Foodie Friday: "Invalid Cookery" during the 1918 Flu Pandemic

From Extension Farm-News, 26 Oct. 1918

From Extension Farm-News, 26 Oct. 1918

Back in March, Special Collections News looked at NC State during the 1918 influenza epidemic.  The posting touched on conditions on campus and the women who nursed the sick students.  Not covered was the role food played in treating the flu.

During the epidemic, women from North Carolina Agricultural Extension's home demonstration program nursed and cooked for the sick in several of the state's communities.  The 26 October 1918 issue of Extension Farm-News devoted several articles to the epidemic, including home demonstraton leader Jane McKimmon's "simple rules of diet" for feeding those with the illness.  Here is some of her advice:

In the widespread epidemic of influenza, it is advisable to know just what forms of nourishment may be safely given to patients with temperature and to those who have no fever.  When there is temperature it is absolutely necessary that a liquid diet be adhered to.  Beef and chicken broth, buttermilk, and malted milk are the old stand-bys, and to these may be added lemon, orange, or grape juice, albumen, and fruit gelatine served without milk.

The article gave recipes typical of the times for sick patients:  beef and chicken broths, as well as this one for albumen (egg whites):

The white of one egg broken up, 2 teaspoonfuls sugar, 1 tablespoonful lemon, orange, or grape juice; pour into glass of finely cracked ice and serve with spoon or through straw.

Raw egg recipe for flu convalescents, 1918

McKimmon recommended that when the patient's temperature returned to normal, soups and soft foods could be served:  "give oatmeal gruel; potato soup, not too rich; boiled custard; baked custard; milk toast; poached or soft-boiled eggs on toast; baked or mashed potato; baked apples; stewed prunes."  She provided this recipe for oatmeal gruel:

Mix 2 tablespoonfuls of oatmeal, half a teaspoonful of sugar, one saltspoonful of salt.  Pour this slowly into a pint of boiling water; cook in a saucepan for thirty minutes, or preferably in a double boiler for two hours.  Strain, add a cup of milk, and bring to the boiling point.

Jane McKimmon admonished readers to protect themselves against the flu in 1918

The home demonstration leader also had this advice for food purchased outside the home or handled by servants:

There is nothing in any food itself to foster the disease [influenza], but without proper care foods may serve as carriers of the germs.  Unwrapped bread, for instance, may carry the germs to the home.  Fruit skins may be covered with bacteria [viruses were little known then].  Bakery products exposed to the air and handled carelessly by salesmen who take no sanitary precautions may be the source of some one's serious illness.  The maid, if she does not wash and scald the dishes properly, may be the cause of much sickness.  The cook, if she tastes and stirs with the same spoon, is a treacherous, albeit a well-intentioned, person to have around.  Know that the milkman is an honest and a sanitary man.  Try to eat at restaurants which have been inspected and pronouced safe.

McKimmon ended the article appealing to her readers' patriotism (World War I had not yet ended):  "Now is the time to keep yourself in good health.  You owe it to your country to keep your physical efficiency at the highest possible pitch."

From A Study in Foods for Home Demonstration Clubs, 1919

Another Extension publication, A Study in Foods for Home Demonstration Clubs (Extension Circular 93) included lessons perhaps learned during the flu epidemic, even though it was published in June 1919.  The section on "Invalid Cookery" emphasized milk, then considered a superfood:  "milk is of great value in invalid feeding, and agrees with most people."  It recommended sick patients consume "two quarts per day . . . if no other nourishment is given."  Apparently lactose intolerance was little known at the time!

"Invalid Cookery" included some recipes similar to those Jane McKimmon had given, such as broths, gruel, and the like.  There was much more unusual fare too, such as wine whey and milk punch (scalded milk with a little liquour for flavoring), as well as scraped beef balls (fried steak pulp??!!).

Outside of Special Collections materials, I also found this American Journal of Nursing article about invalid cookery (published in January 1919 when the epidemic was still a concern).  The article focused on "intelligent use of the conservation substitutes" when preparing food for the sick.  (See also the Special Collections News postings on meatless, wheatless, and sweetless or sugarless recipes for conserving food during World War I).

There are more primary resources with information about the 1918 influenza pandemic in North Carolina (this link too!) on our Rare & Unique Digital Collection site.