RedHeadedGirl’s Historical Kitchen: Beef Tea

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather this week – nothing huge, just my usual summer cold, right on time.  A year ago or so, I got a copy of A Handbook of Invalid Cooking: For the Use of Nurses in Training Schools, Nurses in Private Practice, and Others Who Care For the Sick ( A | BN | K ), published in 1898. Sadly, it’s not an original (that would be awesome, wouldn’t it?) but a reprint; that said, it’s still pretty neat.

It was written by Mary A. Boland, and she says in the preface that the idea came from a discussion at Johns Hopkins about the need for a book on how to feed sick people. The recipes are designed for small quantities, so that you don’t need to divide by 50 to feed one sick person, and that each recipe has been tested and perfected, as needed.

The first section is “explanatory lessons,” which covers the basics of chemistry that one might need to know in order to care for patients. Then there are recipes for all sorts of food and drink, and then a whole chapter on how best to feed children. Viewers of Call the Midwife might really find this interesting.

Beef tea, served as suggested in a wine glass

I’ve seen mention of beef tea in historicals, usually when someone needs some fortification or warming up with something SUPER uncomplicated for an upset tummy.

I thought, maybe, it was just another term for beef broth, BUT APPARENTLY NOT.

Carrie: My dad used to feed it to me when I had surgery, perked me right up. I always thought that was just rehydrated bouillon.

RHG: Nope. It’s way less complicated than that.

Grass fed beef!

Beef tea is literally made from the juices you get when you cook, well, beef. Normally, these would end up as drippings, so the Handbook’s instructions are designed to collect those juices for the good of the patient.

Bottled. Select a half pound of well-flavored beef, cut away everything except the lean fiber, divide it into small pieces, put them into a glass jar, cover, and place in a deep saucepan of cold water; heat gradually for one hour, but do not allow the temperature at any time to exceed 160° Fahr.; then strain out the juice and press the meat. The liquid should be clear red, not brown and flaky. Add a little salt, and it is ready to serve. A half pound will make three or four tablespoons of juice. If it is to be used constantly, a larger quantity may be made at once, as it will keep eighteen hours in a refrigerator. Beef-juice may be made into tea by diluting it with warm water.

You can also use your broiler, but I like my canning supplies. Also I have doubts about how well my broiler works.

The time consuming part is carefully excising the connective tissue. My paring knife is sharp, but I kinda wished I had a scalpel. (It’s for the best I don’t, otherwise I’d be yelling “SCALPEL” all the time, and my roommate would be very annoyed.)

Cleaned beef in a canning jar, with a small pile of connective tissue next to it.

I did not manage to keep it from getting above 160 – I think it hit about 190. It wasn’t boiling, at least?

jar in its water bath, with the thermometer keeping an eye on the temp

Look! It’s juice!

The jar of cooked beef and juices just pulled from the water bath

Boland’s serving suggestion is to put your beef tea in a wine glass.

I mean, I guess?

It’s… beefy tasting water? I can see how this would be good for someone with a tummy that’s just getting over itself. It makes a good next step when you can do more than a BRAT diet, but not much more.

I was kind of worried that this would result in half a pound of wasted beef, because it’s cooked in a jar and not straight boiled. But while it is unseasonsed, it’s not sad. You could dunk it in sauce or add it to a soup, if you wanted.

So there you are, next time you see a heroine drinking beef tea, you’ll know she’s drinking it from a wine glass!

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