Reaching for a recipe when ill is nothing new

January 23, 2000|By Rob Kasper

COLDS AND FLU ARE part of winter and so, it seems, is wolfing down foods and drinks that might be remedies for these ailments.

I say this after hearing news reports of area hospitals filling up with flu victims and as I read "recipes for the sick" in a 1934 cookbook. The book was so dilapidated that pages were falling out of it. The top of the title page was gone, but the book seemed to be called "The Rumford Complete Cookbook." It was written by Lily Haxworth Wallace, a graduate of the National Training School of Cookery in London and a home economist for Rumford Co., a Rhode Island enterprise that made Rumford Baking Powder.

I borrowed the book from Debbie Jackson Layton, who found it while looking through belongings handed down by her grandmother, Adie Mae Jackson of Chestnut Ridge.

I was intrigued by the book's suggestions on what to feed the sick. As I looked over recipes for Invalid's Tea, Oatmeal Gruel and Irish Moss (a handful of moss cooked in 3 cups of sweetened milk), I felt fortunate that I had not been around in the 1930s. However, I also knew that when I fall ill I am willing to eat and drink almost anything to temporarily take my mind off my malady.

When I checked a 1998 reference work, "New Foods for Healing," by the editors of Prevention Health Books, I found there might be a shred or two of science in some of these old remedies.

For instance, the concoction named Invalid's Tea calls for making tea by infusing a teaspoon of tea in scalded milk rather than in boiling water. Sure enough, "New Foods for Healing" said that "two traditional treatments for colds and flu -- a cup of hot tea followed by a steaming bowl of [homemade] chicken soup -- are among the most potent home remedies there are."

Tea has a compound called theophylline, which breaks up congestion, the book said. It also has quercetin, a compound that may help prevent viruses from multiplying. The color of the tea -- black or green -- doesn't matter, according to "New Foods for Healing." Both do the job as long as you allow them to steep for a minimum of three minutes.

I surmised that the old remedy of drinking hot tea to fight congestion appeared to be a good idea. The idea of mixing tea with milk, however, gets a mixed reception from modern researchers. The anti-milk view is that milk protein blocks the body's ability to absorb the good stuff in the tea. The pro-milk view is that the stomach sorts out the milk from the tea and sends healing compounds from both into your aching body. In other words, Invalid's Tea could work.

There did not appear to be much scientific support for the old cookbook's idea of eating gruel, a thin, watery porridge. "New Foods for Healing" reported that the main ingredient in one gruel recipe, oatmeal, lowers blood sugar and makes you feel full.

In my book, little could be worse than having the flu and lunching on a bowl of gruel. I hope I miss both experiences this winter.

Invalid's tea

Serves 1

1 cup milk

1 level teaspoon tea

sugar to taste

Bring milk to the scalding point and pour it over the tea. Let the two infuse for 4 minutes. Strain and serve with or without sugar.

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