Recipe Wednesday! Wake Up! Wake Up! And Start Anew!

I like to think that at my old age, I’ll never have a hangover again. I’ve even given considerable thought to stop drinking entirely, switching out my end-of-the-day cocktail, my glass of wine, with seltzer instead. You’d think my family’s historically deep tendency toward alcoholism and the too often 3 A.M. gnawing that I’m decidedly pass the due date to grow up would also be a hardy push toward total tea-toddlerhood. It hasn’t at all. I’m settling for moderation, instead.

Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, John Greenwood, c. 1752-58

The vivid physical memory of past hangovers–the ones of my partying youth, as well as the period when drinking was among the self-medicating remedies I turned to in the midst of a break-down–also keep me determined to never come close to being hungover again.

But I’m sympathetic to those who find themselves occasionally suffering from one. Dinner parties with a lot of wine, celebrations with cocktails, happen. If you ask me for what to do about them, I’ll suggest you might want to look up a cure under invalid cooking. These are recipes that were once used to feed the sick and could be found in the back of almost every 17th to early 20th century cookbook. I wrote a book about them, A Soothing Broth, and suggestions for what to do about a hangover were among the most numerous.

One very popular one originated in the 18th century when there was a deep belief that alcohol was better to drink than local water sources. You could see why, given the many outbreaks of cholera and typhoid due to polluted local wells and streams. But slightly different versions of the recipe kept being prescribed well into the more sanitary 19th century. This particular one comes from a prominent colonial New York family, the Van Rennsselaer. Besides hangovers, they used this concoction for toothaches, a mouthwash and teething babies. It’s a little bit of a hair-of-the-dog tonic, so not recommended for teething babies. While you can find its main ingredient, Peruvian bark, in health food stores I’m presenting it only as of historical interest rather than as a practical recommendation. See the link for further information about the herb’s use and possible side effects.

Infallible Cure

1/2 cup Peruvian bark, finely powdered

2 cups your best brandy

2 cups rose water

Mix the bark, brandy, and rose water together in a glass or earthenware jug. Let sit for 24 hours, then pour into a bottle with a tight-fitting lid.

For hangovers: Slowly sip a tablespoon every half-hour.

For toothache: Take 1 mouthful every morning. Hold in mouth for 5 minutes, concentrating liquid on painful spot.

For mouthwash: Gently swish the liquid over teeth and gums every morning.

For teething: Rub on baby’s gums as often as needed.

Two more modern ones also sought to calm the stomach as well as the head. The first is one I’ve occasionally used when my stomach is acting up. In fact, I’m thinking of making it today because I’m a good guest and didn’t want to offend several hosts by not eating their wonderfully rich holiday food. I found this in A Handbook of Invalid Cooking (1893) written by Mary Boland Pequignot, a noted lecturer on health and nursing.

Peppermint Egg Soup

1 bunch (about 1 full cup) young, fresh peppermint leaves, washed and picked over

1 large egg per serving

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart water to boil and add the peppermint leaves. Cook at a very slow simmer for 5 minutes. remove from the heat.

Measure about 1 cup per serving and heat slowly to a boil in a small saucepan. Add an egg and poach it gently in the liquid until the desired consistency is reached. pour into a small, pretty bowl* and serve at once. Repeat the poaching procedure as additional servings are needed.

* A central tenet of invalid cooking that was prescribed by Florence Nightingale, herself, was that half the benefit of these recipes comes from serving them to the sick in as attractive a way possible. Trays set with your best china and fresh linen, perhaps with a small vase of flowers, went a long way to seducing the sick into taking a bit of nourishment. Having tried it out on infirmed relatives and friends, I completely vouch for it’s power to brighten up flagging and irritated spirits.

Franz Heinrich Corinth on His Sickbed, Lovis Corinth, 1888. Note how pretty the chair is set with his medicine.

Finally, this comes from an oral history of Norwegian folk remedies. You have to like buttermilk or at the very least not be lactose intolerant.

Buttermilk Pap

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup good fresh buttermilk

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the cornstarch with the buttermilk and heat gently in a medium saucepan. Cook until just heated through. Do Not Boil!

Add a little salt and pepper to taste and sip like soup while hot. Or cool it slightly, stir in a lot of honey, and pour into a tall glass to sip slowly through the day.

I can’t promise you your hangover will go away if you try the soup or pap today. However, just the act of sitting down quietly and slowly sipping these preparations will hopefully help restore a little calm to your body and soul. Creating a little tranquility for yourself is another important part of invalid cooking. I know that sounds gooey but it’s so wisely old fashion.