Diet in the Time of Cholera.
Eighteen forty nine was a very bad year for cholera. A pandemic of the awful gastro-intestinal infection killed countless thousands across France, England, Ireland, and the Americas. Australia, in its relative isolation, escaped, but the colony remained fearful, and newspapers reported the situation at “home” and elsewhere in the world with great regularity.
The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania) had a regular column of English news, as did almost every newspaper in the country. The edition of March 7th 1849 carried an article about diet during the epidemic – a diet, for healthy folk intended to reduce their risk of contracting the disease:
DIET TABLE, BY DR. DOWNING DURING THE
PREVALENCE OF THE EPIDEMIC CHOLERA.
BREAKFAST: To eat: Bread baked previous day, toasted bread, biscuit, rusk, with butter; an egg, boiled 3½ minutes; mutton chop; cold chicken. – To drink: tea, coffee, milk and water. – DINNER: Mutton, boiled or roasted; roast beef; eggs, boiled or poached; boiled or roast fowl; tripe; rabbit; minced veal; sago; tapioca; arrowroot; semolina; rice; rice-milk; bread; biscuit; light puddings; mealy potatoes;- To Drink: toast-and-water; weak brandy-and-water; bitter-ale; sherry and water; porter; stout. – TEA: Bread and butter; dry toast; rusk; plain seed-cake; biscuit. – To Drink: coffee; black tea. – if anything is required for luncheon or supper, it may consist of a few oysters or a small mutton chop, with bread. A few glasses of good wine, port, sherry, or madeira, spiced negus, warm brandy or rum and water may be taken, with discretion, during the day. – A careful selection should be made from the diet table as to that which agrees best with the stomach. A light meal should be taken every fourth or fifth hour. Much fat should be avoided. Great care should be taken to properly masticate the food, and to rest a certain time after meals
It was not until the amazing investigative work of physician John Snow during the cholera epidemic around Broad Street in London in 1854, that it became known that contaminated water was the source of the infection. I assume physicians thereafter ceased suggesting raw oysters as part of a preventive diet.
I give you as the recipe for the day, as prescribed a plain seed cake.
A Plain Seed Cake
Half a pound of butter beat with the hand to a froth, ½ lb.very fine loaf sugar sprinkled in; eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately, the yolks put in first; ½ lb. of flour sprinkled in. Sprinkle seeds in, and flavour. The cake is to be mixed with the hand, and the things put in as they follow in the directions. An hour and a half will bake it. The tin to be lined round with paper.
The Australasian, 6 October, 1866
They always assume you know what kind of seed should be used. Now I know it's usually caraway; but as a child, reading stories with "seed cake," I always pictured birdseed being added to the batter.
Is it caraway? That hadn't occurred to me. I was pondering sesame, sunflower, or poppy seeds, and wondering what other options there might be. I remember a book I read when I was a child about making poppy seed cake, and always longed to try it.
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