This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
If a family is fed a ration regulated according to the principles of balance, and deluged with the three other great foods - sunlight, air, and water - seasonal evils associated with foods will amount to little, and the family will be immune to many of the ills which arise when the principles of dietetics and hygiene are neglected. But in many families custom so largely regulates the menu according to wrong principles that spring fever and the like are very real conditions.
The usual winter diet, for example, consists of greasy foods, such as sausages, fried bacon, roast pork and pork chops - too many sweets, pie and rich cake - with a scarcity of fruits and vegetables, and so is responsible for the ills associated with spring. The over-fed body rebels against the cloying diet, impoverished blood shows itself in anemia and blotched skin, pale cheeks are the guiding posts to tired stomachs, and the weary liver manifests itself in overpowering sleepiness. The old-time disease, "spring fever," tinges the beauty of the early spring days with melancholy sickness and ill-temper.
A late March visit to a city school showed vividly the general tone of the system at this season, where proper dietetic principles had been neglected. The building was situated in a good locality, and the children were from well-to-do families. The pinched, wan faces, dull eyes, yellow skins of the pupils and the general atmosphere of lassitude which prevailed throughout the building was appalling. "I cannot do anything with them," said the discouraged teacher. "They will not respond; they are either too tired or too lazy." "Spring fever," or, more scientifically, the ills of spring, had gripped the children in a relentless grasp and showed its insidious presence in auto-intoxication, or the poisoning of the body through its own waste.
These ills are mainly due to improper diet. In the spring the hearty winter foods must be forgotten, and replaced by lighter dishes, rather than by adding the latter to meals already too heavy. A well known physician once remarked, "In treating disease diagnosis comes first, diet second, and medicine last." So the housemother must learn not only how to get her family well, but how to prevent illness due to improper food. Unfortunately the housewives who have attained this knowledge, or apply it to every-day living, are few - and it takes the doctor with attendant medicines to bring the family into a normal state. His bill, by the way, goes into the family budget, an unnecessary item, blamed to the high cost of living! Such phrases as "biliousness," "gas in the stomach," " face broken out," "paleness," " anemia," "constipation," "touch of rheumatism," "colds," are conditions which are closely related to diet, as the house-mother who understands the importance of diet in disease is aware.
If the body acquires the habit of eating over-hearty foods in winter, a change of diet, like the gradual transition from winter to summer clothing, should be made slowly. This not only accustoms the body to a new regime, but possesses the added advantage of bringing about the change so insensibly that all danger of disagreeable comment from the family is obviated. It must always be borne in mind that, while a person is well and active, the same relative amount of food is needed by the body throughout the year, and that the difference between winter and summer diet, for example, lies not in quantity, but in judicious substitution.
Of all the digestive organs the liver is the busiest. It has been named the "clearing house of the body," for it is there that much of the cleansing of the blood is done and the body poisons or toxins are, so to speak, strained out, and the blood purified. Moreover, it is the great storehouse for sugar or "glycogen" and prepares other food stuffs for assimilation. Now the usual winter diet is excessively sweet and starchy - hot breads, griddle cakes, quantities of potatoes, too much cocoa, macaroni, rice, rich puddings, pies and cakes, cereals loaded with sugar, all of them good in their place, but, as a general rule, used indiscriminately. For instance, mince pie, a rich and hearty food, is the frequent dessert of a heavy dinner, whereas, to preserve the dietetic balance, it should be used to supplement a scanty meal. The excess food causes the digestive organs to overwork (thereby breaking down), the liver is called upon to do extra work in storing up the sweets, and a headache frequently results. When it is understood that very heavy food, eaten out of place, tires the organs, it may easily be seen why too much starch or sweet finally clog's the liver, causing the secretion of bile to accumulate, and bringing about biliousness, auto-intoxication, and indigestion.
"Gas in the stomach" usually indicates a tired condition or a lack of pepsin in the gastric juice. A blotched face usually follows, whereas the latter condition often accompanies anemia. Constipation, of all ills, is perhaps the most prevalent. The word may be translated in two ways, either as a lack of bowel movement without cathartics, or in the sense that the intestinal movement goes on without carrying off the entire waste. Just as an iron pipe becomes filled with rust and the stream of water constantly decreases, the large intestine can be lined with waste that is never thoroughly cleared away. This is the usual type of spring constipation, and it carries with it extreme lassitude and intestinal indigestion, because the poisons which remain in the intestines are becoming re-absorbed, thereby enabling the body to poison itself. When an individual is in this condition, he becomes a prey to every passing breeze and change of temperature, often contracting a severe cold or the "grippe!"
