Feeding Your Invalid in the 19th Century 6: Ale Caudle

Because Christmas is coming, here’s a more cheery recipe that you might even try. Ale caudle was possibly quite good for you. When my hero Theophilus Camlet is ill he demands it instead of sago gruel, thus ensuring that he survives to have further adventures. There’s nutritive value in ale or beer, and adding a starch makes it stick to your ribs a little. If you didn’t boil it hard (notice the recipe doesn’t say to do that) the alcohol in the ale wouldn’t cook off. But the key ingredient in this recipe, clearly, is that final glass of spirits, any kind. Not even wine, ooh! As an American, I’d use bourbon. I’m sure a basin of this would indeed make the invalid feel a lot better.

Charles Francatelli was the period equivalent of a celebrity chef. He cooked for Queen Victoria, and published several cookbooks on the strength of it. Fans of Victoria on PBS will remember him making a flirtatious appearance below stairs. The groats he mentions is a mixture of whole grains, something akin to our modern granola. Use a dark ale or porter for more flavor.

Original Receipt from ‘A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes’ by Charles Elmé Francatelli (Francatelli 1846)

No. 186. How to make Caudle.

Mix four ounces of prepared groats or oatmeal with half a pint of cold ale in a basin, pour this into a saucepan containing a quart of boiling ale, or beer, add a few whole allspice, and a little cinnamon, stir the caudle on the fire for about half an hour, and then strain it into a basin or jug; add a glass of any kind of spirits, and sugar to taste.

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Feeding Your Invalid in the 19th Century 6: Ale Caudle — 5 Comments

  1. So far as I know everything in British cookery of the period was very starch-heavy. What the gluten-intolerant did to survive I have no idea. It is significant however that constipation was a national plague, the obsession of every nanny, nurse and doctor.

  2. “Prepared grain” how?

    There was a whole class of people generally termed “sickly” who likely encompassed the gluten-intolerant, the allergic, and other people with environmental issues. I also read somewhere that what was sometimes believed to be consumption was actually severe environmentally-triggered asthma. And when you consider the air in London, it’s remarkable that everyone wasn’t asthmatic to some degree.

    “Sickly” offers an excellent and genteel umbrella for all those ailments that won’t kill you, but will make you utterly miserable.

  3. Groats was a prepared mixture of raw grains — like birdseed mix, or curry powder. You just bought it in the packet. I would not actually use granola (with its added sugar, raisins, etc) but just shift over to oatmeal. Cut it with any other whole grain you have around, wheatberries or brown rice.
    Yes, all those delicate digestions or livers in need of stimulus were probably intolerance in one form or another. If you were seriously allergic you probably died early. You can still pick up asthma symptoms in less than a week by traveling to New Delhi or Beijing. The air pollution there, the worst in the world, makes everyone sick.

  4. This is the first invalid meal I think I could have tolerated, assuming my gluten problem would not have triggered in those days.

    People who are truly wheat gluten intolerant (not Celiac, a ghastly disease that causes the intestines to actually rot from gluten)also can be sensitive to the gluten in rye and barley–but oat sensitivity in the US is often caused by contamination from wheat when the grains are packaged on the same machinery, and the level of cleaning between batches is not good enough for whatever is triggering someone’s reaction. (Gluten is not the only trigger in grains.)

    When I buy oats, I aim for McCann’s Irish oats, or Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oats, which are grown isolated in a valley away from wheat products. They don’t give me any trouble with a gluten reaction. (Feeling lucky, there.)

    I also wonder about how environmentally dirty London and other large cities were, plus people adding sand to flour, selling bad meat, etc.. There was a reason at the time that the country was considered healthier. (If you weren’t working a farm dawn to dusk, of course.)