Mary MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, c.1930

Margaret Black and Mary MacKirdy

Another cookbook in the GCU collections that is interesting to consider for insight into Glasgow’s invalid recipes is Mary MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, which was published in the 1930s. It is worth noting that there was a personal connection between Black and MacKirdy, as Margaret Black (whose maiden name was MacKirdy) was Mary’s aunt. Mary took over the West End School of Cookery in 1903 when her aunt passed away, and then stayed on after the amalgamation of the two cookery schools, though she never became principal at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science (Ella Glaister took the position in 1908, and was succeeded by Dorothy Melvin in 1910, who went on to hold the position until 1946). Instead, MacKirdy was the Head of Department in the cookery department of the school. Nevertheless, the familial connection and choice of career show that Black had a tangible influence on niece, which is reflected in the dedication in MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, which reads: ‘To Margaret Black, In very Grateful Remembrance’. 

Recipes for You, Mary MacKirdy c.1930. 

Despite being published at least 60 years after Margaret Black’s Household Cookery, there are similarities in the way that invalid recipes are approached in MacKirdy’s Recipes for You. MacKirdy’s cookbook was also a general cookbook rather than one specifically angled towards health and illness. Recipes for You was written to give readers an overview of all the different types of cookery they may need in daily life: soups, vegetable cookery, meats, main courses, and cakes etc. That MacKirdy’s cookbook has a chapter called ‘Dishes for the Sick Room’ demonstrates that she still thought this was an important thing to include in her cookbook, even at this point in the twentieth century. 

MacKirdy’s chapter includes twenty invalid recipes, which are ordered as follows: 

  • ‘Beef Tea’
  • ‘Mutton Broth’
  • ‘Veal Broth’
  • ‘Chicken Broth’
  • ‘Water Souchet’
  • ‘Fillets of Sole with Custard’
  • ‘Quenelle of Fish’
  • ‘Veal Jelly’
  • ‘Chicken Jelly’
  • ‘Minced Steak’
  • ‘Pounded Beef’
  • ‘Raw Beef Juice’
  • ‘Beef Tea Pudding’
  • ‘Fricassee of Tripe’
  • ‘Semolina Soufflé’
  • ‘Invalid’s Tart’
  • ‘Apple Fool’ 
  • ‘Carragreen or Irish Moss’
  • ‘Milk Jelly’
  • ‘Boiled and Baked Flour, for Invalids’
Turning through the Dishes for the Sick Room chapter of MacKirdy’s Recipes for You

If you’ve read the previous posts on Margaret Black’s cookbooks, some of these recipes might sound familiar: ‘Beef Tea’, ‘Mutton Broth’, ‘Quenelle of Fish’, ‘Veal Jelly’, ‘Beef Tea Pudding’, ‘Fricassée of Tripe’, ‘Invalid’s Tart’, and ‘Apple Fool’ are all recipes that appear in Black’s cookbooks, though they are not entirely the same. Comparing MacKirdy’s recipes to the earlier iterations in her aunt’s cookbooks therefore illuminates how approaches to invalid cookery changed or stayed the same over time. 

Beef Tea

I’ll begin with the beef tea, given how central it is to invalid cookery. MacKirdy only includes one recipe in Recipes for You whereas her aunt provided three different methods in Household Cookery. In terms of method, MacKirdy’s recipe is similar to Black’s ‘Beef Tea (Best Way)’ recipe. Each recipe uses lean beef, water, and salt. MacKirdy writes that the beef should be ‘scraped’ before it is put in a jar and stirred with half a pint of ‘cold or tepid’ water and salt. The jar is then placed in a pan and surrounded by water of the same temperature. The pan should be steeped by the fire for an hour, before the liquid is poured off and the beef is then boiled again with a little water. This concentrated mixture is then added to the tea from earlier.

Beef Tea Comparison: from Black’s Household Cookery and MacKirdy’s Recipes for You

This is very similar to Black’s recipe: both opt for the bain-marie method of stewing the tea, stipulate that the water should be cold or tepid, that it shouldn’t get hotter by the fire, and then concentrate the beef further to add flavour to the final beverage. Even the timings are similar: Black’s best beef tea takes an hour and fifteen minutes to make, and MacKirdy’s takes an hour and twenty. Despite the time between the publication of these cookbooks, then, the recipes are very similar in terms of timings, ingredients, and process. 

The similarities between the two recipes shows a consistency in the method of preparing beef tea that lasted decades, in spite of technological and culinary advances. By the 1930s, instant beef extracts that followed in the footsteps of Liebig’s Meat Extract like Bovril and Oxo would have fully taken hold. They would have been cheap too, whereas in the 1880s Black’s readers may have still been more trusting of traditional methods. Moreover, enclosed ranges would have been common in even working-class homes in the 1930s, and electrical cookers were starting to take hold, particularly in cookery schools that were at the forefront of advertising and advocating domestic developments like electrical implements.

Despite that, however, MacKirdy still writes that the beef tea should be steeped ‘at side of fire’ (c.1930: 278). This could have been done by the side of a fire that was not in the kitchen, but suggests either that the traditional method was longstanding because it was preferable, or that MacKirdy still trusted the process written by her aunt and used in the cookery school enough to reproduce it in the cookbook. Either way, a culinary lineage can be traced throughout the recipes written by these two women, who wrote their recipes in different centuries.

Other recipes for the same dishes show changes in technique and in the things that authors thought it was necessary to include in recipes. MacKirdy includes a recipe for ‘Fricassee of Tripe’ in her book just like Black has a recipe for ‘Tripe Fricasée’ in Superior Cookerybut despite having the same ingredients, the recipes are very different in appearance. 

Black’s Fricasée recipe is one of the longer ones in her chapter on ‘Sick Room Cookery’. The method paragraph has sixteen lines which instruct the reader how to prepare and wash the raw tripe, simmer it in water for four hours until soft, before adding an onion and simmering for another 15 minutes. The water is then drained before the tripes is simmered in milk for ten minutes. Once the tripe is ready, chopped onion, corn flour and spices are added, the mixture is boiled, and then an egg yolk is added before the dish is served. As noted in the post on Superior CookeryBlack includes a note about the way in which tripe can aid digestion. 

MacKirdy’s recipe is far shorter than Black’s: it only has four lines, instead of sixteen. This is because instead of calling for raw tripe, MacKirdy’s ingredient’s list calls for ‘1/4lb Cooked Tripe’, meaning the lengthy process of washing and softening the tripe is not necessary. Instead, the cooked tripe is combined with the chopped onion and milk and simmered for ‘a few minutes’, before the corn flour and seasoning are added. The mixture is taken off the heat, before the yolk is stirred through and the fricassee is served ‘with pieces of toast’. The whole process appears to be simpler and shorter in terms of the time taken to prepare the dish. This only works, however, if the reader can source cooked tripe. If they were buying it raw, they would still have had to undergo the lengthy washing and cooking process. MacKirdy has therefore shortened her recipe for the sake of convenience: both in terms of recipe writing, and in terms of the cooking process. Whether this reflected the actual process of making the dish, however, was dependent upon the kind of tripe the reader could source. 

Throughout Recipes for You, MacKirdy has taken earlier recipes and shortened them, conveying her instructions to her reader in a concise manner. Her recipe for ‘Beef Tea Pudding’ shares ingredients and method with the same recipe from Black’s Household Cookery, but rather than instructing readers to soak the bread crumbs in the beef tea, let it stand, beat the eggs, combine with the tea and then bake or steam the mixture, MacKirdy simply writes: ‘Beat eggs, add other things, put into buttered bowl, steam slowly till set, about ½ hour, or bake in slow oven’ (c.1930: 281). Even though both Black and MacKirdy’s recipes are short, MacKirdy’s tone is far more clipped. Her instructions either do not go into every detail of the cooking process, or skip steps that Black has thought it was important to include, like soaking the breadcrumbs in the case of the pudding. 

This is a repeated pattern throughout Recipes for You, and the saving of time (and words) seems to be a priority for MacKirdy. But despite this, at no point in her ‘Dishes for the Sick-Room’ chapter does MacKirdy recommend the use of any manufactured products: beef extracts, ready-made medicines, or any branded foodstuffs whatsoever. Earlier in Household Cookery, Black mentioned that ‘Raw Beef Tea’ could be improved with the addition of ‘a little ketchup or Harvey Sauce’, sending her reader into the world to purchase a particular brand of sauce and incorporating manufactured food products into her recipe (1880: 109). But despite the sixty years that sat between the publication of these books, and the myriad of food products and time-saving implements that were manufactured in that time, there is a stability in the kinds of ingredients and the methods that MacKirdy employs that is reminiscent of her aunt’s recipes.

Comparing MacKirdy’s cookbook to the ones published by her aunt show that the same dishes, the same ingredients, and the same cooking processes were recorded in invalid recipes over several decades. While written instruction cannot be taken as reality and it is hard to know if or how often these recipes were used, it can be assumed that these were the kinds of recipes being taught to culinary pupils in Glasgow in the 1930s, especially given MacKirdy’s connection with the West End School of Cookery, and then her role as Head of Cookery at the GWSCDS. A comparison of these Glaswegian cookbooks therefore depicts invalid cookery as a fairly stable practice, where a collection of recipes became the standard approach to the feeding of the ill. 


Black, Margaret. 1882. Household Cookery and Laundry Work (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

Black, Margaret. 1890. Superior Cookery (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

MacKirdy, Mary. c.1930. Recipes for You (London: Collins)

The Remaining Editions of the Glasgow Cookery Book

Of the remaining editions of the GCB in the Queen’s College records, there are fewer differences in the invalid recipes. Book 16 is the ‘Revised Edition’ from 1973 and is the same as the 1962 edition, while Book 17 is the Centenary Edition from 1975.

In the centenary edition, the ‘Invalid Cookery’ chapter has been renamed so it is now called ‘Light Diets’. There is also a contents page at the beginning of each individual chapter, and this one lists 40 recipes which are slightly different to the ones in the 1962 edition. 

The recipes are still split into ‘Fluid’, ‘Soft’ and ‘Convalescent Diets’, but in the ‘Fluid Diets’ section there are no ‘Stimulating Drinks’ which means the Beef Tea which was previously so important to invalid cookery is missing. Indeed, this is the first time that Beef Tea of some description is totally absent from the GCB, signifying that it had waned from use. By the 1970s, readers would be far more likely to buy a mass-produced beef tea product like Bovril than they would be to prepare it themselves, but it is striking that Beef Tea had no place in this ‘Light Diets’ chapter. 

