Living History: Tea and Two Slices


In the late 1920s, George Orwell compiled his first full-length book. Although Down And Out In Paris And London wasn’t an epic novel about a dystopian future, the origins of his later works could be found in this semi-documentarian, semi-autobiographical look at the criminalization of the poor.

In the first half of Down and Out…, Orwell gives a grueling account of the French food industry; he worked in Paris as one of the lowliest kitchen staff buried in the basement scullery of a hotel. But even more fascinating was when Orwell’s main character returns to his hometown of London, and through a series of misfortunes ends up living life as a penniless “tramp” for a period of several months. Orwell, too, lived amongst the homeless while he was a young journalist: he wandered in and out of shelters with the permanently poor, and became critical of the housing and diet of these men, the latter being “tea-and-two-slices.”

Ironically, just off the boat from France, Orwell”s main character orders tea-and-two-slices with a sort of welcome nostalgia.  Standard 1920s British diner fair, it’s a mug of tea with milk and sugar, and two slices of toast spread with margarine. But as he gets caught up in the system of cheap lodging houses, work houses, and prison-like shelters called “spikes,” it is the only food offered to the homeless.  “Food..had come to mean simply bread and margarine, which will cheat hunger for an hour or two,” Orwell writes.

“It follows that the ‘Serves them damned well right’ attitude that is normally taken towards tramps is no fairer that it would be towards cripples or invalids. When one has realized that, one begins to put oneself in a tramp’s place and understand what his life is like. It is an extraordinarily futile, acutely unpleasant life…hunger, which is almost the general fate of tramps.  The casual ward [a sort of shelter] gives them a ration which is probably not even meant to be sufficient, and anything beyond that must be got by begging–that is, by breaking the law. The result is that nearly every tramp is rotted by malnutrition; for proof of which we need only look at the men lining up outside any casual ward.”

Orwell’s book goes so deeply, and personally, into societal views of poverty that I can’t even scratch the surface in this post. Go on and read it, it will fascinate you.  But in an odd sort of tribute, I’m going to reenact the part that fascinated me the most: the ongoing march of tea-and-two-slices, this very British meal that was the insufficient fuel for an army of homeless men. Four meals today: 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm–tea, bread and margarine only.  I’ll update this post with thoughts throughout the day.

Update 12pm: A few words on margarine: I hate it.  I hate the mouth-feel and greasy taste. My future husband & my temporary roommate LOVE it. That’s part of the reason I’m doing this experiment now, because there’s an economy sized tub of it in the fridge.  I haven’t been able to figure out why margarine was so incredibly popular in England – maybe someone out there can clue me in – but this line from Down and Out is particularly telling:

“An ordinary London coffee shop, like a thousand others…’Can I have some tea and bread and butter?’ I said to the girl.

She stared. ‘No butter, only marg,” she said, surprised. And she repeated the order in the phrase that is to London what the eternal coup de rouge is to Paris: ‘Large tea and two slices!’

Daily Mail UK online has some things to say about margarine.

Black tea with milk and sugar is one of my favorite things in the world, however. And sipped slowly over many hours, it does stave off hunger, as many an Irish domestic knew.

Update 4pm: I get really hungry about two hours after eating.  The tea always helps–I’m very happy when I’m filled with sugar and caffeine.  Tea is a drug, that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped the poor get through their day and functioned as a substitute for food when there was none.  The “lower classes” were also constantly criticized for spending what little money they had on frivolities like tea and sugar; or so it was perceived, in England and on this side of the ocean. Perhaps today’s replacement is coffee or Mountain Dew.

Update 8pm: I had my last tea-and-two-slices an hour early.  What I ate at 4pm didn’t satisfy me at all.  I was having trouble thinking and remembering by 5pm, and by 6 I had to go have a lay down. I feel weak, sick and confused.  When I ate my final meal at 7, I felt full, but gross. I really thought today would be a cakewalk–who doesn’t love tea and toast? But I cannot imagine eating this, and only this, day after day.  It would destroy you.

I think I might have a banana and some peanut butter before I go to bed.  Don’t judge.

Going Raw: Saturday and Wrap Up


Grapes; Apples or Pears; Nuts; Dates; Milk +Hazelnuts

Breakfast was rather uninspired: Milk, a pear, and some hazelnuts.  It made me jones for the end of this experiment.


