If you or a loved one has had the misfortune to eat hospital food recently, spare a thought for the wounded soldiers of the First World War who had to eat dishes like calf’s foot jelly and beef tea custard.
We’ve seen wounded soldiers being cared for in the luxurious surroundings of ITV’s Downton Abbey. During the war, Red Cross nurses looked after men in lots of different types of accommodation, including stately homes. But they certainly wouldn’t have eaten the same rich and delicious food that the homes’ titled owners did.
Food for wounded soldiers was chosen for its ease of digestion, not its taste. Our archives have a recipe book teaching volunteer cooks how to choose and prepare hundreds of dishes for the men. Men were put on different diets depending on their injuries (there’s actually a beef tea diet outlined in the book).
The book even includes a definition of salad.
You can see excerpts from the recipe book below. Just in case calf’s foot jelly or beef tea custard tickles your tastebuds, you may want to wash it down with a tall glass of albumen water (mix equal parts egg white with water).
And if you do make them, please don’t invite me over for dinner. I’m a vegetarian.
Beef tea (pg 65)
1 lb. beef to each one pint water.
Scrape the meat, removing fat, gristle and bone. Place in cold water as scraped, press with fork. Cover with paper, place in pan of water and bring water barely to the boiling point, so that meat is just coloured only. Strain, remove any fat with paper and serve. Season as required.
Double quantity of meat may be used.
Beef tea custard (pg. 58)
Required: Two or three eggs to each pint beef tea. Sugar to taste.
Method: Strain the beef tea well before using or a heavy sediment falls to the bottom of the dish. Beat the eggs, add beef tea and beat again, well strain into buttered dish and bake 20 to 30 minutes. Custards must be baked very slowly. The pie-dish may be stood in a baking tin of water, which helps to set them firmly by preventing too quick a heat from reaching them.
Calf’s foot jelly (pages 70-71)[To make] stock for jelly:
(1) Gelatine or isinglass, 1 oz. to one quart liquid. Soak the gelatine in 1/2 pint cold water six to seven hours, or in boiling water 20 to 30 minutes, if needed in haste.
(2) One calf’s foot, quartered, washed and blanched, to one quart liquid. Boil the calf’s foot gently for four or five hours in one quart water, skimming well. Strain into a basin, and when set wipe off any grease from the top with a cloth dipped in hot water.
To make one quart [calf’s foot jelly], using the calf’s foot stock. Strain in the juice of one lemon, add slices of thinly peeled rind, the shells and beaten whites of two eggs, sugar to taste, and whisk all thoroughly together until they come to the boil. Draw to the side of the fire and allow to stand for 15 to 20 minutes, when a crust will be seen to form, then strain and add a wine-glass of wine – sherry is generally preferred, but port wine or any white wine may be used.