Some of the recipes throughout this edition are reordered or slightly tweaked, though notably the example diets (which all come at the start of the chapter rather than throughout it) are almost exactly the same as those in the 1962 edition. The recipes that are repeated also remain the same, so while the appearance of the cookbook has changed much of the content remains the same regardless of the new ‘Light’ title. Despite listing forty recipes in the contents page, however, this chapter is condensed in comparison with the previous editions, covering only nine pages where there were twelve pages of invalid recipes in the 1962 edition. This is because ‘Soft’ and ‘Convalescent’ diets are compressed within the cookbook rather than having their own section. Instructions are thus not repeated, and it is clear from these comparison pictures that the same information from previous editions has just been condensed. Where in the 1962 edition, there were two separate entries on suitable vegetables for each diet, here they have been shortened into one passage that gives all the necessary knowledge in one place: 

                                                            27. VEGETABLES
Soft Diets – Unless these are young and tender, they should be served mashed or puréed. It will be found that carrots, tomatoes, turnips, peas and spinach can be successfully puréed. Potatoes should be creamed or mashed. 

Convalescent Diet –
Any tender vegetable, including heart of lettuce or skinned tomato. (GCB 1975: 443)

The rest of the content remains relatively stable between the 1962 edition and the 1975 one. For instance, the recipes for the Diabetic preserves are still at the end of the chapter, with Sorbitol, Saccharine and Saxin listed as the sugar replacements and the same note about their short shelf-life. By organising the material in this way, however, the ‘Light Diets’ take up less space in the cookbook. Readers can still use this chapter to find relevant recipes throughout the rest of the text, but it is not a prominent section and the associations between cookery and illness are stripped due to the change of the chapter’s title. A reader may see a chapter on ‘Light Diets’ and assume they were for smaller or less calorific meals rather than intended as remedies for the ill. This, the absence of the previously prolific beef tea, and the condensing of information all speaks to the dwindling prominence of invalid cookery. Moving into the second half of the twentieth century, it was clearly not as important to the commercial appearance of the GCB. 

In Conclusion: Changes to the Glasgow Cookery Book

Books 18 through 20 in the records of the Queen’s College are the same centenary edition of the GCB, published in 1975. The final two books in their collection are the centenary edition published in 2009 by Waverley Books. This edition was published to celebrate 100 years of the GCB, and contains an introduction to the cookbook’s history from Carole McCallum. Interestingly, this newest edition contains no invalid recipes at all. As a commemorative edition, this copy is full of practical recipes that are derived from the teachings of the GWSCDS, but the invalid recipes did not make the cut.

The health-oriented roots of the GWSCDS, with its pioneering approach to dietetics and the treatment of ill health through food, is not present in the recipes that are still relevant to readers in the twenty-first century. Though some of us may have foods we return to when we feel ill – chicken soup, hot Ribena, or mashed potato – our diet is not necessarily the first thing we look to change if we are feeling under the weather, and illness is not thought of in terms of ‘soft’, ‘fluid’ or ‘convalescent’ foods. It’s also fair to say that most contemporary cookbooks do not feature sections on invalid recipes.  As such, the invalid recipes that were once considered a cornerstone of culinary education and housewifery get left in the past, as attitudes towards health shift. 

Looking at the differences between early editions and later forms of the GCB shows how even within the same category, food and cooking is an ever evolving concept.  What is perhaps most notable is the continuity of the invalid recipes in the cookbook’s lifespan. While recipes changed in terms of their ordering, ingredients or presentation, there are still strong similarities between what invalid recipes are included in the 1910 edition of the GCB and the 1975 copy. Lemonade, Egg Flip, Barley Water, and just some of the recipes that appear in both these ‘first’ and ‘last’ editions. The continuation of these recipes over so many years and cookbook shows just how lasting the initial teachings at the GWSCDS were: the recipes concocted and taught by the women there would continue to have relevance for over fifty years, and given how popular the cookbook was, even beyond that as they are reused by readers again and again. 

The New and Revised Edition (1962)

Books 13 in the records of the Queen’s College is the same as the New Revised Edition from 1951, and Book 14 is the Third Revised Edition, which was published in 1958 and was the same as the 1951 version. The 15th Book, however, is also called the New Revised Edition, but this version was published in 1962 and differs from the previous copies. Also published by John Smith, this version of the GCB is particularly interesting as, just like the 1951 edition, it shows a more thorough treatment of Invalid Cookery. 

This is a lengthy section, but reading through it and looking at the visualiser images taken in the GCU archive shows interesting developments in the nature of Invalid Cookery within the Glasgow Cookery Book.

Firstly, the chapter on Invalid Cookery comes later in the cookbook in this edition, spanning pages 410-422. This is because this edition includes an increase of information at the front of the cookbook. The 1951 edition opened with short sections on ‘Approximate Quantities’ and ‘Handy Measures’, before the recipes began with a chapters on ‘Soups’. In the 1962 edition, as you can see in the below picture, there is more introductory material in the form of the following sections: ‘Glossary of Cooking Terms,’ ‘Approximate Quantities to Serve,’ ‘Temperature Chart,’ ‘Weighing and Measuring,’ ‘Vegetable Oils and Fats’.

The expanded contents page of the 1962 edition of the GCB.

These explanatory chapters provide the cookbook’s reader with far more information about the fundamental rules of cookery, once more corresponding with the cookbook’s increased popularity as a commercial text. Readers who did not have a culinary education from the GWSCDS could instead peruse the pages of this cookbook, which explained things that pupils would be taught: how to weigh and measure, serve, and the language of cookery.

The recipe chapters are also more detailed and specific in the 1962 New and Revised edition. The first chapter is titled ‘Hors d’ouvres, Appetisers, and Cocktail Savouries,’ which suggests that the readers of the GCB had an increased interest in entertaining and the small, delicate foods that accompanied it. The chapter which was previously just called ‘Meat’ was given the longer title of ‘Meat: Cuts of Meat and Methods of Cooking, Mutton and Lamb, Veal, Pork and Offal’ in this edition. While these changes to the paratextual structure of the cookbook may seem unimportant, they all represent shifting attitudes not just to the GCB, but to what readers needed from cookbooks in general. As the contents page of the GCB became more detailed it became easier to use and incorporated more recipes and instructions, giving readers a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of cookery that corresponded with the changing fashions of the time. 

In terms of the Invalid Recipes chapter, there is an also an expanse of material and this chapter takes an almost entirely different structure because of that. Like the 1951 edition, this one starts with an introduction, but it is an expansion of the previous one: 

Invalid diets should not lack any of the nutrients – unless on medical instruction. The diet should therefore be a normal, mixed, well-balanced one, adapted as necessary, with regard to consistency and digestibility of the food. It is especially important that meals be attractively served. 
    Normally, the sequence of diets is: 
        1. Fluid.
      2. Soft.
                      3. Light or Convalescent. (GCB 1962: 410)

Rather than suggesting that home cooks strictly follow a restricted diet for invalids, here the GCB suggests that variety is best so that invalids have a well-rounded diet that does not lack nutrients. This shows a change in attitude from the early editions of the GCB where very few vegetables, items of solid meat, or fruits were included in the recipes, and they were predominantly based upon eggs or dairy. The ordering of the recipes then follows this pattern, and each section – Fluid, Soft, and Light or Convalescent – contains additional information to guide the reader through the recipes. 

The Fluid Diets section opens the chapter. It begins with the general instruction that ‘These can easily be made the equal in nutritional value of a normal, full diet. Feeds are usually given two hourly, or as necessary’ (GCB 1962: 410). Even though the chapter opened with a note about flexibility, the prescriptive tone behind ‘Feeds are usually given’ gives the impression that readers were still meant to be treating invalids as patients and sticking to a routine feeding schedule. The fluids are then split into three distinct categories: 

‘It is advisable that the three types of drinks be represented: – 

  1. Refreshing. – These are especially important in feverish states, and where the patient suffers from a dry mouth condition.
  2. Stimulating. – These are given for the stimulating effect on the appetite.
  3. Nourishing. – These are the most important, as they will provide a high proportion of the nutritive value of the liquid diet.’ (GCB 1962: 410)
Different kinds of drinks in the invalid recipe chapter of the 1962 edition of the GCB.

Even more than splitting the Invalid Recipes into three categories, this edition of the GCB goes further and separates the beverages of the chapter into three kinds, based on their effect on the body. The recipes then follow this order, which is different from in previous editions. Recipes for ‘Lemonade,’ ‘Barley Water,’ ‘Tomato Juice,’ ‘Invalid Tomato Jelly,’ ‘Blackcurrant Drink,’ ‘Fresh Fruit Jellies,’ and ‘Russian Tea’ come under ‘Refreshing Drinks’, and so cold fruit-based beverages dominate in this section. ‘Stimulating Drinks’ include ‘Beef Tea’ (just one recipe, compared to the three which could be found in previous GCB editions), ‘Calf’s Foot Jelly’, ‘Coffee’ and ‘Tea’. These were drinks that would warm and give energy to the body, via protein or caffeine. Finally, ‘Gruel,’ ‘Egg Flip,’ ‘Soups,’ ‘Milk Shakes,’ ‘Fortified Milk Mixture,’ ‘Irish Moss Jelly,’ ‘Milk Jelly’ and ‘Ice-Cream’ make up the section on ‘Nourishing Drinks’, with an emphasis on the fats and nutrients in dairy products, before this section ends with an ‘Example of a Fluid Diet for One Day’:   

8 a.m. Fruit Juice.
           Gruel or thin-strained Porridge and Milk.
10 a.m. Coffee or Cocoa made with fortified Milk Mixture.

Noon. Beef Tea or Broth or Bovril or Egg Flip.
2 p.m. Fruit Juice; Lemon Barley.

4 p.m. Milky Tea.

6 p.m. Creamy Soup.
           Fresh Fruit Jelly; Cream. 

8 p.m. Horlick’s; Benger’s etc., made with Milk or fortified Milk Mixture. 
At bedside for during the night: fruit juice sweetened with sugar or glucose.

Note: All the “milky” feeds may be made with fortified fruit mixture. (GCB 1962: 415)

This timetable gives readers a structured plan to follow so they know exactly when to give their invalids the drinks they have prepared from the recipes, and in what order. The cookbook’s structure is therefore far more didactic than previous versions, deliberately guiding the reader through a daily menu which they can then customise by swapping the 2 p.m. Lemon Barley for a Blackcurrant Drink, as both are ‘Refreshing’, and so on. This section also contains several references to branded products: Bovril, Horlick’s, and Benger’s. These mentions may send readers out into the world to buy these products if they do not have time to make something like Beef Tea themselves.

Not only does this timetable give the readers specific guidance, then, but it also gives them some room for flexibility by advocating the use of timesaving, commercialised food products that were tied to health, and you can read more on Benger’s Food in this section on Margaret Black’s Superior Cookery. Indeed, later on in the ‘Light or Convalescent Diets’ section, the section on ‘Baked Goods’ reads: ‘Bread: white, brown, Hovis, etc. (Avoid new bread.)’ (GCB 1962: 421). This preference for a branded bread – Hovis – rather than ‘new’ and therefore freshly made (and perhaps homemade) bread shows a shift away from laborious cooking processes and towards the convenience that came from mass-produced, commercial products. In a post-war economy, these foods would have had increased appeal as food was more readily available, cheaper, with less labour and time needed. This would have freed up time, so readers (who would have been predominantly housewives) could spend less time in the kitchen if they had other pursuits, occupations or hobbies.

