I’ve been feeling poorly lately. That’s not the point, but that is the root of my recent search for food-based cures—especially from my treasured vintage cookbook collection. A few tips for nourishing your resident invalid, per the Metropolitan Cook Book, published by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in the 1930s: “Fruit beverages and beef tea, though not especially nourishing, are useful stimulants to the jaded appetite. Gelatines and ices furnish a tempting means of serving liquid foods in solid form. The tray should be made as attractive as possible, never overcrowded. Cover it with a fresh napkin and use the daintiest china the household affords. If disease is contagious, before removing the tray from the room, wrap all left-over food in paper and burn as soon as possible.”
And then there’s toast water. Yes: toast water. “Toast should be cut through and crisped all the way through. It may be softened with hot milk or water.” Or, apparently, turned into a beverage. Water with toast soaked in it for an hour, then strained. There’s not a lot of mystery here—just a Victorian-style remedy for the unwell. Mrs. Beaton's eponymous Book of Household Management from 1861 offers instructions for a Toast-and-Water beverage, including the advice that: “Toast-and-water should always be made a short time before it is required, to enable it to get cold: if drunk in a tepid or lukewarm state, it is an exceedingly disagreeable beverage.”
This feels like a lie of omission, because it’s no great shakes on the other end of the temperature spectrum, either. But like I said, I was feeling less than one hundred percent, so who am I to pooh-pooh the breakfast-related panaceas of a provider of life insurance—one that saw fit to revive this toast water recipe for its Depression-era patrons? I boiled. I soaked. I squeezed. I drank.
Toast water tastes like a pond that is haunted by the ghost of toast that drowned in it. It is a mournful beverage. Extra Crispy’s site director Ryan Grim took a sniff of my mason jar of toast water and made a face so woeful, I wished I could hand him a puppy and a balloon and will a rainbow into existence above his head. “It smells like a sick child,” he said, “like Typhoid Mary.” I could in no way dispute this. To consume it is to invite a mild dysthymia into the core of your being. Even as dedicated a food non-waster as I am, I could not countenance allowing it to remain in my home for one moment longer, let it sap the joie de vivre from my short, joyful dog. Down the drain it went. I felt better instantly.
"Good in case of nausea."
Lightly adapted from Metropolitan Cook Book, published by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Press (1930s)
2 slices of bread, ideally joyless
1 cup boiling water
How to Make It
Break toast in pieces, add water and allow to stand 1 hour.
Strain through cheesecloth, season, and serve hot or cold.