May 122013


Today is the birthday (1820) of Florence Nightingale.  Most people know her as “The Lady with the Lamp” because of her habit of making rounds late at night in the hospital in Crimea when all were asleep.  Few people know of her extraordinary accomplishments and diverse interests.  She is rightly considered the founder of modern nursing, beginning with her establishment of a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860: the first secular nursing school in the world. Because of this fact, today is celebrated worldwide as International Nurses Day.  She was also a tireless social reformer campaigning for better healthcare in Britain, a greater role for women in society, the relief of hunger in India, and the abolition of harsh laws regulating prostitution.  She was a prodigious writer on a wide variety of subjects including feminism, mysticism, and religion.  Although she was a staunch Christian she firmly believed that ALL religions had something to offer spiritually.  She was adept at presenting statistical information to decision makers in simple graphical form, and invented a form of pie chart, the polar area diagram, sometimes called the Nightingale rose diagram, in order to illustrate, simply and graphically, seasonal sources of patient mortality in the military field hospital.  All in all, a powerhouse to be reckoned with, especially considering she lived in an era when women of her class were largely uneducated and expected only to marry and bear children.

For today’s recipe I have chosen beef tea taken directly from the Invalid Food chapter of Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861.  This was my mother’s cooking Bible, and when I was convalescing as a small boy she would often make me beef tea.  Amusingly at the end of the recipe Mrs Beeton quotes Nightingale as saying that beef tea was calming (just like any other tea), but had no real nutritive value for the sick!

1858. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of lean gravy-beef, 1 quart of water, 1 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode.—Have the meat cut without fat and bone, and choose a nice fleshy piece. Cut it into small pieces about the size of dice, and put it into a clean saucepan. Add the water cold to it; put it on the fire, and bring it to the boiling-point; then skim well. Put in the salt when the water boils, and simmer the beef tea gently from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, removing any more scum should it appear on the surface. Strain the tea through a hair sieve, and set it by in a cool place. When wanted for use, remove every particle of fat from the top; warm up as much as may be required, adding, if necessary, a little more salt. This preparation is simple beef tea, and is to be administered to those invalids to whom flavourings and seasonings are not allowed. When the patient is very low, use double the quantity of meat to the same proportion of water. Should the invalid be able to take the tea prepared in a more palatable manner, it is easy to make it so by following the directions in the next recipe, which is an admirable one for making savoury beef tea. Beef tea is always better when made the day before it is wanted, and then warmed up. It is a good plan to put the tea into a small cup or basin, and to place this basin in a saucepan of boiling water. When the tea is warm, it is ready to serve.

Time.—1/4 to 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. per pint.