The next section in the ‘Invalid Recipes’ chapter is for ‘Soft Diets’, which contains the subtitle that ‘All foods must be easily digested, plain and simple and easy to follow’ (GCB 1962: 416).  Like the ‘Liquid Diet’ section, this part of the chapter is broken down into clear, numbered parts which come under various ‘Suitable Foods’ that are roughly ordered by their position in a meal, starting with soups and ending with ‘Puddings, Fruits, Cereals’. These sections both contain recipes and direct the reader around the cookbook to other recipes that work within the diet. The ‘2. Fish’ section, for example, reads: 

2. Fish. – All white fish may be given: 
                Scalloped fish (page 64).
                Fish Custard (page 62).
                Fish Cream (page 61).
                Fish Moulds (page 62). 
                Fish Soufflé (page 341).

4 oz. cooked White Fish.
 1 gill White Sauce. 

              Flake the fish and mix with white sauce. Season to taste. Garnish with parsley, slice tomato or lemon. 
(GCB 1962: 416).  

This is the only recipe in the ‘Fish’ section before the chapter moves on to ‘3. Meat’ which follows the same pattern: a list of recipes from the wider cookbook with corresponding page numbers, and one or two recipes within the chapter before the next section on ‘Eggs’, and so on. While the chapter in this edition contains a surplus of information when compared to previous editions, it only contains 27 entire recipes compared to 31 in the 1951 edition. Throughout the chapter, however, the reader is directed to 37 recipes in other sections of the cookbooks, so they know where to turn to find the relevant recipe and then could return to the invalid recipe chapter to double check where it fitted in to the invalid’s diet and daily meal structure.

Some of the sections do not contain or direct readers to recipes, but simply provide broad statements which seemingly tell readers everything they need to know: 

5. Vegetables. – Unless these are young and tender, they should be served mashed or puréed. It will be found that carrots, tomatoes, turnips, peas and spinach can be successfully puréed. Potatoes should be creamed or mashed. (GCB 1962: 417).  

The structure of the cookbook has therefore been adapted so that the ‘Invalid Recipes’ chapter can be used as a comprehensive guide, and a directory to the rest of the cookbook. While there are fewer complete recipes readers have more options if they use the GCB in this way. These changes in the cookbook’s layout were therefore more economic in terms of the number of recipes that needed printed, and more detailed in terms of other kinds of recipes and when they were appropriate.  

Both the ‘Soft Diet’ and ‘Light or Convalescent Diet’ sections end with a daily plan, and putting them, side-by-side demonstrates their similarities and differences. 

Comparing and contrasting the ‘Soft Diet’ versus the ‘Light or Convalescent Diet’

As you can see, the amount of food and drink an invalid could consume increased as they moved from a ‘Soft Diet’ to a ‘Light or Convalescent Diet’, in keeping with the foods their system could handle. Indeed, at the start of the ‘Light or Convalescent Diet’ section the subtitle reads ‘This type of diet is almost a normal one’, and so this final diet was far more lenient than the other examples. ‘Soups’ and ‘Fish’ are the same ‘As for Soft Diet’, and there is an expansion on the rules surrounding vegetables: ‘Any tender vegetable, including heart of lettuce and tomato’ (GCB 1962: 419).

There is still a sense that cooks should avoid anything that was too texturally hard, or too intensely spiced, as noted in the sentence about drinks: ‘No restrictions usually made except to avoid very strong tea, coffee or highly spiced, greasy beverages’ (GCB 1962: 420). Generally, however, the types of ingredients and dishes had dramatically increased in the Invalid Recipes of this edition when compared with the first. While recipes for ‘Arrowroot’ and ‘Beef Tea’ were still to be found in the New Revised edition, readers had many more options. 

Diabetic Recipes 

At the very end of the New Revised Edition is a completely new section that is interesting, it contains four recipes under the title ‘Diabetic Recipes’, with the subtitle ‘These preserves should be made in small quantities only as their keeping qualities are limited. Small jars should be used’ (GCB 1962: 421). The recipes are all for preserves or jams: ‘Diabetic Lemon Curd’, ‘Plum Jam’, ‘Quick Marmalade’ and ‘Marrow Jam’. What makes these recipes suitable for diabetics seems to be their lack of sugar. Indeed, it would be the lack of sugar that altered the preservation of the fruit – hence the note about their limited ‘keeping qualities’. Instead of sugar, the recipes call for ‘Sorbitol Syrup’, ‘Sorbitol Powder’ or ‘Saxin or Saccharin Tablets’ instead of sugar. These were all sweeteners with very little (if any) calorific value, and low glucose content. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol which does have a low energy value, whilst saccharine is a chemical compound which lacks any value whatsoever, giving a sweet taste for those who wished to avoid the calorie value of sugar, or for diabetics for whom sugar was dangerous. Saxin was a brand of saccharine tablets, and notably the use of all these sweetener products increased during the 1950s, in tandem with diet culture. 

‘Diabetic Recipes’

Saccharine was initially developed in the USA in the 1870s, and in the context of the food restrictions of the World Wars it was increasingly authorised and used in both Britain and the USA (Guillem-Llobat 2012: 906). Historians of health and science have shown, however, that while initially ‘its consumption was limited to diabetics who eschewed for medical reasons’ (de la Peña 2010: 159), it was soon adopted by non-diabetics, specifically in the 1950s. Writing about the Northern American context, Carolyn de la Peña writes that ‘Nondiabetic American women appear to have first begun to use saccharin and cyclamates between 1945 and the early 1950s’ (2010: 160). She puts this down to two changes: diet culture and ‘the imperative for thinness’ which peaked in the 1950s, but also ‘cultural desires’ which ‘enabled women to challenge “expert” knowledge outside their homes while increasing their control over family members within’ (de la Peña 2010: 161).

Peña writes that some cookbooks specifically advised women to ignore the advice around these sweeteners, as ‘mandatory warning labels explaining that sweeteners were for “diabetic use only”’ (Peña 2010: 161). This section is therefore interesting both because it points readers towards recipes for a specific medical condition, and because it uses commercialised, processed food products to get there. The recipes in the GCB specifically included Saccharine, Saxin and Sorbitol as ingredients for jams and preserves suitable for diabetics. Their presence in the cookbook during a time when the use of artificial sweeteners corresponded to increasing commercialisation and a rise of diet culture, however, shows how the GCB was evolving to keep up with commercial trends and changing attitudes to food and health. 

This New Revised edition from 1962 contains by far the most structured, extensive selection of Invalid Recipes. While there was still a staple catalogue of dishes and ingredients that remained from the first edition – Irish moss jelly, sago, beef tea, barley water, lemonade, etc – the gradual pattern of invalid recipes in the GCB until this point was expansion: more recipes, more ingredients, and more instructions with each passing edition. As the cookbook transfigured from a textbook-like learning resource to a highly successful commercial venture that was aimed at instructing the public rather than the college’s pupils how to cook, the contents expanded and changed to reflect those needs. Changing ingredients and an increased reliance on mass-produced foods speaks to the changing food culture of the time.

You can compare and contrast this edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book by looking through the others linked on this page, and read Lindsay’s conclusions about the changes over time here.


de la Peña, Carolyn. 2010. Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharine to Splenda (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press)

Guillem-Llobat, Ximo. 2012. ‘Defining, Regulating and Using Saccharin at the Outset of the Industrial Food Era (1888-1914)’, Appetite, 59.3: 905-11.

Between the fifth and twelfth editions of the Glasgow Cookery Book

So, what changes can be seen in later versions? 

Between the fifth edition in 1919, and the twelfth edition published in 1938, the invalid recipes in the GCB remained stable: the same number of them, and largely in the same order. This was a substantial amount of time to pass for the recipes to stay the same, although there were some minor changes in the ordering of the cookbook in this time.

A beautiful floral binding on a copy of the fourth or sixth edition of the GCB (c.1920)

In the eleventh edition, which is Book 9 in the Queen’s College collections, the Invalid Recipe chapter has been included under the heading ‘Artisan Cookery’. This use of the word ‘Artisan’ signifies a shift in the perception of invalid cookery. Rather than just appearing in a general category of cookery skills that any reader should know, by positioning invalid recipes in a section for ‘Artisan Cookery’ this separates it into a more specialist and traditional branch of cookery skills. ‘Artisan’ has connotations of skilled trade, craft, or traditional skills, and so this suggests that invalid cookery was increasingly perceived as a mode of knowledge that was held by people who were experts or particularly knowledgeable in the field of health. On the contrary, ‘artisan’ was also used to describe skills such as craftwork, baking, or non-mechanized methods of production, and so it may have carried connotations of old-fashioned outdatedness.

This organisation doesn’t last, however, as in the twelfth edition the invalid recipes are later in the cookbook (pp. 325-333 in the twelfth, as opposed to pages 104-112 in the eleventh) and there is no mention of ‘Artisan Cookery’. Indeed, even later editions show an increased engagement with invalid recipes, undermining the idea that they were falling out of use. 

The written notes around the invalid recipes in these cookbooks also show that they were being continually used and adapted by readers and college students.

Notes around the invalid recipes in these copies of the tenth edition (1933) and twelfth edition (1938) show that despite differences in the page layout, two students with two different copies of the cookbook have both added their own notes around the ‘Invalid Jelly’ recipe. One annotation provides a new recipe for ‘Milk Jelly’, while the other suggests adding ‘sugar gel water’ and fruit, presumably to make the jelly more palatable for the invalid.

As in earlier editions, there are also handwritten notes in these copies that show interesting personal insights into the way different readers used their GCBs. The slideshow below shows pages from the notes section of the twelfth edition, in which the owner has recorded numerous cake recipes.

These recipes show that the owner of this cookbook was a keen baker. The recipe for ‘Chocolate Fingers’ is credited to Mary McKirdy, teacher of cookery at the GWSCDS and niece of Margaret Black. This shows how recipes circulated around Glasgow because of the teachings and publications that came out of the college.

Perhaps more unusually, the recipes show that the cookbook’s owner made numerous cakes for other women’s weddings. Students often made wedding cakes as part of the curriculum. ‘Miss Allan’s cake’ is to be ‘two tiers with primroses’, while Miss Ludford’s cake had four cakes which had rum in them. The cookbook’s owner has also noted down the timings the cakes need to go in the oven, and diameters. They were clearly an experienced baker, with multiple commissions for wedding cakes, although it is unclear whether these were baked as a commercial venture or as favours for friends.

The recipe for ‘Soya Marzipan’ is interesting. Given the inclusion of eggs and marzipan in the recipe, the use of soya is not intended as a non-dairy or vegan dietary replacement as we may expect it to be used now. Instead, it was likely a war-time rationing replacement for the ground almonds that were usually used in marzipan. The twelfth edition was published in 1938, and there is a note beside the recipe for Miss Allan’s cake that reads ‘March 1952’, and so the cookbook’s owner was likely using this book throughout WWII. In Marguerite Patten’s selection of wartime recipes, We’ll Eat Again (1985), there is a recipe for soya marzipan that is similar to the handwritten one here: no ground almonds, but soya flour instead. This selection of handwritten wedding cake recipes therefore shows not only how the Glasgow Cookery Book was a highly adaptable and personable resource, used in many different ways by its owners, but also how ingredients and recipes shifted over time depending on societal conditions.

