No, not food that is sick. Food you eat when you are sick, like barley water. A better term is the chapter heading in one of my vintage cookbooks: “Invalid Cookery.”
I had noticed this intriguing chapter title in the 1925 book, The Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (cover title: Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book). This book, which qualifies as an heirloom, belonged to my great aunt, Maud Stout Bartlett. As I’ve explained before, a number of newspapers across the country carried Miss DeBoth’s column on cookery, and each published a book of recipes, putting their own name on the cover.
I’ve had a cold that knocked me down this past week, and I kept thinking if I had the energy to get up, I’d cook something from the chapter on “Invalid Cookery.” Now I’m back up and at the computer, and still feeling the need of comfort food, although not feeling good enough to actually cook anything complicated..
We all have our sick food favorites, some the same from childhood. Mine include Vernor’s ginger ale (it has to be Vernor’s and if I have to explain why, you’re not from the mid-West); pudding of any kind, but particularly rice pudding; tea with lemon juice and honey; white bread toast to dunk in the tea–or spread with applesauce. Soup and club crackers. It has now been scientifically proven that chicken soup actually IS good for you when you’re ill.
From Mrs. DeBoth’s Cook Book
Back to the book. The introduction to the chapter “Invalid Cookery” is preachy and thorough– as is every chapter introduction in this book. It encourages the housewife by saying,
That is a proposition that I am sure every husband would agree to, and every homemaker might wonder just who was going to “cater to [ME when I get sick]..in every possible way.”
Not only must you prepare the right food, but the appearance of the food affects the appetite.
Oh, dear! Heaven forfend that I should slop some liquid into a saucer!
The author of this book, does not apparently have a high opinion of the brain power of the reader.
Okay, got it! Be dainty. Don’t spill stuff. Add some parsley. Don’t put the lemonade in the paregoric glass. But what should I prepare? Some suggestions sounds okay, but some just sounds downright weird.
When I was a child, and my children were small, I made rennet custard. My vintage cook book calls for Junket tablets in an eggnog, which sounds awfully good, but I didn’t have any Junket (a brand name) rennet tablets on hand, so I couldn’t try that.
Nor did I have pearl barley on hand for barley water. (See UPDATE below) But I know that barley water was a headliner in feeding injured soldiers during the Civil War, and it hung on into the twenties. By the way, have you been watching Mercy Street on PBS? Set in a Civil War hospital, where the head nurse spends quite a bit of time worrying about what the soldiers are eating.
In case you want to try it:
Note: Most current day recipes call for cooking barley for 45 minutes–but that is for eating it as a grain. Also, pearl barley has had a lot of the nutrients removed (which apparently Ms. DeBoth hadn’t caught on to, so its benefit to invalids is a bit questionable.)
The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton has a similar recipe for barley water , but a more intriguing one proposes barley gruel made with red wine. Mrs. Beeton’s book, published just before the Civil War, must have been quite influential. I found her book at the intriguing site called Ex-Classics and from another site that contains her whole book, Mrs. Beeton.com.
Mrs. Beeton’s barley water recipe.
UPDATE: I could not stand the suspense, so finally got out to buy some pearl barley and try making barley water. I used Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, because it sounded a little more logical to me. The tiny amount of barley in relation to the water, gives the barley water a pinkish-brown hue. I got just over a quart of liquid at the end. I added to one glass, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar (channeling my grandmother Vera Anderson who would put the maximum amount of sugar in anything). Neither of the recipes specify drinking it warm or cold, but I drank it cold, thinking that would be more soothing for a sore throat.
It really is not bad. You get a bit of the flavor of the grain, plus the lemon and slight sweetness.
Medieval Recipe for Barley Water
Finally, if you want to go back to Medieval days for a recipe for Barley Water for Invalids:
The things you can find on the Internet!!
What I Will Not Cook
I’m going to pause here, but promise that I’ll bring you some more–but probably NOT “Toast water” (a piece of stale bread soaked in boiling water). And NOT Irish moss (it’s a seaweed and is controversial because it is the source of carrageen which some health experts warn against.) So while cold and flue season is still upon us, I’ll be back with more Invalid Cookery in the future.
Source in addition to those linked above: A Manual for Invalid Cookery. (1880) (available on line)