This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Two sorts of almonds are available with us commercially - the sweet, or Jordan almond, - so called, it would seem, from "jardyne,"because of the garden sort (chiefly from Malaga and not in any way connected with the sacred river of Syria); and the bitter almond, belonging to the same species, but possessing other volatile poisonous properties which are dangerous. The sweet almond (amygdala) is valuable as a food, and for confectionery purposes, being rich in a bland oil, and sustaining as a nutriment. The staying power conferred by a meal of which these almonds, and some raisins, form the chief part, is well known. It has been well said, "No man who can fill his pockets with ' almonds need starve on a journey." Persons who can readily digest these products are believed to derive from them a quickening of the intellect in magnetism, and in keenness, or argumentative force; but, if at all rancid, almonds are apt to upset delicate digestions, inducing nettlerash, and feverishness. Bitter almonds are smaller, and whilst yielding in part the same bland oil, when mixed as emulsion, contain further a powerful bitter principle known as amygdalin, which becomes identical with prussic acid, and is therefore a potent poison.
The volatile, bitter oil which embodies this poison is obtained from the residual almond cake after the bland oil has been first expressed. When eaten in substance the bitter almond is strongly harmful, and its distilled water will cause giddiness, headache, dimness of sight, vomiting, and occasionally convulsions, such as of epilepsy. An essence of bitter almonds (ratafia) is made by mixing two fluid drachms of the volatile oil with six fluid drachms of alcohol. Sweet almonds roasted to the colour of amber are delicious to eat with biscuits, or with bread and butter; they contain 24 per cent of vegetable nitrogen (proteid), 54 per cent of fat, 10 per cent of starch material, 3 per cent of salts, 3 per cent of extractives, and 6 per cent of water.
As an eligible piece of confectionery which is light, sustaining, and somewhat sedative to an irritable, or qualmish stomach, the macaroon ("maccare,"to reduce to pulp) is admirable, either at breakfast (instead of the customary egg, including the yolk), or by way of an improvised luncheon, or as an occasional snack, about the easy digestion of which no fear need be entertained. The albuminous white of egg, the demulcent, reinvigora-ting sweet almond, the comforting sugar, and the tranquillising modicum of bitter almond, with its infinitesimal quantity of prussic acid as a sedative to the gastric nerves, make altogether a most happy combination for the objects now particularized.
In the dietetic treatment of diabetes sweet almor may be employed for making a kind of bread without starem it, this being a tolerable substitute for wheaten bread, which is prohibited because of its starch, convertible into sugar. For this purpose the sweet almonds are first blanched, then expressed strongly together so that a portion of their oil may be squeezed out; they are next treated with boiling water in which some tartaric . acid has been dissolved for expelling the sugar; and finally they are ground into a powder, which can be used for making bread, or for cakes, and puddings, when combined with eggs, and cream. Almond drink is softening and nutritive in chest affections, being easily prepared by rubbing up a couple of ounces of the compound powder of almonds with a pint of water. This is serviceable in fever, and other acute diseases. Again, Almond soup is a nourishing dish for a delicate stomach disposed to nausea. A quarter of a pound of Jordan almonds, and five bitter almonds, are to be blanched, peeled, and pounded, with half-a-pint of milk added during the process, and a pint of milk afterwards; then warm the mixture, and pour it over a pint and & half of rice milk, also made hot; mix both these together, when hot enough, in a tureen.
It may be that the so-called Jordan almonds have derived their name from the "Jordan," an old English vessel (of clay), in shape like a modern soda-water bottle, which was formerly made use of by physicians. Most persons suppose, unthinkingly, that these almonds (which arrive here about Christmas time with other dried fruits) come from the neighbourhood of the river Jordan in Palestine; but it is better known that they derive their distinctive name from an enterprising Englishman of that title who planted, and reared them first at Malaga. They embody much nitrogenous food (vegetable meat) in a compact form, together with a nice palatable oil, whilst free from starch, or sugar; they are therefore largely employed in making diabetic foods. From these sweet almonds a milky drink can be prepared which will soothe, and pacify troublesome bronchial coughs. The bitter almond contains in 100 parts, 28 of fixed oil, 30 of albumin, 6 of sugar, and 19 of essential oil, including its prussic acid. This almond, when rubbed up with water, has the odour of fresh peach blossom, with the pleasant, bitter taste of peach kernels.