To return to how invalid recipes changed over later editions of the GCB, navigate through the later editions listed here.

The New Revised Edition (1951)

After the twelfth edition from 1938, the next book in the records of the Queen’s College is The New Revised Edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book, published in 1951. As you can see from the pictures below, compared to earlier editions there are changes in the layout and appearance of the cookbook, with a different contents page structure and a different font throughout. These formal differences were likely because this is the first edition in the GCB collection that was printed by John Smith, rather than N Adshead & Son, and so with a new publisher came a new look. 

It wasn’t just the appearance that had changed between these editions, however. There are quite substantial changes to the Invalid Recipes included in the text.

 The recipes in this edition were ordered as such: 

  1. Beef Tea (Slow Way)
  2. Beef Tea (Quick Way)
  3. Beef Tea (Quicker Method)
  4. Raw Beef Tea
  5. Invalid Mutton Broth
  6. Gruel 
  7. Linseed Tea
  8. Cup of Arrowroot
  9. Egg Flip
  10. Junket
  11. Liver Cocktail
  12. Orange Juice and Liver Cocktail
  13. Apple Water
  14. Barley Water
  15. Barley Water, Clear (Quick Method) 
  16. Black Currant Drink (For Colds) 
  17. Lemonade
  18. Wine Whey
  19. Beef Tea Custard
  20. Breadberry
  21. Chicken Jelly
  22. Chicken Padana
  23. Chop (Steamed) 
  24. Baked Fish
  25. Grilled Fish
  26. Steamed Filleted Fish
  27. Invalid Fruit Tart
  28. Invalid Jelly 
  29. Irish Moss Jelly
  30. Milk Jelly
  31. Raw Beef Sandwiches

There are 31 invalid recipes in the new revised edition, compared to the 24 which had been printed from the fifth edition onwards. The recipes that were retained stayed the same as they had been in previous editions, with the same ingredients and instructions, and so even though this text shows substantial changes there was still a stability in the core approach to invalid cookery. The seven new recipes are for ‘Junket’, ‘Liver Cocktail’, ‘Orange Juice and Liver Cocktail’, ‘Barley Water’, ‘Barley Water, Clear (Quick Method)’, ‘Black Currant Drink (For Colds)’, and ‘Chicken Jelly’. These recipes follow the general rules of invalid cookery established in previous editions of the cookbook, as they are all for soft foods or beverages. The expansion of the number of invalid recipes demonstrates that invalid cookery was still a key concern for the authors and editors of the GCB, even more so than it had been when the cookbook was first published. Indeed, there is also an increase of information that framed the recipes, instructing readers how they were meant to be used. 

At the very beginning of the ‘Invalid Cookery’ chapter is a note that reads: ‘These dishes have been arranged in the order required by an invalid: first of all on a liquid diet, and then on a light diet, and lastly, on a convalescent diet’ (GCB 1951: 306). 

This note is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it explains the structuring of the recipes in the chapter, according to their use and place in an invalid’s diet. The order of these recipes has changed slightly since the fifth edition, so that the larger food items like the Chop, and Baked and Steamed fish come in the last third of the chapter rather than close to the beginning. Aside from this, however, the ordering is similar to previous editions, and now readers are provided with an explanation as to why the recipes are grouped as such. This makes it easier for readers to know when to employ a specific recipe depending on what they need – a liquid diet, a light diet, or a convalescent one. 

The increased instructions make the cookbook easier for readers to use, and this corresponds with the new publisher and the increasing use of the GCB as a commercial venture: the GCB became one of John Smith’s biggest sellers. In earlier years, when the cookbook was intended as a learning aid for students who were using it in tandem with the cookery course, there would have been no need to explain the ordering of the recipes. They would have been accompanied with in-person instruction, meaning that teachers would have been explaining the logic behind the recipes and where they would fit into the invalid’s diet, able to answer any questions the school’s students may have had. For lay-readers who bought the book without the added instruction of the teaching, the absence of in-person instruction meant they needed more written guidance so they were able to use the recipes in the intended manner and had the knowledge to do so. These additional paratextual instructions (instructions that come outside of the recipes themselves) thus reflect changes in how the GCB was meant to be used – from the publisher’s perspective, in any case. It was moving away from a learning resource that was tied to educational courses, and now positioned as a text that anyone could buy and use, and the structure of the text reflects that. 

Aside from the increase of textual framing and the addition to new recipes, the New Revised Edition also contains a note at the end of the Invalid Cookery chapter. It reads: 

‘The following dishes are also suitable for invalids or convalescents: –

  • Chicken Cream Soup………………………………………………28
  • Cocoa………………………………………………………………339
  • Coffee………………………………………………………………339
  • Tea………………………………………………………………….339
  • Custard Puddings…………………………………………………153
  • Eggs – Poached……………………………………………………..323
  • “ – Scrambled……………………………………………………….324
  • “ – Soft Boiled………………………………………………………324
  • Cold Sweets (excluding Pastry)……………………………………..182
  • Fish, Baked in Milk…………………………………………………37
  • “ in Custard………………………………………………………….51
  • “ Mould………………………………………………………………53
  • “ Pudding.…………………………………………………………….41
  • “ Soufflé…………………………………………………………….51
  • “ Sole à la Crème……………………………………………………47
  • Calf’s Foot Jelly…………………………………………………….193
  • Jellies………………………………………………………………..191
  • Milk Puddings………………………………………………………150
  • Soufflés………………………………………………………………167
  • Sweetbreads à la Crème………………………………………………78
  • Tripe……………………………………………………………..…316’ (GCB 1951: 316).

This note extends the discourse of invalid cookery into the rest of the GCB. Rather than just confining invalid recipes to the specific chapter, this note directs the reader to other recipes throughout the cookbook that they can also prepare for people who are ill. In keeping with the focus on liquid, light, or convalescent diets, all of these recipes were for beverages like cocoa or coffee, soups and soft foods like scrambled eggs, jellies, puddings, or light dishes like Fish Pudding.

A selection of the recipes also appropriate for invalids

By giving the reader more options when it came to invalid cookery, it meant they could increase their repertoire and also cook dishes from other chapters of the cookbook for themselves and the invalids they were preparing food for. This made invalid cookery more accessible, far-reaching, and also made the GCB a more flexible text that could be used by readers in multiple ways. You can see how the widened approach to invalid cookery was developed in later copies of the GCB by clicking through the links for the later editions here.

The Fifth Edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book (1919)

Published nine years after the first edition, the recipes in the fifth edition are somewhat different to those in the first edition. There are 24 recipes in the fifth edition compared to 23 in the first. Some of the differences between the two books are just down to the ordering of the recipes in the cookbook, whereas some recipes are missing, and some are new, like the ‘Milk Toast’ recipe that comes at the end of the fifth edition.  This recipe called for three slices of toast to be covered with a cup of boiling hot ‘rich milk’, seasoned with a saltspoonful of salt.

The recipes of the fifth edition are ordered as follows, with the recipes in bold marking ones that appeared in the first edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book:

  1. Beef Tea (Slow Way)
  2. Beef Tea (Quick Way)
  3. Raw Beef Tea
  4. Beef Essence
  5. Invalid Mutton Broth
  6. Chicken Jelly  
  7. Raw Beef Sandwiches 
  8. Steamed Filleted Fish (Sole, Plaice, Whiting, etc)
  9. Minced Chop (Steamed)  
  10. Lemonade
  11. Apple Water
  12. Toast Water
  13. Beef Tea Custard
  14. Gruel 
  15. Linseed Tea
  16. Egg Flip
  17. Irish Moss Jelly
  18. Sago Cream
  19. Breadberry
  20. Invalid Jelly
  21. Cup of Arrowroot and Arrowroot Pudding
  22. Wine Whey  
  23. Chicken Panada 
  24. Milk Toast 

Eighteen recipes have been transferred from the first to the fifth edition, and presumably these recipes were also in the second, third, and fourth editions too. Some of the recipes have slightly different titles: ‘Meat Essence’ becomes ‘Beef Essence’, and ‘Arrowroot Pudding’ becomes ‘Cup of Arrowroot and Arrowroot Pudding’. The content of the recipes has stayed the same, however, and those these choices are centred around the presentation of the text rather than the dishes described. Some of the recipes are slightly tweaked, so that the ‘Grilled Chop’ from the first edition is a ‘Minced Chop (Steamed)’ in the fifth. ‘Barley Water’, ‘Baked Custard’ and ‘Custard (Steamed)’ were three recipes that didn’t make it from the first edition. 

You’ll also notice that many of the recipes in the 1919 edition that have been brought forward from the first edition are arranged in a different order. In the Invalid Cookery chapter of the fifth edition, the three beef tea recipes are no longer found amongst other beverages like ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Apple Water’, but instead they open the chapter alongside the ‘Beef Essence’. This ordering is more in line with cookbooks like Black’s Household Cookery, as well as Plain Cookery Recipes, a pamphlet published by the GWSCDS in 1911 which also opens with three beef-based recipes: ‘Beef Tea Custard’, ‘Beef Tea’ and ‘Beef Tea (A Quick Way)’. Beef tea is therefore at the forefront of the chapter in the fifth edition, and just as in the earlier cookbooks published in Glasgow, these recipes are the first that readers come across when they turn to the section on invalid cookery. This corresponds with the beverage’s important place in invalid cookery, which you can read more about in regard to Margaret Black’s writing here.

In general, the ordering of recipes in the fifth edition seems more logical than the ordering in the first. Starting with the all-important beef tea, the chapter moves to meat-based dishes that would constitute the main part of a meal, before turning to beverages, and then puddings and dishes like ‘Gruel’ or ‘Chicken Panada’ that were either sweet, or would have been eaten as part of a lighter diet given their soft texture. In contrast to the sequencing of recipes in the fifth edition, the first edition does not seem to follow any ordering principle. More substantial dishes like ‘Grilled Chop’ and ‘Steamed Whiting’ are separated in the 1910 text from other similar recipes like ‘Steamed Filleted Fish’ (indeed, the fifth edition has amalgamated these two fish recipes into one for clarity, which saved room and the need for repetition).  

From the ordering of the recipes, it therefore seems that more thought has been put into the organisation and structuring of the cookbook between subsequent editions. The recipes are largely consistent between these two texts, however, and the ingredients familiar to invalid cookery can be traced throughout: milk, eggs, arrowroot, sago, etc. These recurring recipes speak to a consistency around the practice of invalid cookery which is explored in reference to other Glaswegian cookbooks hereand the recipes seemingly stood the test of time between these early editions of the Glasgow Cookery Book.