Red Banana (very ripe) with Thick Cream; Pecans; Brazil Nuts; Seeded Raisins; Dates; Whipped Egg; Rich Milk +Hazelnuts, Apples, Almonds
Whole Foods has red bananas last week, but were out this week.  Boo.  I’ve never had one, and I hear they have a delicate, berry-like flavor.
I also had an apple with cream cheese for a snack.


I went out for a beer after work, a small infraction against my diet, but managed to resist joining my coworkers for a hamburger.  I made my way home to Queens and fixed a salad from my remaining vegetables: lettuce, cabbage, celery, olives and almonds with a little dressing.  I have a new-found love for cabbage, I must admit.

For dessert, I made a bowl of apples, hazelnuts and cream, which has been one of my favorite meals this week.  Then I watched tv, went to bed, and woke up to a different life.

It always feels strange to shed one of these immersive experiments.  I made tea and a toasted bagel with cream cheese, then sighed with happiness at the sensation of warm food touching my lips and making its way down to my tummy.  But I didn’t miss cooked food as much as I thought would.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. One of the major complaints of a modern raw diet is you feel hungry all the time.  Although I did have some bouts of the munchies on a historic raw diet, in general I did quite well.  I attribute it to the additional of dairy in the historic diet: milk, cream, and cream cheese.  Although it’s pasteurized, I made an exception because I thought the inclusion of dairy was more historically appropriate.
  2. I didn’t notice a huge change in the way I “felt” this week, which is the number one question people asked me.  I eat a pretty healthy diet regularly, so I think I was in ok shape to begin with.  My friend Kat, who was also raw this week, said she felt more energetic in general.  I did enjoy having extremely regular bowel movements that were of a healthy consistency.
  3. Having my first cup a tea in a week this morning was extremely satisfactory.  I’ve somewhat unstained my teeth by abstaining from tea drinking, but I’ve still glad to have my cuppa back.
  4. I didn’t drink alcohol–until the beer I had last night.  Alcohol is really bad for me; it tends to trigger my migraines, which makes me feel awful.  So I have felt a lot healthier for not  drinking…but I do love drinking.
  5. I need to include more raw foods in my diet.  I want to go back to cooking, and I want to go back to eating meat.  But what this diet has taught me more than anything else is not to fuss over “preparing” raw foods.  A luscious apple or a pile of salad greens are good the wat they are; I don’t need to stress about finding a recipe.  I should just eat them, and enjoy them in their natural state.  And from now on, I will.

Other thoughts? What do you think?


Going Raw: Friday


Sliced pineapple; Pecans; Protoid nuts; Evaporated Apples; Dates

I feel like the menu writers of Uncooked Foods began to run out of steam by the end of the week.  I ate dried apples from Russ & Daughters, most of my remaining pecans, and sliced pineapple.

Uncooked Foods is a big supporter of Fletcherizing: chewing you food at least 30 times per bite.  Try it sometime; you’ll find that every mouthful  disintegrates into a disgusting puddy, the taste and texture of which will make you spit it back out.


Apples; Pecans; English Walnuts; Lettuce; Sweet Butter; Unfired wafers; Dates; Fruit and Nut medley; Milk
All packed up for lunch at work.  My coworkers have been incredibly supportive and interested.


Oranges; Protoid Nuts; Black walnuts; ripe olives; sliced tomatoes; unfired wafers; cream cheese; prune whip with whipped cream; figs; milk +Hazelnuts
On this plate, you see my rather meager dinner; I felt so hungry and unsatisfied that I followed up by devouring a container of cream cheese and banana chips.  I was just so hungry.  And that’s what I got to eat while my boyfriend made a hamburger.
Now that I’m in the home stretch, it is getting harder.  I miss bread!  I’ve already decided what my first meal will be on Sunday: a bagel with cream cheese and a hot cup of tea with milk and sugar.

Going Raw: Wednesday


Sliced sweet apples with cream; pecans; protoid nuts; sliced oranges; dates; egg-nog

Tasty, filling breakfast!


