Feeding Your Invalid in the 19th Century 3: Beef Tea

The Victorians and Edwardians put supreme faith in beef tea. Every invalid, every orphan, every wounded soldier, had to be fed beef tea. To the modern eye it seems like a travesty. This (complete!) recipe is from 1851. Note how labor-intensive it is, cutting a pound of lean beef into mince. If you want to try it, I suggest pre-ground low-fat hamburger meat.

Take a pound of lean beef and cut into shreds. Add a quart of water and boil for twenty minutes, removing any scum that rises to the top. When it has become cold, strain.

There are allied recipes for chicken tea, veal tea, and so on, that are exactly similar. The fluid was the color of ginger ale. What, oh you thrifty housewives may ask, happens to the meat left in the strainer? I sincerely hope that the bootboy, the kitchen slavey or the pug ate it. Even Florence Nightingale declared that very little of the nutritive quality of the meat went into the tea. The invalids were getting hot water with a little beef juice (the period cookbooks call this ‘gravy’, God help them) in it.

I can’t stand it. You want a broth that will heal the sick? Here is my beef stock recipe.

Get a quantity of beef bones and cheap cuts of meat – shin, neck, even spines. Some meat is essential for flavor. Put them into a roasting pan or two and roast them at 425 degrees for an hour. Turn them over halfway along, and at that point add a peeled onion or two and a peeled carrot.

When everything is nice and brown, transfer it all into a stock pot. This is the moment, if you are Chaz Brenchley, to take the marrow out of the bones and eat it. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients by one inch, and bring to a slow boil. Skim any scum that rises to the top. This will take a little while. While you’re waiting, run some water into the roasting pan and scrape up all the brown bits. Also, accumulate other additions: celery stalks. Bay leaf. A good spoonful of peppercorns. Herbs, perhaps parsley, sage, or rosemary, fresh if possible.

When there is no more scum, add all the additions. Add all the water and brown bits from the roasting pan. Set the lid onto the pot askew, and adjust the heat so that it simmers very slowly, just a bubble every now and then. Leave it for at least 12 hours; Katharine Eliska Kimbriel swears 24 is better and I believe her.  At the end of that period the broth will be mahogany brown and the whole kitchen will smell marvelous. You will not feel the least doubt that all the nutrition in the ingredients has been transferred to the fluid. Strain off the stock into a clean vessel and chill to bring the fat to the top. Depending upon the proportion of bone you used the fluid may set up solid like a jelly. If you do not spoon this jelly into the mouth of an invalid the stock can be frozen; I also save the cake of fat to use in making Yorkshire puddings. You can also use this recipe for veal stock, chicken stock, turkey stock, and so on.

Set that against your pale thin beef tea, and decide which is better!

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Feeding Your Invalid in the 19th Century 3: Beef Tea — 5 Comments

  1. My JOY OF COOKING cook book circa mid 1960s says to take all the vegetable bits and stuff and run them through the blender until no chunks remain and add that to the broth.

    I heard on the cooking channel that there are walk up restaurants on the east coast serving cups of bone broth like they would tea or coffee and it’s quite popular. Some people swear it wards off coughs and colds. YMMV

  2. You can now buy bone broth in the grocery store, in cans or packets. For that matter you can buy beef stock. I do solemnly assure you that this recipe is far, far better. Yes, you can save vegetable stalks, peelings, etc. in a bag in the freezer and add them. The only thing I’d avoid is beets (too vivid in color) or anything highly flavored like turnip or rutabaga. And, once you have the stock, worlds open before you. Add noodles and more veg; add barley or rice, anything.

  3. Roast marrow, scoop out, spread on toast. Sprinkle of salt. Eat.

    (Somewhere I have seen a historical recipe for beef tea that merely set cubes of beef in a strainer above boiling water and steamed it. I’ve always wanted to try that, just to see if there is anything beefy or nutritive about the water at all.)

  4. I have gone through healing periods where I wanted that great grass-fed beef or bison fat on the top. I would quarter the disk (which varied depending on which type of bones and how much meat) and would put a bit in a mug of broth. Often I don’t even strain it. Other times I just keep adding the fat to a freezer jar. Great for sauteing veggies, onion, etc. for stews and soups.

    And yes–very healing. An awesome way to get minerals. Phyl, I like the idea of pureeing the veggies and adding back in. A good thickener with fiber, etc. even after the nutrients have been pulled. (Unless you have a good compost pile. What with bears I’m guessing you may not compost.)