Turning to some of the new recipes in this edition is illuminating. Chicken Panada was a sort of soup made from cooked chicken meat and bread, that was ‘the consistency of a thick gruel’. This texture is presumably why the Panada was not included earlier in the chapter with the other meat dishes: rather than a more substantial main course, it was to be eaten as a soft, but protein rich, meal replacement.

Indeed, it is interesting that the fifth edition contains two chicken-based recipes (Chicken Panada and Chicken Jelly), whereas the first did not mention chicken at all. Chicken was a common meat to consume in Scotland for centuries before the publication of the Glasgow Cookery Book, and there’s a very long history of people keeping chickens both rurally and in the city for their eggs and meat. The fact that chicken was included in the 1919 edition and not the 1910 edition may have indicated that chicken was lower in price or more readily available, or simply that new invalid recipes had come into the cookery school’s repertoire and were reflected in print. 

The gallery above also shows that this edition contained a wealth of personal, handwritten recipes and newspaper clippings collected by the book’s owner. Some of these recipes show a distinct interest in health and remedies. Underneath the short hand practice in the first picture are directions for an ankle massage, while the next two pictures have recipes for a poultice and a rheumatism cure. The owner of this cookbook clearly used recipes not just for the preparation of food, but also for homemade remedies that could be applied to the outside of the body as well as consumed. The interconnections between food, health and recipes are therefore visible in both the printed matter of this edition of the GCB, and in the handwritten material it contains.

The First Edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book (1910)

The First Edition

The first edition of the Glasgow Cookery Book had a chapter of ‘Invalid Recipes’ which contained 23 recipes, some of which are similar to those found in the published cookbooks that were connected with the college and are explored here. It is useful to outline these first recipes to see how they change over time, so I have listed them here in the order they come in the cookbook: 

  1. Irish Moss Jelly
  2. Sago Cream
  3. Breadberry
  4. Meat Essence
  5. Invalid Mutton Broth
  6. Arrowroot Pudding
  7. Invalid Jelly 
  8. Grilled Chop
  9. Steamed Whiting
  10. Lemonade
  11. Apple Water
  12. Toast Water
  13. Barley Water
  14. Beef Tea (Slow Way) 
  15. Beef Tea (Quick Way)
  16. Raw Beef Tea
  17. Steamed Filleted Fish
  18. Baked Custard 
  19. Beef Tea Custard
  20. Custard (Steamed) 
  21. Gruel
  22. Linseed Tea
  23. Egg Flip 

These recipes were for both foods and beverages for the ill, and many of them are like recipes found earlier cookbooks like Margaret Black’s Household Cookery and Laundry Work and Superior Cookery (1882)As noted in the section on published cookery books, Black was the principal of the West End School of Cookery, having left the Glasgow School of Cookery to form her own establishment. She passed away in 1903, when her niece Mary MacKirdy took over, before the West End School became amalgamated with the Glasgow School of Cookery to form the GWSCDS in 1908. At this point, MacKirdy stayed on in the role of head of the cookery department. Given that Black was employed at the Glasgow School of Cookery (she was the first cookery teacher there having been sent to South Kensington Cookery School for training) her legacy as a culinary educator who published cookbooks from Glasgow means that her publications and teachings were very likely to have a large influence on the GCB. Her integral role in both the Glasgow Cookery School and the West End School of Cookery mean that her teachings were at the root of culinary education in Glasgow, and so connections between her earlier cookbooks and the GCB are unsurprising. 

Similarities can be traced between the invalid recipes in Black’s earlier cookbooks and the ones published in the first edition of the GCB. Black’s Household Cookery, for instance, also had recipes for ‘Raw Beef Tea’ and two different regular beef tea recipes: ‘Simple Way’ and ‘Best Way’. Despite the similar titles, however, the recipes in the GCB are different in terms of the methods they employ. In Black’s ‘Raw Beef Tea’, raw beef is mixed with water and salt and ‘left to stand for a quarter of an hour or longer’ (Black 1882: 109), whereas the same recipe in the GCB stipulates that the beef should stand for ‘1 hour’ (1910: 326). Similarly, the ‘Quick’ beef tea from the GCB consists of beef that is simmered in a pan of initially cold water for an hour and a half, while the ‘Simple’ beef tea from Black’s cookbook is steamed with a little water in a bain-marie for twenty to thirty minutes. The recipes in the GCB take longer to prepare, and would seemingly produce a richer beef tea than in Black’s earlier recipes when the beef didn’t have as long to impart its flavour. 

‘Lemonade’, ‘Apple Water’, ‘Toast Water’, ‘Barley Water’, ‘Gruel’, ‘Egg Flip’, ‘Mutton Broth’ and ‘Arrowroot [Pudding]’ are all recipes which appear in either Black’s Household Cookery or her Superior Cookery (1890). The recipes typically have the same or similar ingredients, but slightly different methods. It’s therefore clear that the people at the GWSCDS who put the GCB together did not simply lift recipes from earlier texts they had at their disposal: this was not a case of direct replication. But the repetition of these recipes between texts does clarify that there were certain dishes which formed a core invalid menu – common items that were generally believed to help the ill, and that invalids could expect to be prepared for them when they were feeling poorly. 

The section on published cookery books here gives an overview of the scientific thought behind the frequent inclusion of beef tea in invalid menus, and so it was not unusual to have multiple recipes for the fortifying beverage among invalid recipes. The other recipes in the first edition of the GCB were also for foods or beverages that would be easy to digest: jellies, creams, broths, puddings, waters, custards and gruels. These soft or liquid foods would have been easy on the stomach, and so hopefully those suffering from various illnesses would not have been plagued with further digestive issues. The recipes for ‘Grilled Chop’ or ‘Steamed Whiting’ would have provided invalids with a more hearty, substantial meal, but as you can see below there is a distinct lack of seasoning or strong flavours involved in any of the recipes. Given the repetition and adaptation of recipes from earlier Glaswegian cookbooks, and the similar focus on plain foods that were easy to digest, it is interesting to consider how these core recipes either change or are added to in later editions of the GCB.  

Personal Touches

Even within the two copies of the first edition of the GCB held in the Queen’s College records, there are interesting differences because of the handwritten notes that students of the College recorded within them. These were typically recipes.

The video below, taken with a visualiser in the GCU archive centre, gives a sense of the cookbook as a material object that was full of timely advertisements. In this first edition the food products advertised at the front of the cookbook were sold by merchants in Glasgow, which reflects how closely tied the GCB was to Glasgow’s food industry.

The beautiful handwriting in these notes pages shows how much care students took to record their own recipes, recipes they learned in classes that weren’t included in books, or their recipe adaptations. The contents page of this edition has a quickly-scribbled note about the amount of isinglass required to preserve eggs, which shows how the book was used as a notebook as much as a cookery resource. The recipes range from jams, jellies and marmalades to gingerbread (there are several gingerbread recipes) and walnut loaf. Because these recipes were handwritten by the woman who owned this edition, and perhaps subsequent generations after her, we can see personal touches throughout. There is a note beside the recipe for oatcakes, for example, which reads ‘Mrs Alison’, showing that the cookbook’s owner got this recipe from an acquaintance. Consider cookbooks in this manner shows how aside from the printed recipes they include, they are inherently personal objects that are approached differently by everybody who comes to use them.


One of the international ingredients that is frequently used in the invalid recipes studied throughout this project is arrowroot. But what is arrowroot, and where did it come from?

Illustration of ‘Arrowroot Plant (Maranta arundinacea).
Fig. 1 (left), stem, leaves and flowers; Fig. 2 (right), tubers.’ from the Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 (image source:

Arrowroot is a starch derived from the root or rhizomes of a tropical plant, which is typically Maranta arundinacea but there are several different varieties.

Two invalid recipes using Arrowroot in the Glasgow Cookery Book.

As an ingredient, it is common in invalid recipes across different publications from within the GCU archival collections, and across long periods of time. It is typically used as the base for a pudding or soft, liquid substance which would be easy on the invalid’s digestion. Indeed, you can still buy arrowroot in health shops today, or use it as an ingredient in baking or as a thickening agent.

The recipes from the Glasgow Cookery Book above are typical, as arrowroot flour is blended with milk, sugar, and perhaps an egg to make different variations of the same mixture. Arrowroot recipes are included in the cookbooks of Margaret Black, Mary MacKirdy, and other older publications in the collections like W. T. Fernie’s Meals Medicinal, with “Herbal Simples” (of Edible Parts): Curative Foods from the Cook; in place of Drugs from the Chemist (1905). The inscription of this book shows that it belonged to Dorothy Melvin, Principal of the GWSCDS. Fernie’s book provides the following definition of arrowroot:

There is also a mention of it in the Examination Questions within Sick Nursing Examination Questions: A Catechism on Home Nursing and Hygiene, which was published in Glasgow in 1909 to help nursing students revise for their exams:

  1. Examination Questions on Invalid’s Diet
    1. ‘What forms of food are generally most suitable for an invalid?
      Answer. – Nutritive and digestible, and mostly in a fluid form. Milk, eggs lightly cooked, meat-juice, sago, arrowroot, cornflour, junket, etc.; occasionally a little wine, such as sherry, burgundy, Moselle, or port, or brandy and water, or whisky and seltzer, or some sound malt liquor, pale ale, stout, etc.’ (1909: 10-11)

These entries show that arrowroot was commonly used in invalid cookery, so much so that it became integrated into the teachings of the GWSCDS. Women in Glasgow would thus be learning to cook and prescribe it for invalids. Even though it was being fed to people feeling under the weather across Scotland, however, arrowroot is not a native Scottish ingredient. It’s origins are far-flung, and tangled in a long history of colonialism.

J. S Handler writes that French and English colonists were introduced to arrowroot in the seventeenth century, by Island Caribs of the Lesser Antilles who used the root as a cure for wounds (including those inflicted by poisoned arrows, which may explain the plants name) and ‘as a preferred food for young children and nursing infants’ (1971: 52). After this it was moved to be grown and harvested around the colonies, and throughout the eighteenth century continued to be ’employed for a variety of medical and dietary purposes’ (Handler 1971: 55). From the very beginning of the colonial appropriation of arrowroot, then, it was linked to health, and ‘by the late 18th and 19th centuries, arrowroot starch, boiled into a pap or gruel or made into a jelly or pudding mixed with boiling water or milk, was often recommended for the diets of convalescents or invalids’ (Handler 1971: 58). The mixtures and puddings in the twentieth-century texts from the GCU’s collections were thus part of a very long tradition of using arrowroot in invalid cookery.

Nineteenth-century texts shows that arrowroot, like sugarcane or cotton, continued to be grown in British colonies on plantations and then imported to Britain. In The English Housekeeper’s Book (1860) by J. H. Walsh, there is an entry on arrowroot which notes that it is ‘generally sold as Maranta or West India arrowroot, or sometimes as Bermuda or Jamaica arrowroot’ (1860: 122). These names speak to the fact that it was grown overseas in the West Indies, South America and Caribbean. Indeed, in Ure’s Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines (1875), the entry on arrowroot says that as well as the West Indies and Barbados, it was ‘brought into the market from Bermuda, St. Vincent, Jamaica, Brazil, the East Indies, Natal, and Sierra Leone’ (1875: 213). In Tropical Agriculture (1877), P. L. Simmonds goes into great detail about the differences between the types of ‘colonial arrowroots’ grown in these places, as well as including an entry describing the more recent cultivation of ‘arrowroot in several of the Australian colonies’ (1877: 348). Arrowroot was thus a product of British colonies all over the world, whether they were the more recent colonies settled in Australia or the older exploitative colonies situated in countries like Jamaica.