Pears; pecans; english walnuts; tomato salad with hygeia dressing; fruit wafers; cream cheese; turkish figs with cream; dates; milk
I ate a pear for a mid-morning snack, then put together this little lunch.  I couldn’t figure out what they meant by fruit wafers, so I got banana chips, which now that I think about it, might be fried.  I’ll have to try to pick up some dehydrated fruit crisps from somewhere.
Hygeia dressing is a mayonnaisey-type dressing with raw eggs; since I’ve have a raw egg prohibition, I found a light ranch dressing that didn’t use vinegar, and I’ve substituted that instead.  Salad dressing and olive oil are the only two condiments I’m allowed to use.  Why, you ask?
The use of condiments, the pouring of some mixed-up mess of something over foods just before we eat them, in the vain hope of making them better, seems to be a sort of weird superstition….People will sit in a fashionable cafe, and dine upon an undrawn cold storage turkey, that has been a year dead, and pour over its ancient flesh a tar colored fluid that has been upon the shelf of a grocer several years, until it has reached that limit of delicious decay suggested by the green slimy mildew in Roquefort cheese.


I abandoned my suggested dinner menu tonight because I was meeting a friend (Jess of Domestology!) after work.  Eating raw at home is one thing; trying to find appropriate foods in the world at large is another.  We agreed to meet at a vegetarian cafe in the Flatiron district–one that I’ve enjoyed even when I’m not on a restricted history diet–only to find that it was closed for good.  We wandered down 6th avenue, balefully searching for a place where I could eat.  Eventually, we ended up in a corner deli, where I ordered a veggie wrap.  I scraped a few cupfuls of shredded carrots out of the middle of a soggy pita.  It sucked, and really made me miss the flavorful food I’ve been eating.  Although the dinner was terrible, we had a great chat about the amazing embroidered book covers Jess been making (see them here).

After dinner, as I left to get on the train, I spied a Mr. Softee truck.  I remembered one of the foods that was on the suggested menu for today was ice cream.  So, a bit guiltily, I stepped up to the window and ordered vanilla soft serve in a cup.  It was cooked in the same way all the dairy products I’ve consumed this week are cooked, I reasoned.  I spooned it into my mouth on the train ride home, clasping the cup as though someone might snatch it away from me and deprive me of my treat.  Each mouthful was sweet, creamy and buttery.  I disposed of the empty cup before I got home.

When I walked in the door, I found my boyfriend doing dishes.  “Are you hungry?” I asked. “Do you need me to fix you something?”

“Hey,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be raw anymore.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I don’t feel like I’ve eaten anything this week.  I feel like I’ve just been snacking.  I miss cooked food.  But I want to support you!”

“Don’t worry about it–it’s ok, I understand if you want to quit.  But,” I said, throwing my hands in the air, “I am powerless to fix you dinner.”

So I’m on my own now, with three days left.

Going Raw: Tuesday


Apples; Pecans; Bananas and Cream; Unfired wafers; seeded raisins; milk

For breakfast, I had a big heaping bowl of sliced apples, bananas, and chopped pecans.


Apples; Pecans; Celery Salad; Unfired Crackers; Chestnuts; Date and nut Butter; Dates; Persimmons with Cream
Celery salad is made up of chopped celery, apples, and pecans dressed with olive oil.  The chestnuts were actually roasted, which I realized after I purchased them.  I ate them anyway.  Other than dairy products, they’re the only cooked food I’ve eaten this week.


Sliced Pineapple; Pecans; Blanched Almonds; Ripe Olives; Celery; Unfired wafers; Combination Nut Butter; Sliced Bananas, Dates and Cream; Egg-nog

I had Raw Sea Crackers for a snack in the afternoon, and then had dinner of pineapple and banana slices slathered in almond butter–a favorite snack of mine, historic diet or no.  Later in the evening, I had almonds and dates as a snack.

Compared to other historic diets I’ve been on, this one is a breeze.  I’m not really craving anything–I would “like” bread and I would “like” a cup of tea, but it’s not a desperate situation.

I got to sit down to lunch with my boyfriend today, who is also sticking to a raw diet this week.  We’ve been working opposite schedules, so it’s been a couple of days since we’ve talked.

“How is this experience for you?” I asked.

“Fine. I’ve been eating enough.”

“How’s your poop?”


“Me too!!  And it floats!”  And it’s frequent. I’ve got bowels John Harvey Kellogg would be proud of.

Going Raw: Monday


Apples; Protoid Nuts; Filberts; Turkish pulled figs with cream +Raw Honey

I sliced my apple and smeared it with raw honey, then sprinkled the pine nuts over top.  The filberts–hazelnuts–I added to the figs and cream.

