INVALID FOOD: looking for classic vegetarian recipes for the poorly, after my kneejerk suggestion of Chicken Broth had been spurned, I reached for my trusty Mrs Beeton, who is always sensible on such matters. Three quarters of her standbys are also meat-based broths, of course, but I’ll skip these for now. The section starts arcanely: To Make Arrowroot – as it’s “flavourless and insipid”, Mrs B advises you add sugar and sherry. Barley Gruel seemed too spartan even to countenance (despite the suggestion that you add port wine and sugar). What about Nutritious Coffee? This is really just coffee with milk, but “may be made still more nutrious by the addition of an egg well beaten, and put into the coffee cup”. Er, OK. Egg wine: ingredients, 1 egg, 1 tablespoonful and half glass of cold water, 1 glass of sherry, sugar and grated nutmeg to taste,” bearing in mind that “when the egg is not warmed, the mixture will be found easier of digestion , but it is not so pleasant a drink.” Urgently on, casting only a swift glance at Invalid’s Jelly, which requires “12 shanks of mutton”, to Nourishing Lemonade: boiling water, four lemons plus rinds, loaf of sugar, half a pint of sherry, FOUR EGGS!!

I began to wonder if the great housemaker’s technique with the under-the-weather was to threaten them with food so scary that they began say (in tiny frail voices) “You know what, Isabella my dear, I think I’m feeling a little better!” Two recipes remain: Toast-and-Water (ingredients – a slice of bread, one quart of boiling water) and (and here you grasp why Britain once commanded three-quarters of the globe’s land surface) Toast Sandwiches: “put a very thin piece of cold toast between two slices of thin bread-and-butter… ”