‘Plan of arrowroot grinding mill, and two sets of copper cylinder washing-machines, with the connecting machinery for driving them, the washing-agitator being driven, the washing agitator being driven from the connecting with leathern belts’ (Hunt 1877: 212)

These texts give insight into how much arrowroot was coming to Britain from overseas. Simmonds writes that ‘the demand for colonial arrowroots has not progressed very rapidly, owing, probably, to the imitation potato starch, and the corn and rice flours or starches so largely sold’ (1877: 343). Even despite this lack of growth, the 1860s and 70s saw large amounts of arrowroot importation, as seen here:

The last slide shows the values of exported sugar from places where arrowroot was also grown, so in comparison to the sugar trade arrowroot was a minor product. Nevertheless, it still had value as a crop that British people sought to take advantage of, and it is significant to note that this value was always linked to health.

In nineteenth-century Britain, the use of arrowroot had moved on from poultices and poison cures. Instead, in line with shifting perceptions on health and nutrition, it was considered in terms of its nutritive value. Hunt writes that Liebig, the manufacturer of Liebig’s Extract of Beef (read more about this here), ‘places the powers of arrowroot, as a nutriment to man, in a very remarkable point of view, when he states that 15 pounds of flesh contain no more carbon for supplying animal heat by its combustion into carbonic acid in the system than 4 pounds of starch’ (1875: 213). This returns to Margaret Black’s discussion of ‘nitrogenous, carbonaceous, and mineral foods’ in Household Cookery and Laundry Work. Arrowroot was thus not just a mild, smooth food that was easy on an invalid’s digestion, but was also thought to provide just as much (if not more) energy as meat. As with other starchy foods like potatoes, it was far cheaper than meat. It was therefore useful as a ‘health food’ on numerous levels, and its inclusion in these Scottish cookbooks was informed by a vast history of health-related practices – from curing arrow wounds to fueling the body with starch.

What cannot be undermined, however, is that arrowroot was a crop born out of the exploitation of enslaved people. Indeed, even in the nineteenth century these links were clear. After citing Liebig’s approval of arrowroot’s nutritive qualities, Hunt writes that:

If a savage, with one animal and an equal weight of starch, could maintain life and health for a certain number of days, he would be compelled, if confined to flesh alone, in order to procure the carbon necessary for respiration during the same time, to consume five such animals. (Hunt 1875: 213).

While this observation is concerned with how starch could fuel the body for longer than animal flesh, the use of the word ‘savage’ belies the racist, colonialist attitude towards people who were native to the countries in which arrowroot was grown. Crops including arrowroot which were cultivated for British use in the colonies were grown, harvested and processed by enslaved and colonies populations – both African slaves who were brought to the colonies to work the land or native populations who were displaced and exploited.

Scotland played a large part in establishing and profiteering from the slave trade. By the end of the eighteenth century Scotland owned 30% of the estates in Jamaica, which was a huge population of slaves in comparison to the small population of Scotland. Glasgow was frequently titled the ‘second city of Empire’ due to its ports, and the city was made wealthy by merchants who were profiting from slavery.

Arrowroot field with three workers and wagon, Coomera River. 1897.
Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 2237

Indeed, even historical uses of arrowroot were linked with slavery and exploitation. Rebecca Earle discusses how in the eighteenth century, colonial foods were approached from the perspective of trying to bolster a nation’s wealth by providing ‘the healthy and agreeable food necessary to create this energetic workforce’ (2017: 174). ‘British enthusiasts’ insisted that arrowroot ‘could form the basis of an improved diet for “natives” in India and “our new African settlements”‘ (Earle 2017: 174). Because they were seen as nutritive, energising, and were cheap to produce in comparison to livestock or other crops, foodstuffs like arrowroot and breadfruit were seen by colonisers as a perfect food source for workers. This perspective on the health benefits of arrowroot thus has a more sinister resonance, as a cheap product that would keep slaves alive so they could carry out work that lined British pockets. As Earle succinctly puts it:

These eighteenth-century dreams of beneficent starchy
foods for natives were thus inherently connected to European ideals of
good governance, which justified such interventions in the eating practices
of ordinary people, and obscured, at least to the dreamers, the structures of
power and coercion that made them appear necessary. (Earle 2017: 175)

Even after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, laborers working in the colonies would have been overworked and kept poor. Whether it was exploited peoples growing arrowroot for exportation to Britain, or being kept alive on a meagre diet, the ingredient was linked these violent practices as a direct result of colonisation. While those connotations are not immediately clear within the invalid recipes that use arrowroot in these collections, tracing it back in time shows how international ingredients were appropriated into Scottish cooking practices as part of a much bigger picture of colonialism. What seems like an innocuous ingredient in an invalid recipe, then, has a darker history.


Earle, Rebecca. 2017. ‘Food, Colonialism, and the Quantum of Happiness’, History Workshop Journal, 84: 170-193

Handler. J. S. 1971. ‘The History of Arrowroot and the Origin of Peasantries in the British West Indies’, The Journal of Carribean History. 2: 46-93

Hunt, Robert. 1875. Ure’s Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines (London: Longmans, Green, And Co)

Simmonds, P. L. 1877. Tropical Agriculture: A Treatise on the Culture, Preparation, Commerce, and Consumption of the Principal Products of the Vegetable Kingdom (London: E & F N Spon)

Walsh, J. H. 1860. The English Housekeeper’s Book: Being Practical Advice for Purchasing the Supplies of the House (London: Routledge, Warn and Routledge)

Margaret Black’s Superior Cookery (1890)

Black’s second cookbook, Superior Cookery, also has a chapter on ‘Sick Room Cookery’, and is interesting to see how her approach changed between the two texts.  

The title page and frontispiece of Black’s Superior Cookery

As the title suggests, this cookbook was focused on finer food than Black’s previous work. The text opens with a short introduction in which Black writes that she has produced the book ‘at the solicitation of many pupils and friends’ and that ‘The Recipes given in this volume, like all the others which I have already issued, have been tested in my various classes, and are thus thoroughly reliable’ (1890: 3). Black clearly linked her cookbooks to her work at the West-End Training School of Cookery, and used her experience as an educator who taught and demonstrated cookery to ensure she gave her reader workable recipes that were derived from experience. Rather than opening this book with an analysis of the nutritive constituents of food as in her earlier text, Black simply writes that ‘no pains have been spared in the selection of the Recipes, which are of extensive variety, and embrace many choice and popular dishes likely to prove acceptable to the general public’ (1890: 3). This cookbook seems to be centred on fashion, rather than health which is not mentioned in the introduction as it was previously. Later in the cookbook there are still 13 pages directed to invalid recipes, however. 

Sick Room Cookery

The chapter on ‘Sick Room Cookery’ is the second-last in the cookbook, and consists of 35 recipes, so is more extensive than the chapter in Household Cookery and Laundry Work, despite the latter’s more explicit focus on health.

Not only are there more recipes in Superior Cookery, but there is a far larger focus on substantial meals, 17 of which are derived from or contain meat (there is another ‘Veal Jelly’ recipe which is almost identical to the one in Household Cookery as the veal and turnip are strained, though the second recipe is simplified). In contrast, 13 recipes don’t contain any meat, and so the majority are based on ‘animal food’. This goes against what Black argued in Household Cookery. Moreover, while there are still recipes based on soft or liquid foods including jellies, ‘Lemon Whey’, ‘Prune Water’, ‘Toast and Water’ and ‘Egg Flip’, far more of the recipes in Superior Cookery instruct the readers how to make dishes with a more solid consistency, like ‘Beef Steak’ and ‘Broiled Trout’. Indeed, many of the recipes in Superior Cookery are quite elaborate when compared to the plain recipes in the previous work in terms of the ingredients they use, and the richness of the meals they create.  

To take a few examples from throughout the chapter, ‘Tripe Fricasée’, ‘Beef Pounded or Invalids’ Quenelle’, ‘Chicken en Papillotes’, ‘Stewed Partridge’, ‘Roast Chicken’, ‘Broiled Chicken’ and ‘Quenelle of Fish’ are all recipes in which meat is the main ingredient. Even though Black’s cooking methods of mincing the fish or meat for the quenelles (a rugby-ball shaped fritter, or rissole) would have softened the texture by breaking it down, these dishes still provided the invalid with a more substantial meal than ‘Gruel’ or ‘Beef Tea Pudding’. 

Moreover, Black has presented these recipes with a certain level of flair through her use of the French titles: ‘Invalids’ Quenelle’ certainly sounds more appetising than ‘Beef Pounded’. This correlated with the distinct links between French and British cuisine that arose in the late eighteenth century and continued into the twentieth: French titles were often used by British chefs and food writers to demonstrate their gastronomic knowledge and integrate their foods into the culinary fashions of the time. Black has even given her recipe for a cure ‘for a tickling in the throat’ the title ‘Eau Sucrée’, despite it simply consisting of sugar and water. 

Invalid recipes with French titles in Black’s Superior Cookery

There is also a higher focus on flavour in this cookbook, demonstrated by recipes like ‘Anchovy Relish’, which ends with the note that ‘It is a relish that helps an invalid to enjoy food’ (1890: 188). Similarly, in the recipe for ‘Roast Chicken’, Black concludes by instructing the reader to ‘Carve the chicken then, and serve to the invalid only the best parts’, which suggests that enjoyment in good-quality food is what makes this roast chicken beneficial to the ill (1890: 186). Presentation, taste, and fashion are therefore foregrounded in these invalid recipes, which correlates with Black’s focus on ‘Superior Cookery’ – these are not just invalid recipes, they are superior invalid recipes, and fittingly they were infused with more flavour and an increased percentage of expensive ingredients like meat.  

Regardless of this superior tone, Black still links many of her recipes to illness and their benefit to the invalid, either through their titles (‘Restorative Jelly’, ‘Invalid’s Wafer Biscuits’) which hint at the way they will help and clarify that they’re for the invalid, or through directions in the text of the recipe. In the recipe for ‘Beef Pounded or Invalids’ Quenelle’, she writes: ‘this process of preparing the meat saves the stomach a great part of the labour of digestion, and is specially well adapted for cases of severe illness’ (1890: 177, 178).

Then in the recipe for ‘Tripe Fricasée’, Black notes that ‘Tripe has some property resembling pancreatic juice in its formation which aids digestion; it makes a slightly artificial digestion’ (1890: 177). In both recipes, Black combines fashionable French titles with mentions of how the dish is suitable to patients or medical needs. While she has style in mind, she has not let that overtake the focus on health and illness in this chapter. Indeed, just like her focus on the mineral elements of food in Household Cookery, the observation about digestion in her tripe recipe shows Black engaging with contemporary thinking that surrounded food, science and health.  