I would normally have a cup of tea with my breakfast, and two to three more throughout the day.  But Uncooked Foods advises against it:

It is impossible to keep alive the appetite for such stimulants as tobacco, fermented and distilled liquors, tea and coffee when the body is correctly fed.  A being who subsists upon clean elementary foods would have no more desire for stimulants and narcotics than a horse or a dog would have for a Manhattan cocktail.

In the end, it will be nice to break my caffeine habit.  But currently, I’m experiencing bouts of extreme drowsiness and headaches.


Pecans; Olives; Vegetable Salad with Hygeia dressing; Unfired Crackers; Sweet Butter; Evaporated Peaches and raisins; Milk

I made most of my ingredients into a big salad, and packed the whole thing up for lunch.  The biscuits I’m eating are miserable little things:

Bread forms a very important part of the uncooked menu, but its production is not practical in the home, where this book is intended to be of greatest use, as it requires special machinery for flaking and grinding the different grains and nuts of which it is made. It also requires a special electric light oven for drying during the winter when the rays of the sun cannot be utilized.

To meet conditions that exist, we make an exception here and give two recipes for bread that requires cooking, but is unfermented.

I haven’t quite figured out why the book dislikes fermentation.  The recipe that they give for “unleavened gems” is 3 cups whole wheat flour to 2 cups cold water and 2 tablespoons of fat.  Then “Take up on a spoon and work all the air possible into the batter by vigorous beating two or three minutes in the open air.”  I had the benefit of my electric mixer.  I baked them for ten minutes at 400 degrees, and the result was something less edible than silly puddy.  I will suffer through them for another day or two, then I think I’m going to switch back to the raw crackers from Whole  Foods.


Oranges; Apples; Pecans; Protoid nuts; Ripe Olives; Lettuce; Flaked Oats, Dates and Cream; Unfired Crackers; Sweet Butter; Fruit Salad; Egg Nog.

I had a very long day at work, so I ate dinner there, too–and forgot to snap a photo.  It was more of the same: a large salad with some fruit and unleavened breads.

Despite my kvetching, I’ve been generally very satisfied with my meals.  The food is good and fresh, and extremely healthy while remaining delicious.  I feel full at the end of a meal.  But I’m extremely flatulent.


Going Raw: Sunday


Grape Fruit or Oranges; Pecans; Protoid Nuts (Pine Nuts); Dates; Whipped Eggs; Milk  +Raw Honey

Uncooked Foods gives some general guidelines for portion size: one large fruit, 2-3 smaller fruits, an ounce of nuts.

I’ve decided I’m not going to eat raw eggs:  Salmonella didn’t enter eggs until the 1970s ( New York Times article about it here), so raw eggs were a lot safer when this cookbook was written. I didn’t drink milk because my boyfriend drank it all the night before.

I drizzled raw honey over my grape fruit.  Raw honey is unpasteurized and minimally filtered, and has no additives.  It is solid at room temperature, and does need to be heated slightly to use it.  From what I understand, the sugar crystals are larger which also gives it a murky appearance.  It can also contain beeswax, pollen, and even bee pieces, if you have really fresh stuff.



Bananas (ripe); English Walnuts; Protoid Nuts; Unfired Crackers; Dates; Cold Slaw with Olive Oil; Persian Prunes with Cream; Milk +Raw Sea Crackers

“Cold Slaw” is just shredded cabbage, which I doused will olive oil, and mixed up with the pine nuts and walnuts.  It was quite tasty and I ate it very happily.  The authors of Uncooked Foods mention that they have tried to provide food combinations that taste good together in the mouth.  I also added Raw Sea Crackers, because I haven’t baked any “Unfired Crackers” yet.  They came from the raw section at Whole Foods, and they’re some combination of flax seed and sea weed.  The blurb on the back of the package mentioned the company’s founder turned to a raw diet after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and it has helped her manage her disease.  Looks like people are still turning to raw diets for a cure.