Prepared from it sparingly by the cook are macaroon biscuits, smaller ratafia biscuits, and the French sirop d'orgeat, which severally supply prussic acid in a safely modified form, excellent against nausea, and the sickness of nervous indigestion.
Far back in 1610 John Taylor, the water-poet, wrote: "Let anything come in the shape of fodder, or eating stufle, it is welcome, whether it be sawsedge, or cheese-cakes, or makroone-kichshaw, or tartaplin."For making macaroons, according to an old Dutch recipe: "Take one pound of sweet almonds, blanched and pounded, together with a tablespoonful of fresh rose-water, and one pound of white sugar.; melt the sugar, and almonds over the fire until quite a tough jelly; then have ready the whites of four eggs beaten to a froth; whip them together when cold. This way of melting the sugar and almonds is excellent, as it prevents the macaroons from running together in the tins. Three or four bitter almonds, according to taste, may be included among the sweet almonds now ordered. The old-fashioned plan was to put a small piece of candied citron on each macaroon biscuit. Dust some fine cinnamon over before baking".
At Miss Barker's (the ex-milliner) evening party given to the select ladies of "Cranford' '(Mrs. Gaskell) there were "all sorts of good things provided unexpectedly for supper, - scalloped oysters, potted lobsters, jelly, a dish called 'little Cupids' (which was in great favour with the Cranford ladies, although too expensive to be provided except on solemn, and state occasions; macaroons sopped in brandy I should have called it if I had not known its more refined, and classical name). In short, we were evidently to be feasted with all that was sweetest and best; and we thought it better to submit graciously, even at the cost of our gentility, - which never ate suppers in general, but which was particularly hungry on all special occasions".
Salted almonds make a nourishing side dish at luncheon, or for dessert. Blanch a quarter of a pound of Jordan almonds, fry them in an ounce and a half of butter, and when fried a nice golden brown, drain them on paper, and then roll them in salt dusted with red pepper.
Likewise, for serving to dispel nausea (except from obnoxious undigested food) an admirable confection which is delicious to the palate, and which is to be had from most pastrycooks under the name of "apricotine,"answers promptly, being at the same time an acceptable sweetmeat. Small, round sponge cakes are made, within which some almond paste is put, with a thin layer of apricot jam superimposed, whilst white powdered sugar is dusted over the cakes.
Ratafia biscuits are composed mainly of bitter almonds, and are smaller in size than macaroons. As ingredients, take half a pound of sweet almonds (blanched, and pounded), with the white of an egg, a quarter of a pound of bitter almonds, three-quarters of a pound of sifted sugar, and the whites of four eggs (whisked); bake for ten minutes.
In Sterne's Tristram Shandy, vol. vii, occurs a tenderly humorous piece of delicate writing which bears reference to the macaroon: " 'Twas a poor ass who had just turned in (at Lyons) with a couple of large panniers on his back to collect eleemosynary. turnip-tops, and cabbage-leaves, and stood dubious with its two fore feet on the inside of the threshold, and with its two hinder feet towards the street. He was eating the stem of an artichoke as I held discourse with him, and, in the little peevish contentions between hunger, and unsavouriness, had dropped it out of his mouth half-a-dozen times, and picked it up again. ' God help thee, Jack!' said I; ' thou hast a bitter breakfast on't, and many a bitter day's labour, and many a bitter blow, I fear. And now thy mouth, if one knew the truth of it, is as bitter, I daresay, as soot (for he had cast aside the stem), and thou hast not a friend perhaps in all this world that will give thee a macaroon." In saying which I pulled out a paper of 'em which I had just purchased, and gave him one; and at this moment that I am telling of it my heart smites me that there was more of pleasantry in the conceit of seeing how an ass would eat a macaroon than of benevolence in giving him one, which presided in the act." Well might Thackeray say of this passage, "The critic who refuses to see in it wit, humour, pathos, a kind nature speaking, and a real sentiment, must be hard indeed to move, and to please".
A nourishing dish for a child, or invalid, is good bread-sauce to which has been added two ounces of ground almonds well pounded in a mortar. It may be served with spinach if approved. Baked almonds lightly salted, and ground, make excellent sandwiches. Whether taken thus, or in a simpler form, they should always be previously blanched, as their brown skin is possessed of irritating properties The sweet almond oil is used in making "Rowland's macassar." The French "orgeat," or "orgeade,' is a syrup made chiefly from sweet almonds.