New York Times of the 9th of November 1873 published the following very brief glimpse into the grim life of the severely mentally ill in the final decades off the nineteenth century.

Ward’s Island is part of the borough of Manhattan. It was once separated from nearby Randall’s Island, but the channel separating them was filled in in the mid-twentieth century. The original lunatic asylum opened in 1863, and the island is still the location of treatment services for the mentally ill, although it is now more kindly called the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

Ward’s Island Bill of Fare.
The following is the official bill of fare just adopted by the Commissioners
of Charity for the dinners at Ward’s Island Lunatic Asylum.

Sunday – Roast beef, potatoes, pudding.
Monday – Irish stew.
Tuesday – Soup, boiled or roast mutton, potatoes.
Wednesday – Irish stew, pudding.
Thursday – Roast beef, potatoes.
Friday – Boiled cod-fish, potatoes.
Saturday – Soup, boiled beef, potatoes.
Bread with every meal.

If there was any decision made by the Commissioners as to the quality of the ingredients or the quantity served to the inmates, then it was not noted in the newspaper. Sadly, it is likely that both quantity and quality of the food was poor. I assume that the breakfast and supper were along the lines of gruel or bread, and were the same every day – but perhaps shall check that out and let you know in another post.

The recipe for the day comes from A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, (1852) by a man who was, for a brief period, chef to Queen Victoria - Charles Elmé Francatelli.

This is an economical dinner, especially where there are many mouths to feed. Buy a few pounds of either salt brisket, thick or thin flank, or buttock of beef; these pieces are always to be had at a low rate. Let us suppose you have bought a piece of salt beef for a Sunday's dinner, weighing about five pounds, at 6 ½ d. per pound, that would come to 2s. 8 1/2 d, two pounds of common flour, 4d., to be made into suet pudding or dumplings, and say 8 ½ d. for cabbages, parsnips, and potatoes; altogether 3s. 9d. This would produce a substantial dinner for ten persons in family, and would, moreover, as children do not require much meat when they have pudding, admit of there being enough left to help out the next day's dinner, with potatoes.


Put the beef into your three or four gallon pot, three parts filled with cold water, and set it on the fire to boil; remove all the scum that rises to the surface, and then let it boil gently on the hob; when the meat has boiled an hour and is about half done, add the parsnips in a net, and at the end of another half hour put in the cabbages, also in a net. A piece of beef weighing five or six pounds will require about two hours' gentle boiling to cook it thoroughly. The dumplings may, of course, be boiled with the beef, etc. I may here observe that the dumplings and vegetables, with a small quantity of the meat, would be all-sufficient for the children's meal.

1 comment:

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