Uncooked Foods has some interesting things to say about milk: first, it says that good milk should have 12% milk fat, which is equal to Half and Half by today’s standards.  So, that what I drank: about four ounces of half and half, and it was sweet and delicious.   Here’s what Uncooked Foods has to say on the subject of milk:

The custom of cooking or sterilizing milk, due to ignorance is little less than criminal. Cooking milk is recommended by certain alleged dietetic authorities on the ground that it kills bacteria. They probably forget maybe do not know that all the five digestive fluids are strongly germicidal. The bacteria that may exist in milk, of which so much fear is entertained, could not live an instant after coming in contact with the gastric juice which is strongly aciduous, to say nothing of contact with the saliva bile and pancreatic and intestinal juices.

I’ve been asked if I’m going to consume raw dairy during this diet, and the answer is no.  I’ve got a bug up my butt about unpasteurized milk, and I will never stop linking to this article on swill milk to explain it.  Milk in the 19th century was filled with tuberculosis, amongst other things, and was a major contributor to the high infant mortality rate, particularly in New York City. Early veganism, which was contemporary to the raw foodists, rejects milk because of its association with disease (read more about that here).  In fact, in the chapter in Uncooked Foods on meat, it points out that 36% of cows have TB.  And TB does not die when it hits gastric juices.  So the milk I will be consuming will be pasteurized.

There is a raw milk movement in America today; Edible Manhattan just had a great article about it.



Pears; Pecans; Black Walnuts; Ripe Olives; Celery; Flaked Wheat, Dates, and Cream; Unfired crackers; Combination Nut Butter; Fruit Jelly with Whipped Cream; Dates; Egg-nog

I felt like I had had enough nuts for one day, so I just had raw almond butter spread over pear halves.  I also ate the olives, which I don’t normally like, with the celery; it was a delightful flavor combination.  I had rolled oats, cream, and dates for an evening snack–I haven’t been able to find flaked wheat, although Bob’s Red Mill makes it, so oats will have to do.

As I walked through my neighborhood today, I felt particularly tuned in to the smells of cooking food.  Someone nearby was grilling outside and the scent of fat steaks sizzling above hot coals curled around corners and into my nose.  From the open door of a bakery, the sweetest smells wafted out, of cakes and pastries and other delights.  Then, carried on a breeze, I smelled the complicated spices of curry sauces, savory and inviting.

But when I returned home, I munched on my pear slices and felt satisfied.  As Uncooked Foods says, “The best foods need the least preparation.”


Diets: Going Historically Raw

Now and then, I like to immerse myself in the diet of another time and culture.  I’ve been hungry, vegetarian, kosher, vegan, and drunk.

Recently, my friend Sharon (of Starting from Scratch) emailed me a 1904 cookbook: Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them, by Eugene and Molly Griswold Christian.  It’s an early raw- foods manifesto and you can read it on Google Books here.  For the next week, my diet will be entirely “raw.”

What is a Raw Diet?

A contemporary raw diet is defined by “unprocessed raw vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). ‘Raw foodists’ believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost their enzymes and thus a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body, whereas uncooked foods provide living enzymes and proper nutrition. ” (source)  There are several liberal offshoots of the raw food movement, wherein you include a certain percentage of raw foods in your diet, or simply always not cook foods that can be eaten raw, and cook foods that cannot.

Eugene and Molly Christian are both less specific, and more strict in their diet: it contains no heated foods, and although they do have a chapter on warm soup, the recommend against it.  There are additional prohibitions on vinegar, “fermented” foods (like alcohol), and leavened bread.  Their diet, however, is not vegan: raw seafood and meat are acceptable.

The raw food diet is the most primordial diet a person can eat: before man discovered fire, his diet was entirely raw.  Modern histories of the raw food movement begin with this ideal of early man, mention Pythagoras (who was vegetarian) and then skip straight to the 1930s, when a raw food clinic opened up in Switzerland.  There is no mention of the Christians and Uncooked Foods, despite the fact that this seems to be the earliest raw food “cook” book there is.

Why Go Raw?

According to Uncooked Foods, there are three reasons:

1. Simplicity and Economy.  Less ingredients and less time spent cooking equals more money and time for other things.

2. As a Remedy.  The Christians were “cured” of all their ailments by a raw food diet, which is what inspired them to write their book.  They say that most ailments are caused by a poor diet and eating nature’s perfect foods, uncooked, is the remedy.