Tripe Fricasée recipe in Black’s Superior Cookery

As Lisa Haushofer writes, reports on dietary conditions in public institutions began to focus on the links between the digestibility of food, nourishment, and bodily health from the middle of the nineteenth century. If food was not easily digestible, it was thought that the body could not gain nutrition from it and was therefore not acting in an economical way: food should provide the most nutrition with the least ‘cost’. Because of this, ‘Digestion was therefore a topic of great political and scientific interest during the second half of the nineteenth century’ (Haushofer 2018: 172).

Artificial digestion became one solution to digestive problems: a method originally conceived in the late-eighteenth century as chemists and physiologists across Britain and Europe used the digestive juices of animals to reach conclusions about how gastric juices were involved in digestion [for further contextual detail on artificial digestion, read Haushofer’s article here] (Haushofer 2018: 173).  In the 1830s, the work of the German physiologist Theodor Schwann investigated the individual elements of gastric acid, and identified pepsin, which we now thing of as a digestive enzyme but which he called a ‘digestive ferment’ – ‘from here, it was a small step to imagine the entire digestive process as governed by digestive agents, separable from the body, and amenable to control’ (Haushoffer 2018: 175).  

If these elements of digestion could be controlled, they could be integrated into products. Just as Liebig’s extract of meat was a commercial, scientific product designed to aid nutrition, manufactured foodstuffs were produced to correlate with the discourses surrounding artificial digestion. One such product was ‘Benger’s Food’, which was the result of a collaboration between the physiologist William Roberts, his wife Elizabeth Roberts, and pharmaceutical chemist Frederick Baden-Benger. Their work was built upon Roberts’s realisation that pancreatic extracts were better for artificial digestion than stomach extracts – or hydrochloric acid – which created bitter by-products. Benger thus manufactured his ‘Liquor Pancreaticus’, which Roberts first employed to create a peptonised (or artificially digested) milk, and then a milk-based gruel. These recipes were adopted by the Mottershead Company who made a gruel based on Roberts’s peptonised gruel which became known as Benger’s Food: a pre-digested food that wouldn’t challenge the stomach or force the body to expend unnecessary energy, as the digestion had already taken place. The food was awarded a gold medal at the 1884 International Health Exhibition in London, and so was gaining attention during the time Black was working the in the cookery school and writing her cookbooks.  

Food, cookery, science and commercialism were equally balanced in products like Liebig’s extract and Benger’s food. Black didn’t suggest that reader’s use Benger’s food – just like she didn’t mention Liebig’s extract – but the same lines of thought ran through her cookbook. When she mentions the ‘pancreatic juice’ present in tripe, and that it ‘aids digestion […] a slightly artificial digestion’, her mention of artificiality directly links her recipe to the conversations, products, and lines of scientific thinking that were going on at the time (1890: 177). Notes like these therefore demonstrate how interlinked food, health and science were in cookbooks like Black’s, and even though she was not advertising specific products, her means of approaching food was rooted in scientific thought as well as in style and cultural taste. 

It was not just in the invalid recipes for food that health was at the forefront. In addition to the ‘Eau Sucrée’ recipe, Black includes three recipes in Superior Cookery that were for medicinal remedies or cures rather than foods, though they are made with foodstuffs: ‘Simple Antidote to Poison’, ‘Remedy for a Burn’, and ‘Remedy for Dysentery’.  

The poison antidote contains two methods, with the first simply consisting of egg whites – 2 or 3 for children, 6 for adults – which should be drunk immediately after poisoning. Alternatively, Black writes that ‘1 teaspoonful of mustard’ can be mixed into a tumbler of warm water which should be drunk at once: ‘Those are simple household remedies till medical aid can be got’ (1890: 185).

The ‘Remedy for a Burn’ is also derived from egg white, which is mixed and poured on the burn to soothe and heal it. Black writes that the egg white ‘effectually excludes the air, and thus helps to heal; as contact with the air is what causes great pain and inflammation’ (1890: 186). Finally, the ‘Remedy for Dysentery’ also uses an egg, which the cook is instructed to combine with a teaspoonful of sugar before the invalid ‘swallow[s] it at one gulp if possible’ (1890: 187). According to Black, this ‘soothes the inflammation in the stomach and intestines, and forms a transient coating to those organs, till gradually the disease is removed’ (1890: 187). The patient can take two or three eggs a day for this purpose, and if they are ‘kept very quiet, with a very light diet otherwise than the egg’, perhaps the dysentery would pass (1890: 187).

These recipes show eggs working very hard to treat the ill for numerous ailments, and so in her cookbook of superior recipes, Black emphasises the power of simple, cheap ingredients to cure the ill as well as tying her instructions to wider discussion of food and health.  

Superior Cookery is interesting in comparison to Household Cookery because it demonstrates how invalid recipes could be shifted to meet different agendas. In Black’s first cookbook she focused on simple recipes that had a few cheap ingredients. There is an emphasis on health, the science of food and the importance of invalid cookery in the introduction and Sick Room chapter of Household Cookery, and all of the recipes Black provides are similar in terms of the types and textures of food they describe: soft or liquid foods that are based on milk, grains, and eggs with no meat or vegetables. Larger discussions are invoked through her mention of Liebig and mineral food theory. Superior Cookery is far more expansive. Again, Black implicitly refers to the popular scientific debates surrounding food and health, but proffers her own recipes rather than advertising products. The references to scientific thought across the two cookbooks show her diversity of knowledge, but Superior Cookery presents a wider range of recipes, both in number and in the diversity of food types: meat dishes, main courses, jellies and desserts, and household remedies. This increased repertoire correlates with the French recipe titles and the focus on flavour and variety to emphasise the different aims of the two cookbooks: Superior Cookery is intended to teach the reader in a higher level of cookery, above the basic skills and recipes presented in the earlier text.  

This explains why there is little crossover in the recipes between the two cookbooks. Both Household Cookery and Superior Cookery have recipes for ‘Veal Jelly’ and ‘Toast and Water’, but apart from that, all the invalid recipes in Superior Cookery are new. Indeed, there are no recipes for Beef Tea in Superior Cookery, although within the recipe for ‘Beef Steak’, Black writes that ‘The juice of this meat is considered more nourishing than beef tea’ (1890: 179).  The recipes for ‘Veal Jelly’ are worded slightly differently between the two cookbooks but contain the same ingredients, timings, and cooking process. The recipes for ‘Toast and Water’ differ, however, and the ways they do speak well to the differences between Black’s cookbooks.  

Toast and Water

Toast water was a common recipe in nineteenth-century cookbooks, and it was often framed as a drink for invalids. It was made by submerging darkly toasted bread in water and steeping until the water took on some of the colour and (hopefully) taste of the bread. Alternatively, a version of this called ‘donkey tea’ was sometimes consumed by people who could not afford tea or coffee. As Andrea Broomfield writes, ‘The drink was hot, and at least it resembled tea in colour’ (2007: 26).  

Black’s recipe for ‘Toast and Water’

In Household Cookery the recipe for ‘Toast and Water’ reads as follows:  

Toast and Water. 

Toast the quarter of a slice of bread till it is quite 
brown in every part without being in the least burned. 
Have a jug, with three breakfast-cupfuls of cold 
water in it, into which put the bread, and allow it to  
stand for a few hours. 
Hot water is frequently used instead of cold, but 
the water is scarcely so clear and nice. In this case it 
must cool before being used. 
The water is put in the jug first and the bread put 
in, otherwise the bread gets crumbled. 
It is a most refreshing drink. (1882: 114-115). 

This is a detailed recipe which gives readers the quantities, timings and ingredients they needed, as well as providing a couple of alternative methods. All the information is contained in the body of the text, and Black finishes with a note about how refreshing the drink is. The recipe for the same beverage in Superior Cookery, on the other hand, is far more streamlined in appearance:  

Toast and Water. 
1 slice of Bread            1 thin slice of Lemon 

Toast the bread very carefully till it is all a rich brown 
colour; cut it in pieces. Put the lemon in a jug, pour on 
it three breakfast-cupfuls of boiling water, then drop in the 
pieces of toast, and stand to get cold; then strain it 
for use. (1890: 178) 

This recipe is much shorter than the earlier one, consisting of just 7 lines in total instead of 12. It also contains a separate ingredients list in bold type which means the reader can skim past the recipes and clearly see what ingredients they require, rather than having to read the whole recipe before they know whether they’ll be able to prepare it (though the ingredients are inferred from the title). Black has also added lemon to this later recipe for taste, which would lift the flavour of the otherwise bland liquid.

Furthermore, her language in the second recipe fits the more refined aim of Superior Cookery: the bread must be toasted ‘very carefully’ until it is a ‘rich brown colour’, rather than just ‘brown in every part’. Black’s word choice and the addition of lemon for taste means that this second recipe carries a more sophisticated tone which is in keeping with the polite, ‘superior’ nature of her cookbook. The recipe in Household Cookery is arguably homely in comparison.  

Comparing the invalid recipes in the cookbooks of the same author therefore highlights that there were similarities in what sorts of foods were suitable for invalids, but also that invalid recipes could be changed or adapted to suit different audiences and publications.

Across the two texts Black links her recipes to organic chemistry, fashion, the domestic expectations of women, and common contemporary discourses surrounding health. This adaptable approach gives her readers a range of recipes to try, depending on the ingredients they had and the requirements of the invalid they were feeding. Whether the patient needed a plain bowl of gruel or the more substantial (and perhaps appetising) ‘Chicken en Papillotes’, Black had recipes for them. Both cookbooks were published when Black was in charge at the West End School of Cookery, and Black’s significant knowledge as a culinary educator no doubt helped her to select and write recipes that would have been useful and reliable within the home for a variety of women.  


Black, Margaret. 1882. Household Cookery and Laundry Work (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

Black, Margaret. 1890. Superior Cookery (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

Broomfield, Andrea. 2007. Food and Cooking in Victorian Britain: A History (Westport: Praeger Publishers) 

Haushofer, Lisa. 2018. ‘Between Food and Medicine: Artificial Digestion, Sickness, and the Case of Benger’s Food’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 73.2: 168–187,

Margaret Black’s Household Cookery and Laundry Work (1882)

The earliest of the cookbooks I will consider was first published in 1882, and it is called Household Cookery and Laundry Work, by Margaret Black (1830-1903). If you have read the page on the reason that Dishes for the Sickroom is based in the GCU collections, you’ll know that Margaret Black taught at the original Glasgow School of Cookery before leaving in 1878 to set up her own institution, the West End School of Cookery. Born in 1830, Black attended the National Training School of Cookery in South Kensington, and so this diploma and then her years of work at both the Glasgow School of Cookery and then at her own institution, gave her a breadth of expertise in the field of culinary education. Indeed, it was the Glasgow School of Cookery who first sent Black to South Kensington for training so that she could come and lead the teaching at the Glasgow School of Cookery. 

