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Invalid Cookery

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

The small but famous Green and Gold Cookery Book first published in 1923 in South Australia as a school fundraiser sits proudly on my shelf alongside Nigella, Ottolenghi, Marcella Hazan, and others. It is a true reflection of home cookery of its time "Containing tried and tested recipes, contributed by experienced housewives and cookery experts." It has a few now not so useful sections such as how to use an electric range and an automatic gas cooker but I mainly use it for pastry, cakes, jams, and chutneys because these basic recipes are sometimes hard to find. It contains a lot of recipes for pies, boiled meat, offal, boiled vegetables and a few grotesque-sounding dishes such as Fricasee of Sheeps Tounges.

Then there is a section called Invalid Cookery, a common section for cook books of its time, the era of the Spanish Flu pandemic, when care of the sick was an ever present part of of daily life. Now that the Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic is here and we realise the long term and mutating nature of the virus, perhaps it is time to re-connect with invalid cookery, although not in the 1923 style.

Back then the link between healing and food was very much part of early nursing training and practice at a time where medicines and treatments were still being developed. The area of virology was only beginning, so keeping people well nourished was often the only thing available. Now, if you google "food for healing" a myriad of food fads and purveyors of snake oil appear. The difference between these and invalid cookery is that instead of a focus on supporting the science of health and nutrition, they often advocate against medicine and science and claim that specific individual foods and diets can cure illness. They make us believe we are sick when we are not. Are you also bothered by the pop up ads about your dying liver?

The invalid cookery recipes in the Green and Gold Cookery Book are of their time and very much from English culture but all cultures have recipes for when people are ill or injured and there are so many similarities in the basic rules. High protein and vitamins, high energy, liquid or soft texture, comforting and warming. Chicken soup is extremely common right across the world. There is a reason it is known as Jewish penicillin. As children, a light chicken and vegetable soup or chicken noodle soup really did make you feel better when we were ill . In Italy there is good home-made chicken broth with tiny pasta called pastina, rice or broken spaghetti and cheese. In parts of China, soup made with black chicken and Chinese herbs is recommended for people recovering from illness or about to have a baby.

There is science behind the powers of Chicken Soup, especially if you make it with the bones not just the meat and add vegetables like carrot and onion. It is high in protein, and good for hydration. The onion acts as an anti inflammatory for your nose and carrots add Vitamin A which strengthens the white blood cells which fight off infection. What makes chicken special is that it also contains an amino acid called cysteine that is released when the soup is made. This is great for bones, skin, connective tissue and improved immunity. (also extremely good for hangovers) . It is also high in tryptophan, which helps your brain produce serotonin and that is why when you eat it you feel so comforted, like you have just had a warm hug.

Protein is important for healing but hoeing into a medium rare sirloin is the last thing you feel like when you are sick. When Raffaele was a child his mother would make him zabaglione when he was ill - egg yolk beaten with sugar and a dash of marsala until thick and creamy. The equivalent I had was egg-flip or coddled egg, soft boiled egg mixed with soft white breadcrumbs. Simple dishes like mashed potato with an egg beaten in, pasta with butter and cheese, rice porridge with fish or pork, egg custard, lentils all provide good sources of protein but are also easy to eat, high in energy and comforting.

With Raffaele finally home from hospital, our job is to get his weight and energy up with the challenges of his mouth not working at its best, little appetite and his immune system being dangerously compromised. Every day we work out a solution depending on how he is feeling. Thankfully there is no need for the blandness of 1923 Invalid Cookery, so I am not reaching for my old cookery book to whip up a cup of gruel. Now our multicultural community and availability of ingredients create many delicious options.

While he was in hospital friends asked if they could help with the cooking load but setting up a roster seemed nearly as much work as the doing the cooking. My sister put me onto web based platform called Meal Train. I left instructions on our page which encompassed the principles of invalid cooking and a low immunity diet and they booked themselves in to provide an array of interesting and nutritious meals. It was wonderful. Not only did they cook beautiful food, in a time of isolation when we were all locked out of the hospital due to COVID, it lifted my spirits to see our safely masked friends as they popped over with a prepared dish.

I think its time to re-introduce the invalid cookery section of cook books. Now with so many people recovering from COVID or just needing some comfort, food can be the healthy tonic we need.

Here are a few recipes that might be a useful start for this.

Home made chicken broth

In a large stock pot put 2 raw chicken carcasses, one whole onion and 2 whole carrots, the tops of a small bunch of celery including the leaves, the stalks from a bunch of parsley, a bay leaf and a few whole black pepper corns.

Add water so it more than covers the ingredients and then bring it to the boil.

Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.

Cover and cook until the carcasses fall apart (around one and half hours)

Strain out and discard all the ingredients so you have just the broth in the pan.

Add a small peeled tomato ( for colour if you want) and boil for little longer.

Taste and adjust for flavour. If its not chickeny enough, then you may want want to reduce the liquid a little more by putting the broth back on the heat and simmering for longer, but remember it should be a light broth.

Add salt to taste.

Cover and put it in the fridge overnight or the freezer until it cools. This will result in scum and fat rising to the surface. Skim this off and ladle the broth into containers placed in the freezer for future cooking.

* Variations

- to make a darker broth, roast one of the carcasses in the oven before adding it.

- any chicken bones are fine. Necks are also good for soup.

- to make the broth a little meatier in flavour, add a couple of raw chicken wings.

- If you have a carcass from the roast chicken you the night before, add this as well but use it together with raw chicken carcasses.

( chicken carcasses are available from butchers or any shop where they sell chicken)

Chicken, mushroom and barley soup


2 tablespoons of olive oil

one onion

1 clove of garlic

2 carrots

250g of mushrooms

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 litre of home made chicken broth

1 chicken thigh

4 tablespoons of barley

Soak the barley in boiling water and leave to stand until it is soft.

Dice the onion and crush the garlic then gently fry them together in a saucepan with the olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Dice the carrot and add to the pan and cook for a few minutes

Chop the mushrooms, add them to the pan and stir.

Take the leaves from the Thyme sprigs and add them to the vegetables.

Chop the chicken thigh into small pieces and stir this in with the vegetables and oil.

Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Drain and add the barley.

Mix and cook together for another 10 minutes.

Serve hot with some fresh bread and butter.

Zucchini and egg


4 small zucchini (The best zucchinis to use are the small sweet pale white zucchini but small dark green ones will also be fine. Just don't use the big overgrown ones)

2 table spoons of olive oil

1 clove of garlic

pinch of salt

1 egg

50g pecorino cheese

black pepper

Pour a good glug of olive oil in a saucepan with a lid and turn to a slow heat.

Chop garlic and add to the oil.

Chop the zucchini in slices and add these to the garlic. Stir gently coating the zucchini with the oil. Add the salt. Don't let the garlic or the zucchini 'brown, just cook it until it is soft and juicy.

In a small bowl beat the egg adding the grated pecorino cheese, some salt and pepper.

Pour the egg over into the pan with the zucchini, stir a couple of times and then turn the heat off and put the lid on for around 5 minutes. Add a ground of fresh black pepper. The consistency of the egg should be softly scrambled.

Eat straight away while it is hot, soft and fresh.

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1 Comment

Love love love it Janet. I may even make a ckicken broth! You write so beautifully I can ‘hear’ you telling me. 😘🥰

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