All of these unwell conditions can be alleviated, and nearly always prevented, if the correct foods appear upon the spring table - not when the April sun shines hot upon the waking earth and the insidious poisons have begun to work, but by mid-March when the body first feels the change. Nature has provided for this exigency in the most satisfactory way, for along with the warm days come the spring foods, until, by early April, the markets are replete with the tempting greenery of the season.
Ballast or bulky foods are those which should be used to replace the cathartics and physic of the medicine chest. Under this heading we find the fresh green vegetables, spinach, cowslips, dandelions being the most efficacious of them all. Spinach has been termed by the French "the broom of the stomach" because it is so bulky that it sweeps through the alimentary tract, stimulating the secretion of the juices, scraping the walls and carrying all waste away. Spinach once a day for a week or more will bring about immediate results. It will soon pall upon the appetite, if it is always served in the same way, but any housewife with imagination (wherein lies the secret of good cookery) can make it into so many seductive dishes, that a complaint will not be heard. As plain "greens," creamed, poured upon toast, and surmounted with poached eggs, souffled, in salad (either combined with other vegetables or with eggs), boiled with ham, or scalloped with salt fish - it can be used for any meal in the day. It is a great mistake to consider foods suitable only for certain occasions, for all foods are so adaptable that they can be prepared in diverse ways for breakfast, luncheon or dinner, and whereas, for example, the family may refuse spinach for dinner, they will welcome it for breakfast because it is a novelty!
This same group of ballast foods includes lettuce, ro-maine and watercress - all known as salad plants. Watercress has been used since great antiquity as a spring salad and tonic, for the old Greek had, in a way, a greater faith in diet than we have to-day.
All of these greens contain the mineral craved by the worn-out tissues. Iron, potassium, calcium, sulphur, phosphorus, all these and many more are contained in all growing things. It is due to Nature's wonderful alchemy that so many minerals can be eaten at once, for were a like amount to be taken in the form of medicine, severe illness and, sometimes, death would follow. Spinach is the richest in iron of any vegetable, carrots follow, while dandelions, beets, salad plants and all veg-eatables contain certain amounts. Watercress furnishes sulphur, whereas cauliflower, onions and cabbage are rich not only in sulphur, but phosphorus. Butter is usually adopted as a seasoning for vegetables, but, whenever possible, olive oil should be substituted.
There is no more refreshing way to serve vegetables than in a salad, and in the springtime, when the body needs natural tonics, no other dressing should be used than olive oil and lemon juice. Use three tablespoon-fuls of oil and a tablespoonful of lemon juice, well-mixed, and add a dash of salt and pepper. This will dress salad for six people. Olive oil, however, may be rather prohibitive because of its high cost. If it is impossible to afford it, peanut oil may be substituted.
A green salad may replace the main course at a luncheon, if cheese, eggs, or nuts are combined with it. Cream cheese, for instance, can be put through the potato ricer and sprinkled over it - cream cheese may be served with any green salad. Sliced hard-cooked eggs may accompany cress or cooked spinach, and nuts are delicious with any cabbage or celery combination. In such cases the meal should commence with a simple soup, and a good way to introduce an excess of mineral into the spring diet is to prepare a cream of lettuce, cress, or spinach soup. These may have as a foundation any clear soup stock - the vegetable, together with rice, should be simmered in it, hot milk added when they are soft, and the whole strained and thickened with egg. Such a soup is a perfect adjunct to a luncheon. Entire-wheat-meal bread or rolls should accompany the salad, and the dessert may consist of an egg and milk pudding with a simple cookie or cake.
But Nature's tonics include not only vegetables but fruits as well. The citrous group, including the grapefruit, orange and lemon, are wholesome and palatable. As a general rule the lemon is used in beverages - in this case it should be very tart - or, better still, be left unsweetened. A baked lemon is not unpalatable, and may be eaten with a spoon, and lemon juice may be used in any case as a substitute for vinegar. In lemon jellies, in salad dressings, poured over other fruits, served in black coffee, in pineapple puddings, and in other ways, lemon juice may be served to the family.
Rhubarb, while it is really a vegetable, is served as a fruit in so many ways that it need never become a monotony. As a gelatine, baked with raisins, stewed, cooked in cubes, and dressed with oil and lemon juice, or in the form of dumplings or shortcake, it is delicious.
Pineapple appears the first of May and its juice is a splendid tonic. About the second week in May strawberry season is at its height. Of all the world-spanning fruits it is the foremost, carrying with it refreshed vitality and a satisfied appetite.
All of these spring fruits and vegetables should be supplemented by at least two quarts of water daily to aid the kidneys in eliminating waste, and by the use of whole wheat meal bread - made of unrobbed wheat - to stimulate the action of the intestines.