Alcott · Little Women

Cookbook Outtakes: Beth’s Apple Tapioca

Beth Invalid.png

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

Sick Beth

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.
  1. 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.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar, zest, and juice.
  3. 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.
  4. Add 2-½ cups water. (It should cover the apple at least halfway).
  5. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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