A patient should never be asked if he will have any particular article of food; let it be prepared, and brought to him, without any questioning on the part of the nurse.
Why, because the nurse has not got some food to-day which the patient takes, can the patient wait four hours for food to-day, who could not wait two hours yesterday? Yet this is the only logic one generally hears. On the other hand, the other logic, viz: of the nurse giving the patient a thing because she has got it, is equally fatal. If she happens to have a fresh jelly, or fresh fruit, she will frequently give it to the patient half an hour after his dinner, or at his dinner, when he cannot possibly eat that and the broth too—or, worse still, leave it by his bed-side till he is so sickened with the sight of it, that he cannot eat it at all.
"Groats," or grits, a coarse ground corn meal, or very small hominy, fanned and sifted. This can be prepared at any country corn mill, is a cheap and valuable article of diet for the sick. It can be boiled or baked. In the latter form, a sauce made with a little sugar, butter and lemon juice, or vinegar, renders it very palatable. When boiled it is usually eaten with a little butter and salt.
In the diseases produced by bad food, such as scorbutic dysentery and diarrhœa, the patient's stomach often craves for and digests things, some of which certainly would be laid down in no dietary that ever was invented for sick, and especially not for such sick These are fruit, pickles, jams, gingerbread, fat of ham or bacon, suet, cheese, butter, milk. These cases I have seen not by ones, nor by tens, but by hundreds. And the patient's stomach was right and the book was wrong. The articles craved for, in these cases, might have been principally arranged under the two heads of fat and vegetable acids. There is often a marked difference between men and women in this matter of sick feeling. Women's digestion is generally slower.
Chicken broth, with the fat well skimmed off, is, to most patients, more palatable than beef tea.
Another most excellent dietetic article is biscuit jelly, made according to the following formula: Biscuit Jelly.—Biscuit, crushed, 4 oz.—cold water, 2 quarts; soak for some hours; boil to one half; strain; evaporate to one pint; then flavor with sugar, red wine and cinnamon.
Parched Corn, powdered and sweetened to suit the taste, is recommended as a pleasant and nutritious diet for invalids. In a Southern convalescent, one of the most desirable things that can be given them is thin corn meal, ground, well boiled, seasoned with salt, and presented while hot.
It is made a frequent recommendation to persons about to incur great exhaustion, either from the nature of the service, or from their being not in a state fit for it, to eat a piece of bread before they go. I wish the recommenders would themselves try the experiment of substituting a piece of bread for a cup of tea or coffee, or beef tea, as a refresher. They would find it a very poor comfort. When soldiers have to set out fasting on fatiguing duty, when nurses have to go fasting in to their patients, it is a hot restorative they want, and ought to have, before they go, not a cold bit of bread. And dreadful have been the consequences of neglecting this. If they can take a bit of bread with the hot cup of tea, so much the better, but not instead of it. The fact that their is more nourishment in bread than in almost anything else has probably induced the mistake. That it is a fatal mistake there is no doubt. It seems, though very little is known on the subject, that what "assimilates" itself directly, and with the least trouble of digestion with the human body, is the best for the above circumstances. Bread requires two or three processes of assimilation, before it becomes like the human body.
The almost universal testimony of English men and women who have undergone great fatigue, such as riding long journeys without stopping or sitting up for several nights in succession, is that they could do it best upon an occasional cup of tea—and nothing else. Let experience, not theory, decide upon this as upon all other things.
In making coffee, it is absolutely necessary to buy it in the berry and grind it at home. Otherwise you may reckon upon its containing a certain amount of chicory, at least. This is not a question of the taste, or of the wholesomeness of chicory. It is that chicory has nothing at all of the properties for which you give coffee. And therefore you may as well not give it.
Again, all laundresses, mistresses of dairy-farms, head nurses, (I speak of the good old sort only—women who unite a good deal of hard manual labor with the head-work necessary for arranging the day's business, so that none of it shall tread upon the heels of something else,) set great value, I have observed, upon having a high-priced tea. This is called extravagant. But these women are "extravagant" in nothing else. And they are right in this. Real tea-leaf tea alone contains the restorative they want; which is not to be found in sloe-leaf tea.
The mistresses of houses, who cannot even go over their own house once a day, are incapable of judging for these women. For they are incapable themselves, to all appearance, of the spirit of arrangement (no small task) necessary for managing a large ward or dairy.