More Than Chicken Soup: Food Remedies

An article by Stephanie Butler posted in
Hungry History at history.com June 2015

It’s likely you’ve heard the adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and everyone knows about the reputed healing powers of a More Than Chicken Soup: Food Remediessteaming bowl of chicken soup. But would you think to place potato slices on a fever-stricken patient’s forehead? Or shampoo with mayonnaise to give your mane that healthy shine? Foods have been used as medicine since our Neolithic ancestors ate mosses with antibiotic properties to help heal wounds. It’s a long road from healing mosses to zinc lozenges, so let’s take a look at the world of food remedies.

More Than Chicken Soup: Food RemediesSeveral hundred years before Alexander Fleming discovered the benefits of penicillin, European housewives kept moldy loaves of bread hidden in their kitchen cabinets. When a family member got a cut or scrape, they would break off bits of the moldy bread, mix it with water to form a paste and paint it over wounds. This method was hardly a cure-all, since it depended on the natural presence of penicillium or other antiseptic molds to be beneficial. But when it did work, the bread treatment must have seemed like a godsend in a world lacking even a basic understanding of how diseases spread.

These medical dark ages lasted far too long for many patients. From the medieval era all the way up through World War I, wartime was especially harrowing for patients and doctors. During the Civil War, for More Than Chicken Soup: Food Remediesinstance, more men died from disease than on the battlefield. People resorted to food- and plant-based remedies because demand for more scientific medicines far outstripped supply. For example, both Northern and Southern troops placed poultices of cooked onions and garlic on their chests to combat croup and congestion. In 1863, Alabama’s Mobile Register gave a delicious-sounding recipe for blackberry cordial that promised to “alleviate the suffering and perhaps save the lives of many of our soldiers” who were sickened by drinking typhus-contaminated water. Baking soda was administered to treat upset stomachs, and sprained limbs were often soaked in salt solutions, a practice that continues today. For amputations, unlucky soldiers were often given wooden spoons—not to cook with, of course, but to clench in their teeth.

More Than Chicken Soup: Food Remedies

At the same time, an ocean away, England was experiencing a true golden age of food remedies. Modern medical breakthroughs like pasteurization (in 1862) and the stethoscope (in 1852) were finally More Than Chicken Soup: Food Remediesbeginning to catch up with kitchen cures, creating a uniquely British blend of folk wisdom and scientific method—the apothecary shop. Modern treatments like morphine, laudanum and chloroform found places on apothecary shelves right next to rosemary tinctures and essence of sage. Receipt books from the period show a real appreciation for the healing powers of lard, which could soothe chapped hands, ease inflammations and help repair burns. Herbs were used liberally in the Victorian home: Dill water could calm a colicky baby, lovage and peppermint were brewed into teas to cure upset stomachs and rosemary-infused alcohol was used for pain. Looking through Victorian medical books, we can see many treatments still familiar to us today. Add two handfuls of oats into a warm bath, for instance, and eczema and chickenpox sufferers would itch no more.

More Than Chicken Soup: Food RemediesBut what about the proverbial apples and chicken soup? Do they really work as well as folk wisdom seems to dictate? While an apple a day certainly won’t guarantee perfect health, apple extract has been shown to decrease cancer cell growth dramatically. Just don’t forget to eat the peel—that’s where most of the beneficial nutrients are found. And a 2000 study demonstrated that chicken soup does indeed have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce cold symptoms. As for lard salve and onion poultices, however, the jury’s still out.

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Chicken and Estragon Paté / Kylling- og Estragonpaté

A classic french recipe found in “Alt Om Urter”
(All About Herbs) published by Ekstrabokklubben in 1985
Chicken and Estragon Paté / Kylling- og Estragonpaté

A pâté (from French pâté; dough or mass) is a solid paste, preferably with embedded strips or pieces of, for example ham, fish or chicken liver. Pates can be served both hot and cold, but is considered to be the most tasty after a few days of cooling.

Patés are mostly made of minced fish, shellfish, meat or poultry, especially liver and blubber. The paste of one or more types of meat, fish or shellfish are mixed in the raw state with spices and eggs or other binders. A bird which is filled with pate is called a galantine.  Fruit can also be baked into a pâté.

Paté is usually served cold, often with sweet and sour accessories such as cumberlands sauce and cucumber salad. It can form part of the first or main dishes or be used as sandwich topping.

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Fine Liver Pâté / Fin Leverpostei

A recipe from “Kalv- og Oksekjøtt” (Veal and Beef)
published by Hjemmets Kokebokklubb in 1979
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traditional badge2This pâté makes a delicious evening meal served with crispy bacon, pickled gherkins and beets, roasted onions and a mushroom salad with paprika, parsley, oil/vinegar marinade and baguettes or wholemeal bread.

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In Context:
Liver pâté has been staple sandwich spread for children here in Norway since long before I was a kid back in the fifties and sixties and ads for the different commercially produced pâtés are blatantly geared towards children and their parents, claiming liver pâté keeps the children fit and makes them strong. The oldest product has even for decades had a picture of a child on the lid on their tins.

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I’m a good example that this kind of advertising works, I still greatly enjoy a sanwich spread with the same liver pâté I ate as a child (the one pictured here). Of course with pickled gherkins or beets as my mother would make them back then. There are a lot of good memories in good food – Ted  😉