3. Emancipation of Women.  The Christians argue that less time spent cooking  equals more time for women to do other things.  Preparing three meals a day is incredibly labor intensive; I’ve done it for the purposes of this blog.  As soon as I finished one meal it was time to get ready to make the next.  Freedom from these duties will “…Prove and important factor in lifting [women] mentally, morally and physically into an entirely different sphere.”  An intriguing idea–and not something I had envisioned as part of this early manifesto.

Uncooked Foods says that “raw” is a horrible, ugly word for this movement.  A ripe apple or peach is not “raw,” the authors argue: “These things are finished, ready for use; they are perfect, they are not raw, they are done; and when they are cooked, they are undone.”

The Menu for this Week

I’ll be posting about my experiences daily.

Breakfast: Grape Fruit or Oranges; Pecans; Protoid Nuts (Pine Nuts); Dates; Whipped Eggs; Milk
Lunch: Bananas (ripe); English Walnuts; Protoid Nuts; Unfired Crackers; Dates; Cold Slaw with Olive Oil; Persian Prunes with Cream; Milk
Dinner: Winter Nellie Pears; Pecans; Black Walnuts; Ripe Olives; Celery; Flaked Wheat, Dates, and Cream; Unfired crackers; Combination Nut Butter; Fruit Jelly with Whipped Cream; Dates; Egg-nog
Breakfast: Apples; Protoid Nuts; Filberts; Turkish pulled figs with cream
Lunch: Pecans; Olives; Vegetable Salad with Hygeia dressing; Unfired Crackers; Sweet Butter; Evaporated Peaches and raisins; Milk
Dinner: Oranges; Apples; Pecans; Protoid nuts; Ripe Olives; lettuce; Flaked Oats, Dates and Cream; Unfired Crackers; Sweet Butter; Fruit Salad; Egg Nog.
Breakfast:Apples; Pecans; Bananas and Cream; Unfired wafers; seeded raisins; milk
Lunch: Apples; Chestnuts; Pecans; Celery Salad; Unfired Crackers; Date and nut Butter; Dates; Persimmons with Cream
Dinner: Sliced Pineapple; Pecans; Blanched Almonds; Ripe Olives; Celery; Unfired wafers; Combination Nut Butter; Sliced Bananas, Dates and Cream; egg-nog
Breakfast: Sliced sweet apples with cream; pecans; protoid nuts; sliced oranges; dates; egg-nog
Lunch: Pears; pecans; english walnuts; tomato salad with hygeia dressing; fruit wafers; cream cheese; turkish figs with cream; dates; milk
Dinner: Oysters on Half Shell; unfired crackers; ripe olives; stuffed peppers; pecans; chestnuts; sun-cooked corn; ice cream; fig and nut cake
Breakfast: Sliced Banana with Thick Cream; Pecans; Protoid Nuts; Dates; Egg-nog
Lunch:Oranges; Pecans; Cold Slaw; Persian Prunes with Thick Cream; Unfired Crackers; Combination cereal; Dates; fig butter; protoid nuts; milk
Dinner: Tokay grapes; Pecans; Unfired crackers; sliced cucumbers; cherry pie; sweet butter; brazil nuts; seeded raisins; ripe olives; milk
Breakfast: Sliced pineapple; Pecans; Protoid nuts; Evaporated Apples; Dates
Lunch: Apples; Pecans; English Walnuts; Lettuce; Sweet Butter; Unfired wafers; Dates; Fruit and Nut medley; Milk
Dinner:Oranges; Protoid Nuts; Black walnuts; ripe olives; sliced tomatoes; unfired wafers; cream cheese; prune whip with whipped cream; figs; milk
Breakfast: Grapes; Apples or Pears; Nuts; Dates; Milk
Lunch: Red Banana (very ripe) with Thick Cream; Pecans; Brazil Nuts; Seeded Raisins; Dates; Whipped Egg; Rich Milk
Dinner:  Grapes; Pecans; Peanuts; Lettuce with Olive Oil; Fruit and Nut Medley; Turkish Figs with Cream; Unfired Wafers; Cream Cheese; Dates: Egg-Nog

Menus: Historic Remedies for Your Expanding Waistline

Weight amongst the high and low classes; from Never Satisfied: A Culutural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat

Here’s my menu for tonight’s lecture,  Reducing Recipes: Historic Remedies for Your Expanding Waistline.  If you’re in the NYC area, you can get tickets here to taste all these good things.  And I have to say, everything turned out delicous–not just delicious “for diet food!”

Click the links to learn more about each course.


