Being sick in Victorian times was an entire lifestyle. It had its own modes of transport (the invalid chair), its own furnishings and clothing, its own vacation destinations. And of course it had an entirely separate menu! Most of these recipes are, mercifully, lost to us now. But some of these foods are so horrific, you just have to hear about them.
Sick people in the 19th century always got jellies. The notion was that you were too ill to digest regular food. In COOKERY FOR COMMON AILMENTS, from which I have transcribed this recipe, the author Arthur Gay Payne assures us that jellies are very acceptable to invalids, because (if made properly) they melt in the mouth – essentially a liquid food. Commercial gelatin having just been invented, the Victorians could turn anything into a jelly. And boy, did they ever. Not only the fruits and veg you would expect, but awful stuff like Irish moss, OMG!
In spite of the name ivory dust jelly seems to be more like a soup. We shall never know. I learned in my researches for A Most Dangerous Woman that the Ruskin family swore by it. (No wonder art maven John Ruskin had mental problems, if this is how his parents nursed him in illness.) And I Googled up a recipe with no trouble! It was a costly ingredient, so this was a food that only rich invalids got. Notice how the recipe encourages you to reuse the expensive ivory dust for one more round – something they also did with tea leaves. In the 19th century there was an entire ivory-turning industry, making elephant tusks into piano keys, billiard balls, furniture inlays, chessmen, and so on. Ivory dust is the equivalent of sawdust, what’s left over. So this recipe is totally un-reproduceable today. An equivalent might be our modern bone broth. If you substituted a pound of bones for the pound of ivory dust you might actually get something reasonably palatable.
1 lb. ivory dust (obtain it from any ivory turner, or a druggist)
5 pints cold water
½ teaspoon salt
Lemon juice or essence, to flavor
Put the dust in an earthen jar with the water and salt, and simmer for 12 hours. Take off all the liquid that is clear, and add flavoring. Another 4 pints of water may be added to the dust and simmered again. Add to other dishes as a strengthening ingredient.