Victorian cookbooks have whole chapters on “invalid cookery,” or food for the sick, since a lot of nursing in the 1800s took place at home. Some of the dishes and cures were real weird — if you’d like to read about them in a little more detail, there’s a sample list of deeply misguided remedies in our new book.
Eliza Leslie, a popular cookbook author of the era, describes this apple tapioca dessert as “cool and nourishing for invalids.” At first bite, it’s really odd to our modern senses — it’s almost like eating slime — but it’s subtly flavored, refreshing, and strangely addicting. It would be really nice if you have a fever.
Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Book: Little Women
Difficulty rating: Little Women
Deliciousness rating: Exceeds Expectations
BETH’S APPLE TAPIOCA
Makes 4 servings
- ½ cup non-instant small pearl tapioca
- 1 cup to soak tapioca and 2-½ cups water for simmering, divided
- 2 apples
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- Zest and juice of ⅓ lemon
- 2-½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Soak tapioca in 1 cup water overnight.
- Peel the apples whole. Core them by inserting a long thin knife about a half-inch from the center of the apple, pushing the blade all the way through the bottom, and cutting in a circle around the stem. Push the cores with your thumbs until they pop out.
- In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar, zest, and juice.
- Put the apples in the middle of a small wok (which is close in shape to a Victorian preserving kettle) or medium pot, and fill each core with half each of the lemony powdered sugar mixture.
- Add 2-½ cups water. (It should cover the apple at least halfway).
- Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add tapioca and 1 teaspoon sugar, and then simmer until the tapioca goes clear, about 30 minutes. During this time, stir the tapioca every 5 minutes or so to keep it from burning, and turn the apples over after 15 minutes.
- Pour into a square baking dish and let it cool. Cover, then put in the fridge. This dish is best served cold.
Alcott, Louisa. Little Women. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1896.