Black wrote four cookbooks in her time: Household Cookery and Laundry Work; Superior Cookery; Hints to Young Housekeepers; and Choice Cookery “La Bonne Cuisine,”: A Selection of High-class and Household Cookery Recipes. All of them were published in Glasgow, and so Black’s recipes offer a key insight into the attitudes surrounding invalid recipes in Glasgow in the late nineteenth century, particularly since she was so central to the development of domestic education in the city.

Household Cookery and Laundry Work (1882), Margaret Black

Even before the chapter on ‘Sick-room Cookery’, Black emphasises the important links between food, cooking and health from the outset of her cookbook, as well as the need for women to be adequately taught: ‘Parents would never think of setting a young man up in business unless he had been trained […] and yet it has been practically decided by many people that a young woman instinctively knows about housekeeping; that she can cook without being taught’ (Household Cookery 1882: 8). Black writes that ‘perhaps the most important result of this training is, that a knowledge of the constituents of different classes of food is acquired, and children may be fed with suitable food, which so greatly promotes health’ (Household Cookery 1882: 8-9). In Black’s opinion then, women must not only be educated in the efficient running of the home or in preparing tasty food, but also in the links between food and health:

For improper or unsuitable food generally impairs health or saps its foundations; and want of health impairs very greatly the energy and usefulness, as well as the individual happiness. (Household Cookery 1882: 9).

The rest of the cookbook’s introduction contains a discussion of the ‘different constituents’ of food which must be eaten to ensure good health: ‘Nitrogenous, Carbonaceous, and Mineral Foods’. As Black explains, ‘Nitrogenous food forms flesh and muscle and supplies strength; carbonaceous food gives heat and acts as the fuel to the engine; mineral food is necessary for the formation and repair of bone, and is an important constituent of the blood’. The introduction of Black’s cookbook therefore shows that she took an interest in the scientific nature of food, and she provides list which tell readers which foods fall into what category.  

Black did not come up with this theory herself, however. The three constituents of diet were taken from the work of the influential German chemist, Justus von Liebig (1803-1873). Liebig specialised in organic chemistry, and his publications focused on both plants and animals, and later on food and nutrition. Taking from his work on the mineral nutrition of plants and soil fertility, in which Liebig identified the chemical elements needed for plant growth (and manufactured a nitrogenous fertilizer), Liebig determined that nitrogenous foods helped the human body to build tissue, while ‘nonnitrogenous aliments maintained respiration and body heat’ (Finlay 1992: 406).  

A balanced diet and an adequate amount of protein was therefore vital for good health, and as Mark Finlay writes, ‘Liebig’s nutritional theories stimulated physician’s interests in dietetics, the study of links between disease and nutrition’ (1992: 406). Indeed, Liebig went on to manufacture a beverage called ‘Liebig’s Extract of Meat’, a concentrated beef extract which could be diluted with hot water to make a protein-rich drink which was easy and instant to prepare. As we will see, beef tea was a staple of invalid cookery recipes. Men of science like Liebig recognised the links between protein and health, and in his beef tea he sought to create a substance that could be quickly diluted into a fortifying beverage which was cheaper than buying beef and making the tea yourself.

The dominant discourses surrounding health, nutrition and food can thus be traced through the opening pages of Black’s Household Cookery. She was clearly well-versed in the discussions about the links between food and science that circulated throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, Black mentions Liebig later in the cookbook in her discussion of tea: ‘It also contains a peculiar substance called theine, which Liebig says “plays a part in the nourishment of the body”’ (1882: 119). Intriguingly, in the preface to Animal Chemistry: or, Organic Chemistry in its Applications to Physiology and Pathology (1842), Liebig writes that ‘At the meeting of British Association in Glasgow, in 1840, I had the honour to present the first part of a report on the then present state of Organic Chemistry, in which I endeavoured to develop the doctrines of this science in their bearing on Agriculture and Physiology’ (1842: v). Liebig’s theories had therefore been heard by Glaswegian audiences, in a nice link between the two. Black’s cookbook, and indeed many cookbooks written by and for women around the same period, were therefore not simply anchored in the domestic world of the home. Their writing extended out into and showed an awareness of contemporary views about health, science and nutrition, and for more about how nineteenth-century cookbooks engaged with science, see this article by Caroline Lieffers.

Sick-Room Cookery

Black’s chapter on Sick-Room cookery has a short introduction which outlines some of the basic principles of the practice. She opens the chapter with the declaration that ‘Sick nursing is even more essentially women’s work than housekeeping, and requires knowledge, combined with tenderness and care, a feeling heart, and skilful hands’ (1882: 107). This is an interesting statement which reveals just how important Black thought invalid cookery was. By describing sick-nursing as a skill that requires ‘tenderness and care, a feeling heart, and skilful hands’ Black characterises the treatment of the ill as a feminine task: something women were best suited to. This is perhaps not surprising, given Black’s role as an educator of women. But rather than subscribing to the common idea that efficient housekeeping and the well-ordered home was the most important thing for a woman to master, Black places the care of the sick above this as the most important ‘essential’ work that women can educate themselves in. For Black, knowing how to prepare food for the ill was clearly a core skill that all women should have.

After describing the cleanliness and ventilation required in a sickroom, Black writes: ‘The food of the sick should be varied as much as possible, and prepared in the very best manner that the materials will admit of. Beef tea particularly requires skilful preparation, as life and returning health often depend on it’ (1882: 107). There are twenty-six recipes for foods and beverages in Black’s chapter, but she mentions beef tea in the chapter’s introduction, framing it as something which was a matter – or elixir – of life and death. She continues, describing how grated toast or bread can be added to the tea and how Harvey sauce or ketchup can be used to add colour. By opening the chapter with these remarks, Black makes it clear that the drink was a cornerstone of invalid cookery.

Of the recipes that follow, four are centred upon beef tea: ‘Beef Tea – Simple Way’; ‘Beef Tea – Best Way’; ‘Raw Beef Tea’; and ‘Beef Tea Pudding’. Interestingly, the three tea recipes all have the exact same ingredients: lean beef, salt, and water. The difference between the ‘basic’ and ‘best’ tea is in the cooking process and the time required. In the basic tea, the ingredients are combined and then steamed in a bain-marie over the fire for ‘20 to 30 minutes’, before it is stained and then served. In the best tea, however, the ingredients are steeped at a lower temperature for an hour. Then the beef is removed and boiled with more water for another 15 minutes minimum, before this concentrated mixture is added to the rest of the tea for added flavour and nutriment. In the raw recipe, raw beef is steeped in cold water that is not heated: ‘There are extraordinary healing properties in the unboiled juices of meat, and in cases of extreme illness this is invaluable’ (Black 1882: 112). Then in the final recipe, beef tea is combined with grated bread and eggs to form a kind of custard that is baked.

Interestingly, despite her later reference to Liebig and use of his mineral theory in the cookbook’s introduction, at no point does Black suggest that an instant beef tea like his Extract of Meat should be used. Instead, she gives three recipes that readers can adapt to the amount of time they had for the preparation of the tea. The nitrogenous, flesh-forming and protein-rich nature of beef tea was clearly useful for the ill, however, and in this fluid form it was particularly digestible – whether it was made from scratch or using a manufactured concentrate.

The majority of Black’s other food recipes are also based around liquids or jellies: ‘Veal Jelly’; ‘Milk Jelly’; ‘Arrowroot’; ‘Egg Drink’; ‘Suet and Milk’; ‘Apple Fool’; ‘Gruel’. All of these were relatively plain in terms of flavour, had simple (and few) ingredients, and because they were liquids or soft, they would be easy to digest for those who were bed-bound, had digestive issues, or lacked an appetite. Indeed, even the recipes for ‘solid’ foods were centred on the plain and digestible: ‘Rice Pudding’; ‘Bread Pudding, with Egg’; ‘Bread Pudding, without Egg’. While these were baked, steamed, or boiled into puddings, there would have been very little resistance when it came to eating the food in terms of texture or the need to chew. Digestibility is therefore key for Black.

Except for the beef tea recipes (from which the beef was always removed) and the ‘Veal Jelly’ (again, the turnip and beef are strained), it is interesting to note that none of these recipes contain meat or vegetables. Indeed, despite Black writing that the ‘food of the sick should be varied as much as possible’, there is little in the way of variety amongst her recipes. Most dishes have a base of milk or eggs which are flavoured with sugar or fruit and then thickened with a carbohydrate or fat: breadcrumbs, oatmeal, rice, sponge cake, suet or arrowroot. In terms of taste, there would have similarities between these bland, creamy, soft meals – little texture, and certainly no bold flavours for the ill, and no large portions of ‘meat and two veg’. Black refers to this in her introduction, writing:

‘Animal food [meat] is by no means an absolute necessity, and may, with the advantage to health in many cases, be entirely dispensed with […] The combination of eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, with vegetables, makes a dietary that is quite sufficient for life and health; and it is questionable whether it is not really the best sort of food for all’ (1882: 10).

Meat is therefore not required for either the ill or the healthy, so long as fats and proteins were consumed in large enough quantities. While this was not a declaration in the support of vegetarianism, Black recognised that meat was not the most important part of a person’s diet, and she was realistic about the fact that for most working-class people in Glasgow and the wider United Kingdom, meat was an expensive luxury that could not be afforded in sufficient quantities that would fill stomachs.

Nutritionally, however, these meals were well-balanced in terms of Black’s focus on Nitrogenous, Carbonaceous, and Mineral Foods, even without meat and vegetables. In her introduction eggs, milk, flour and oatmeal are listed under ‘Nitrogenous’’ ‘suet, sugar, rice, and ‘all starchy foods’ are listed under ‘Carbonaceous’; and wheat, oatmeal, water and milk are listed under ‘Mineral’. Most of Black’s recipes contain a combination of these ingredients, and given that some ingredients like milk have multiple health benefits, it would have been supposed that these dishes were high in nutritional and medical value as well as being easy on the system. As she says, ‘Those three constituents which ought to enter into the daily food of all, are to be found in plain ordinary materials, and, as will be seen by the foregoing table, in vegetable as well as animal food’ (1882: 10). By explaining the nutritive qualities of different foods to her readers, Black gave them the knowledge necessary to combine certain ingredients in order to have a balanced diet.

Health and invalid cookery were therefore a key part of Black’s Household Cookery and Laundry Work. She did not just include a ‘Sick-room cookery’ chapter, but also referred to nutrition and the dominant scientific perspectives on food in her cookbook’s introduction. From her point of view, being able to nurse and prepare food for the ill was ‘essential’ women’s work. The recipes she supplied showed a considered approach to invalid cookery whereby simple ingredients and cooking skills could be used to provide a comforting and nutritious diet.


Black, Margaret. 1882. Household Cookery and Laundrywork (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)


Liebig, Justus von. 1842. Animal Chemistry: or, Organic Chemistry in its Applications to Physiology and Pathology (London: Taylor and Walton)