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A Few Rules to be Observed in Cooking for Invalids

Let all the kitchen utensils used in the preparation of invalids' cookery be delicately and 'scrupulously clean;' if this is not the case, a disagreeable flavour may be imparted to the preparation, which flavour may disgust, and prevent the patient from partaking of the refreshment when brought to him or her.

For invalids, never make a large quantity of one thing, as they seldom require much at a time; and it is desirable that variety be provided for them.

Always have something in readiness; a little beef tea, nicely made and nicely skimmed, a few spoonfuls of jelly, etc. etc., that it may be administered as soon almost as the invalid wishes for it. If obliged to wait a long time, the patient loses the desire to eat, and often turns against the food when brought to him or her.

In sending dishes or preparations up to invalids, let everything look as tempting as possible. Have a clean tray-cloth laid smoothly over the tray; let the spoons, tumblers, cups and saucers, etc., be very clean and bright. Gruel served in a tumbler is more appetizing than when served in a basin or cup and saucer.

As milk is an important article of food for the sick, in warm weather let it be kept on ice, to prevent its turning sour. Many other delicacies may also be preserved good in the same manner for some little time.

If the patient be allowed to eat vegetables, never send them up undercooked, or half raw; and let a small quantity only be temptingly arranged on a dish. This rule will apply to every preparation, as an invalid is much more likely to enjoy his food if small delicate pieces are served to him.

Never leave food about a sick room; if the patient cannot eat it when brought to him, take it away, and bring it to him in an hour or two's time. Miss Nightingale says, "To leave the patient's untasted food by his side, from meal to meal, in hopes that he will eat it in the interval, is simply to prevent him from taking any food at all." She says, "I have known patients literally incapacitated from taking one article of food after another by this piece of ignorance. Let the food come at the right time, and be taken away, eaten or uneaten, at the right time, but never let a patient have 'something always standing' by him, if you don't wish to disgust him of everything."

Never serve beef tea or broth with the smallest particle of fat or grease on the surface. It is better, after making either of these, to allow them to get perfectly cold, when all the fat may be easily removed; then warm up as much as may be required. Two or three pieces of clean whity-brown paper laid on the broth will absorb any greasy particles that may be floating at the top, as the grease will cling to the paper.

Roast mutton, chickens, rabbits, calves' feet or head, game, fish (simply dressed), and simple puddings, are all light food, and easily digested. Of course, these things are only partaken of, supposing the patient is recovering.

A mutton chop, nicely cut, trimmed, and broiled to a turn, is a dish to be recommended for invalids; but it must not be served with all the fat at the end, nor must it be too thickly cut. Let it be cooked over a fire free from smoke, and sent up with the gravy in it, between two very hot plates. Nothing is more disagreeable to an invalid than smoked food.

In making toast-and-water, never blacken the bread, but toast it only a nice brown. Never leave toast-and-water to make until the moment it is required, as it cannot then be properly prepared, at least, the patient will be obliged to drink it warm, which is anything but agreeable.

In boiling eggs for invalids, let the white be just set; if boiled hard, they will be likely to disagree with the patient.

In Miss Nightingale's admirable "Notes on Nursing," a book that no mother or nurse should be without, she says,--"You cannot be too careful as to quality in sick diet. A nurse should never put before a patient milk that is sour, meat or soup that is turned, an egg that is bad, or vegetables underdone." Yet often, she says, she has seen these things brought in to the sick, in a state perfectly perceptible to every nose or eye except the nurse's. It is here that the clever nurse appears, she will not bring in the peccant article; but, not to disappoint the patient, she will whip up something else in a few minutes. Remember, that sick cookery should half do the work of your poor patient's weak digestion.

She goes on to caution nurses, by saying, "Take care not to spill into your patient's saucer; in other words, take care that the outside bottom rim of his cup shall be quite dry and clean. If, every time he lifts his cup to his lips, he has to carry the saucer with it, or else to drop the liquid upon and to soil his sheet, or bedgown, or pillow, or, if he is sitting up, his dress, you have no idea what a difference this minute want of care on your part makes to his comfort, and even to his willingness for food."

Miss Nightingale says, in her "Notes on Nursing," that arrowroot is a grand dependence of the nurse. As a vehicle for wine, and as a restorative quickly prepared, it is all very well, but it is nothing but starch and water; flour is both more nutritive and less liable to ferment, and is preferable wherever it can be used.

Miss Nightingale says, one of the most common errors among nurses, with respect to sick diet, is the belief that beef tea is the most nutritive of all article. She says, "Just try and boil down a pound of beef into beef tea; evaporate your beef tea, and see what is left of your beef: you will find that there is barely a teaspoonful of solid nourishment to 1/4 pint of water in beef tea. Nevertheless, there is a certain reparative quality in it, we do not know what, as there is in tea; but it maybe safely given in almost any inflammatory disease, and is as little to be depended upon with the healthy or convalescent, where much nourishment is required."

Dr. Christison says that "every one will be struck with the readiness with which certain classes of patients will often take diluted meat juice, or beef tea repeatedly, when they refuse all other kinds of food." This is particularly remarkable in case of gastric fever, in which, he says, little or nothing else besides beef tea, or diluted meat juice, has been taken for weeks, or even months; and yet a pint of beef tea contains scarcely 1/4 ounce of anything but water. The result is so striking, that he asks, "What is its mode of action? Not simple nutriment; 1/4 oz. of the most nutritive material cannot nearly replace the daily wear and tear of the tissue in any circumstances." Possibly, he says, it belongs to a new denomination of remedies.

Our great nurse Miss Nightingale remarks, that "a great deal too much against tea is said by wise people, and a great deal too much of tea is given to the sick by foolish people. When you see the natural and almost universal craving in English sick for their 'tea,' you cannot but feel that Nature knows what she is about. But a little tea or coffee restores them quite as much as a great deal; and a great deal of tea, and especially of coffee, impairs the little power of digestion they have. Yet a nurse, because she sees how one or two cups of tea or coffee restore her patient, thinks that three or four cups will do twice as much. This is not the case at all; it is, however, certain that there is nothing yet discovered which is a substitute to the English patient for his cup of tea; he can take it when he can take nothing else, and he often can't take anything else, if he has it not. Coffee is a better restorative than tea, but a greater impairer of the digestion. In making coffee, it is absolutely necessary to buy it in the berry, and grind it at home; otherwise, you may reckon upon its containing a certain amount of chicory, at least. This is not a question of the taste, or of the wholesomeness of chicory; it is, that chicory has nothing at all of the properties for which you give coffee, and, therefore, you may as well not give it."


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The Book of Household Management (1861).

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