In the Kitchen

Food for Invalids: Or, I Just Had My Wisdom Teeth Removed.

Today’s obsession is with food for invalids, due to yesterday’s wisdom teeth removal. All four. Blessings upon the head of modern dentistry.

I’ve been subsisting on cool to lukewarm water, tea, soups, and mashed potatoes. I’m doing just fine so far — it’s the next two days and more I’m concerned about. To stave off the food monotony, I turned to my reproduction print copy of The Kentucky Housewife by Mrs. Lettice Bryan (1839).

I’ve always been fascinated by food for invalids — perhaps because I assume that, were I truly a Victorian, my health would have ranged from Hmm, She’s Not Dead Yet to Whoops, Dead.

On to the wonderful — and weird — options! None of this should be taken as sound medical advice. It’s coming from a mix of a book written in 179 years ago and the Internet. So, again: none of this should be taken as sound medical advice.

Apple Water.

I’m likely to try this one. You’ll note it specifies acidic apples — and for good reason. The acid in apples helps with gout and indigestion. They’re great for soothing acid reflux, which I had severely due to my wisdom teeth erupting. (The upper teeth also put pressure on my sinuses — a constantly-dripping nose is incredibly ladylike.) Boiled and mashed apples are an easy-to-eat option for young children with upset stomachs. The fiber also aids in digestion.

“Bake some fine acid apples till very soft; then cut them up, and place them in cold water to steep, allowing two apples to each tumbler of water. Let them steep till the water becomes cold, and it will be ready for use. This water is excellent for a weak stomach, that cannot retain soup, &c. Apple water is frequently made of raw apples, sliced up, and hot water poured over them, but I think it is not so good for the patient as when the apples are overcooked.” (Pg. 420)

There’s also Lemon Water, Peach Water, Apricot Water, Plum Water, and Tamarind Water.

I’m not very familiar with tamarinds, so I had to look them up. The tamarind fruit is a traditional food plant in Africa, and was cultivated in the Caribbean, which helps explain the appearance of fresh tamarinds in The Kentucky Housewife. In different parts of Africa, leaves and bark are used in different ways to treat both diarrhea and constipation. Additional research has been done into its antimicrobial properties. Neat!

Barley Water.

“Take a quarter of a pound of common, or pearl barley, and wash it clean. Put it in a sauce-pan, with two quarts of water, and boil it soft, or till the liquid is reduced to one half; then strain it, dissolve in it while hot, enough liquorice to give it a strong flavor, and sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar.” (Pg. 424)

Damn. This lost me with licorice. There isn’t enough loaf sugar in Illinois to come back from that.

There are a range of health food websites touting plain barley water’s benefits, so it’s worth further researching. These may include acting as a diuretic, healing urinary tract infections and flushing the kidneys; supporting weight loss due to its fiber content, which keeps you full for longer; lowering cholesterol and preventing atherosclerosis; promoting better digestion; and helping to stabilize blood glucose levels. It also helps you stay hydrated, which would be good at hot outdoor events.

Adding licorice may help with gastrointestinal problems, produce healthy mucus, reduce stress, and fight tooth decay — but at what cost?


“Boil a pint of water, and pour it on one ounce of good cocoa, which is the chocolate nut before it is ground. Cover it, and set it by the fire on a few embers, to steep for one hour; then sweeten it to your taste, and sup it warm with dry toast.”

Here’s where I start muttering to myself about trying to find cacao beans at my local grocery store. It sounds delicious, though, so it’s going on the list. Cacao has long been used in traditional medicine. A 2011 Harvard Medical School study found “decreased blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, and improvement in cholesterol levels” due to their flavonoids, a type of antioxidant; it also seemed to help with insulin resistance.

Flax Seed Tea.

“Boil two table-spoonfuls of flax seed in a pint of water till the most of the mucilage is extracted from them;—”

Till the most of the mucilage is extracted from them. Boy, that sounds delicious.

“—then strain it hot on four ounces of sugar candy,”

Oh. I forgive you, Lettice.

“that is broken up, and one ounce of pulverized gum Arabic. Boil it up again, and squeeze in the juice of a lemon, or two spoonfuls of vinegar. It is very good for a cough, or inflamed bowels, taking half a tea-cupful at a time, and repeating it several times during the day; its mucilaginous quality is quite soothing and healing. The gum Arabic may be omitted, by using a greater proportion of flax seed. The bark of the slippery elm tree, steeped in cold water, makes a tea that is thought by many to be superior to the flax seed tea, in cases of cough, inflamed bowels, &c.” (Pg. 427)

According to a quick peek at Wikipedia’s Gum arabic entry, “Gum arabic is considered non-toxic and safe for human consumption. There is indication of harmless flatulence in some people taking large doses of 30g or more per day.”


Not what I need, but that was an entertaining ride. Let’s get back to more nutrition-focused options.

Ground Rice Milk.

Weird Victorian horchata? Don’t mind if I do.

“Stir two large spoonfuls of ground rice in enough sweet milk to make it a smooth batter, and then stir it into a pint of boiling sweet milk; add a spoonful of butter, and boil it steadily for a few minutes, stirring it all the time; then pour it into a bowl, and season it with loaf sugar and grated lemon.” (Pg. 419)

So…really, really not horchata. My pharmacist did suggest dairy fats when taking my medication, though, so hello sweet milk and butter. This might go on the list.

Chicken Jelly.

“Take a grown fowl, clean it nicely, cut it up and pound it in a mortar, breaking all the bones.”

And there goes my modern nose-wrinkle. Get it together, self. It’s solid advice; hipsters love their bone broth for a reason.

“Sprinkle on a little salt, and boil it till done very tender, raising the lid and removing every particle of scum as it rises; then strain the liquid through a cloth, and if the system of the patient is in a relaxed state, season the jelly with loaf sugar, wine, nutmeg and lemon juice; but it there is fever and the bowels constipated, omit the wine, &c. and season it with salt and a little pepper.” (Pg. 418)

I’m not sure how much I feel up to bone-crushing this weekend, seeing as I’ve had a few of my own removed. Beef jelly — similarly made, but boneless — seems more doable.

Wine Whey.

But here’s my personal weird favorite. Betsy, she of the Historical Food Fortnightly, is skeptical.


I can’t decide if this is fascinating or terrifying, so it’s both now.

“Heat a pint of sweet milk to the boiling point; then stir in a glass and a half of any kind of good sour wine, and set it by the fire, where it will keep hot and remain undisturbed until the curd forms: then drain off the whey into a bowl, and season it with loaf sugar and nutmeg.

“Whey made be made in this manner with lemon juice or well flavored vinegar: that in many cases is preferred to wine whey.” (Pg. 419)

I don’t know about that, Lettice. I might need the rest of the wine.

Artwork: Louis Lang’s “The Invalid,” Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons

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