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Food To Cure What Ails You: When Cookbooks Treated Meals As Medicine

At the turn of the 20th century, when access to professional care was spotty, many cookbooks served up recipes for the sick — some (brandy) more appealing than others (toast water).
At the turn of the 20th century, when access to professional care was spotty, many cookbooks served up recipes for the sick ? some (brandy) more appealing than others (toast water). Even the Joy Of Cooking included sickbed recipes up through the 1943 edition. / George Marks / Getty Images

Browse through some turn-of-the-century American cookbooks, and it's obvious that popular tastes have changed (such as the presence of fried cornmeal mush and the absence of cilantro). But more striking than the shift in flavors and ingredients is the focus on feeding those who are sick — or, to use the parlance of the time, "cooking for invalids."

Whether you're looking at The Settlement Cook Book (1901), Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1870) or The Woman Suffrage Cook Book (1890), sections on nourishing the sick are all somewhat similar in approach.

First, there are a lot of fluids. Teas and lemonades

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