Graham Bread with Cold Water

Calisthenics Demo-

Dr. Kellogg’s Protose Meatless Balls

Fletcherizing Demo-

J.W. Wiggelsworth’s “Concentrated Nutrition”

The Fat Boy’s Lament

Richard Simmons’ Farewell to Fat Raspberry Brownie Points

Drink Like a Colonial American Day

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Moral and Physical Thermometer,” published 1789

What am I up to? Read this introduction to understand the plan.



I have to start my day by “taking my bitters.” Bitters, infusions of herbs in spices in high proof alcohol, started out as health tonics. Starting the day with an “eye-opener” of spirits, water, sugar and a healthy dose of bitters was not only considered socially acceptable, but good for you. In fact, the first drink to ever be called a “cock-tail” was exactly this concoction, using whiskey for the spirit. And that’s how I’m started my day today, using an 1833 recipe for the original cocktail, as it appears in David Wondrich’s book Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash

1 tsp sugar
2 oz whiskey
3 oz water
4 dashes bitters

Muddle sugar with water until dissolved. Add whiskey and bitters. Stir. Top with grated nutmeg.

I grabbed the first whiskey I saw in the liquor cabinet, which was Old Crow.  Only after I made my drink did i realize we had a Buffalo Trace corn whiskey, that would have been more period appropriate because it was un-aged.

My boyfriend demanded to join me from under the comforter on the bed.  I fixed him a drink, and he sat sleepy-eyed on the edge of the bed holding it.

“Well, what are you going to do now that you’re awake and drinking bourbon?”

“I don’t know…vomit?”

Running Total: 2 oz of hard spirits consumed @ 80 proof

8:51 am:

I realized I made our drinks with one oz of water instead of three.  Whoops.  So we are just drinking bourbon on an empty stomach.

9:38 am:

Had a tankard of hard cider with breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast).  John Adams, an ardent temperenace supporter, had a tankard of cider with breakfast every morning.  It wasn’t cider, beer, or wine that was considered “alcoholic,” it was distilled spirits considered ruinous to the working man (see above chart).

Cider was the American drink–scholars believe that Americans consumed more alcohol through hard cider than the much more potent spirit, Rum.  The desire for hard cider didn’t subside until the temperance movement convinced many farmers to cut down their apples trees.  Thankfully, events like Cider Week are bringing attention back to New York State growers and distillers.

11 oz of hard cider @ 10 proof.  Running Total: 3 units of alcohol.

Yes. I’m a little drunk. Time to take a shower and get some work done.

11 am:

It is now the “elevens”!!!   The Colonial American version of a coffee break! A hot toddy is appropriate at the elevens when the weather is cold, so I’ve decided to make apple toddys, one of the first cocktails to be recorded in print.  I baked apples with “apple pie spice”, sugar and butter; then added them to hot water and apple brandy.  I used apple brandy from Warwick Valley Winery, and from Laird’s who received the very first distiller’s license after the Revolutionary War.

I have not managed to take a shower yet.  Let’s be honest here: if colonial Americans drank like this every day, their tolerance would be quite high. I will be drunk, but the Common Man in 1780 would have just been getting started.

I am trying to drink a glass of water between every drink.

2 oz of apple brandy @ 80 proof.  Total: 5 units of alcohol in 2.5 hours.

11:40: am:

Where has the time gone? I have still not showered.  I know I am drunk because everything is a celebration: “yaaaaay! It’s time to water the plant!!!”

12:22 pm:

Trying to sober up a little before lunch.  IN the meantime, there was an interesting thread on Facebook yesterday regarding Colonial drinking, and I wanted to share some of the highlights.

R: All I can say is that I’d hate to be Sarah the morning after tomorrow! They also drank fortified wines (in 18th and 19th centuries) which get you crazy-drunk. I’ve heard a lot of people say that everyone drank ale, even children, because the water wasn’t potable. That may be true if you got your water from Collect Pond, but rich people would have had their own wells. I think they just liked tying one on.

Me: I don’t buy the “safer than water” excuse. In NYc — possibly. But the rest of the country was not so densely populated, and America was known for good quality water. That’s why everything we brewed/distilled was so delicious! I think the bottom line is grain and apples are worth more as liquor; and this is also a time when we had little else to drink but water. Alcohol provided variety, that today we replace with soda and fruit juice. Also true about the beer–but it was brewed at home, and only slightly alcoholic. More like today’s fermented sodas.

