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.
In olden times the good Elizabethan housewife was the doctor's great ally. In her still-room the lady with the ruff and fardingale was ever busy with cooling waters, surfeit waters, and cordial waters, or in preparing conserves of roses, spirits of herbs, and juleps for calentures, and fevers. Poppy water was good for weak stomachs; Mint and Rue waters were efficacious for the head and brain; even Walnuts yielded a cordial. Then there was Cinnamon water, and the essence of Cloves, Gilli-flowers, and Lemon water, Sweet Marjoram water, and Spirit of Ambergris (an excrement of the Spermaceti Whale). Respecting the last mentioned of these restoratives, it should be told that Brillat Savarin has quite recently given to the public a remarkable recipe-: "Take six large onions, three carrots, and a handful of parsley; chop them up, and put into a stewpan; heat them with a little, good, fresh butter until they change colour; when this is done, put in six ounces of sugar candy, twenty grains of ground Ambergris, with a crust of toast, and three bottles of water; boil up for three quarters of an hour, adding water anew to make up for the loss by evaporation. While this is on the fire, kill, pluck, and draw an old cock, and pound it up (flesh and bone) in a mortar with an iron pestle.
Also chop up two pounds of good lean beef. This done, mix the fowl and beef together, and season with salt and pepper. Put the whole into another stewpan on a quick fire, and add from time to time a little fresh butter, so as to keep it from sticking to the pan. When it is heated through, pour in the broth from the first stewpan little by little, and when all is in give it a strong boil for three-quarters of an hour, always adding enough hot water to keep it to the same volume of liquid. At the end of this time the Restorative is ready, and it exercises a sure effect on the invalid if his stomach has but sufficiently retained its digestive powers. To use the Cordial give a cupful every three hours until it is time for the invalid to go to sleep. On the following day give a good cupful the first thing in the morning, and the Same at night, continuing the said plan until the three bottlefuls are finished. Keep the invalid on a light, but nourishing diet, such as the thighs of poultry, fish, sweet fruits, preserves, etc. It will scarcely ever happen that a second dose of the Restorative will be needed at that time. On about the fourth day the invalid will be able to resume his ordinary occupation.
If the Restorative thus prescribed is made use of at a banquet, the ancient rooster may be replaced by four old partridges, and the beef by a piece of leg of mutton (whilst the Ambergris and sugar candy are at option). It is well that everybody should know that though Ambergris, considered as a perfume, is distasteful to persons with too sensitive nerves, it is nevertheless admirably tonic, and exhilarating when taken internally. Our ancestors made great use of it in cookery, and were all the better for it. Richelieu is said to have habitually sucked pastilles flavoured with Ambergris; and other well-known persons, when feeling the weight of age, or oppressed by lack of bodily energy, by mixing a piece of Ambergris (ground with sugar) the size of a bean, with a large cupful of chocolate, and drinking this, have found beneficial effects. By means of such a tonic the action of life becomes easy, thinking is no difficulty, and insomnia (sleeplessness), which is," says B. Savarin, "with me the infallible consequence of drinking coffee, becomes obviated".
Given in detail, particulars may be found concerning numerous Cordials in our Kitchen Physic, such as Alcohol, Beer Soup, Coffee, Egg Cordial, Liebig's Meat Extract, the Mints, Quinces, Ratafia, Rum Punch, Tea Caudle, and Wine Whey. Others may be usefully added, to wit, Allspice, Caraway, Cinnamon, Cloves, Grapes, Honey in Mead, Raisins, Rosemary Wine, Saffron, and the Garden Thyme. The four Cordial flowers of English Simplers were the Rose, the Violet, the Alkanet, and the Borage. "Egg silky," as it is termed at the Cape, is another such excellent Cordial for a cold: "Put three entire eggs, covered with the juice of three fresh lemons, into a basin for three days, turning the eggs now and again so that all the shells shall become dissolved; then take away from the mixture the inner thin skins, which are unwholesome; beat up the eggs, whilst removing any specks; next add a dessertspoonful of sifted sugar, and a wineglassful of old rum; put the mixture into a bottle, and keep it corked; then take a wineglassful every morning before breakfast." Again "Punch a la Romaine," as it is called, which is served at dinner, usually after the remove (of the solids), is found to exercise the effect of considerably assisting digestion at such time; it forms an interlude between the principal acts of the play, being a sort of white ice made with lemon-juice, white of egg, sugar, and rum.
The quaint old recipe for brewing West Indian Punch with Jamaica rum has an almost cabalistic ring about it: -
"One of sour, three of sweet, Four of strong, and four of weak".
But, after all, Brandy is to be pronounced far excellence the prince of cordial restoratives. This (Brant wein, "burnt wine") is a spirituous liquor obtained by the distillation of wine. It contains an average proportion of alcohol from 48 to 54 per cent. In a peculiarly rich Brandy made from the ferment and stalks left from wine manufacture, a wine oil is found, Cognac oil, so called from its flavour. Genuine Cognac is distilled from the red, and white grapes of vineyards about Cognac, a small city in the Charente department. But the fact is manifest, that this Cognac could not possibly supply half the Brandy which is represented as such; even some of the costly brands are not expressed from grapes which grow in picturesque old Cognac. Beet-root plays an important part in Brandy distilling, not excepting "fine old Cognac" at sixty shillings the dozen. Another very frequent variety of Brandy is whisky distilled from corn, and flavoured with genuine Cognac, as well as with oenanthic ether. But Spain, which abounds with cheap wines, furnishes some fearsome brands of vile Brandies, coloured with burnt sugar, and contaminated with fusel oil, ether, etc.