D: That’s a good point about water availability in America. But I wonder if the prevalence of cider was partly a continuation of European standards, though. In Europe, there was very little clean drinking water, so people might have just thought that alcohol was healthier than water. And even in New World, a lot of clean streams wouldn’t have stayed clean for long once settlers arrived.

Me: I think it’s a myth. I think it has more to do with financial reasons. Grain and apples go bad. Spirits and cider not, and you can sell the latter for more than the former.

D: Is there anything we know about what the colonists *did* think about nutrition, including the nutritional aspect of booze? I mean, there must have been some as-far-as-they-knew medical knowledge and folk wisdom about what foods you had to eat in order to be healthy. Did they think of spirits as having some kind of common nutritive properties with grain, such that one was a decent substitute for the other?

Me:  I don’t know a ton about the topic, but I do know that “small” beer (home brewed, weak), cider, and wine were considered healthy, nutritive drinks that brought wealth and happiness, while distilled spirits would be the ruin of the working man. Dr Benjamin Rush was an early temperance advocate, and he made this great chart of what will happen to you if you drink various alcohols in various quantities (see above).


1:19 PM:

I’m hungover and its painful.

2:11 PM:

Managed to get to the grocery store for more cider and a DiGiorno pizza.  The lady at the store wished me a happy birthday (it’s the 15th) and I responded “You too!”

Having another cider with lunch.  Here’s my line up for the rest of the day:

Throughout America, early afternoon dinner was accopanied by hard cider or distilled spirits mized with water; in later afternoon came another break; then supper with more refreshment.  Finally, in the evening it was time to pause and reflect upon the day’s events while sitting by the home or the tavern fireside sipping spirits. (The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, W.J. Rorabaugh)

Ugh. My head hurts.

12 oz of cider @ 10 proof.  Total: 6 units of alcohol in 6 hours.

4:13 pm

After my last hard cider, my boyfriend and I sat down to watch The Brave Little Toaster.  We promptly fell asleep.  Now that I’m awake, I’m clearly sober, clearly hungover, and I have a sickening migraine.

To be honest, I’ve walked this weird tightrope between sobriety and drunkeness all day.  Consuming so much alcohol so early in the day, on an empty stomach, is a surprsingly unpleasant feeling.  It’s honestly not what I expected.  I thought since the alcohol was spread out through an entire day that I would feel pleasantly buzzed, and not much more, as I Colonial drank away the hours.

I’ve taken my migraine meds and I’m trying to decide if the experiment should go on or if I should call it.  I still have afternoon drinks, dinner drinks, and after dinner drinks to go.

5:29 PM

My brother just texted to point out that I’m halfway through, and I’m already on step six in the Drunkard’s Progress: Poverty and Disease.  It’s only a short step down until I’m forsaken by friends.

I am trying to drink what a man’s portion of booze for a day would be.  Here’s what Rorabaugh has to say about the ladies:

While men were the heartiest topers, women were not faint-hearted abstainers.  Little, however, can be learned about either the reputed 100,000 female drunkards or the more numerous women who consumed for one-eighth to one-quarter of the nation’s spirituous liquor.  The subject received scant attention because it was ‘too delicate’ to be discussed.  The ideal of femininity did discourage tippling, for a woman was supposed to show restraint consistent with virtue, prudence consonant with delicacy, and a preference for beverages agreeable to a fragile constitution.  The public was not tolerant of women drinking at taverns or groceries unless they were travellers recovering from a day’s arduous journey.  Then the ladies might be permitted watered and highly sugared spirituous cordials.The concept of feminine delicacy led women to drink alcohol-based medicines for their health; many who regarded spirits as ‘vulgar’ happily downed a highly alcoholic ‘cordial or stomach elixir.’
See, I’m doing this for my health!


That’s it.  I’m calling it.  I can’t continue.  I know I’m going to get a lot of shit from my friends for now being able to go the distance, but I feel HORRIBLE.  I suspect it’s the hard cider, which I’m not used to drinking.  Something didn’t agree with me, perhaps.
Even if I hadn’t gotten a headache, I don’t think I could have done the whole day.
I haven’t drawn any conclusions about my experiences yet.  Let me dwell on it for a bit.