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.
The juice of a sliced raw Onion, being alkaline, will quickly antidote by its application over any part, the acid venom from the sting of a wasp, or bee, and will afford speedy relief. The Onion has a very sensitive organism, and serves to absorb all morbid matter that comes in its way. It has been found that during an epidemic of cholera, a string of Onions hanging in a house amid other houses which were all infected, became unintelligibly diseased, and black, but proving thereby protective to the inmates of that particular house. Culpeper tells about Onions: "They have gotten this quality, to draw corruption unto them for, if you pill (peel) one, and lay it on a dunghill, you shall finde him rotten in half a day, by drawing putrefaction to it; then being bruised, and applied to a plague-sore, it is very probable it will do the like." The volatile principle of the bulbs, which is sulphide of allyl, is powerfully antiseptic whilst they are raw, but when boiled they lose their odorous essential oil in a great measure, on which the anti-putrefying virtues depend, and which escape by the heat.
A favourite Devonshire pie whereof the predominant flavour is that of the savoury Onion, is made thus (being best adapted for the "dura ilia messorum "): "Take as ingredients three pounds of mutton, a pork cutlet, six large apples (sliced), plenty of finely chopped Onions, two ounces of sifted sugar, half a pint of mutton broth, with pepper and salt to taste. Place these in layers within a deep dish; cover with rich paste, and bake for an hour and a half; or place the whole in a crock, and stew for an hour and a half; serve piping hot. Sometimes clotted cream is eaten with this light, wholesome delicacy." "As to fair Italy, all the social atmosphere of that delightful land is laden with the fragrance of the Onion; its odour is a practical democracy. In the Churches all are alike: there is one faith, one smell! The entrance of Victor Emmanuel into Rome was only the pompous proclamation of a unity which garlic had already accomplished; (and yet we who boast openly cf our democracy eat Onions in secret)".
The author of My Summer in a Garden says: "I am quite ashamed to take friends into my garden, and have them notice the absence of Onions: it is so marked. In ' Onion is strength,' and a garden without it lacks flavour. The Onion in its satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables, and it is the only one which represents the essence of things; it can almost be said to have a soul. You take off coat after coat, and the Onion is still there; and when the last one is removed, who dare say that the Onion itself is destroyed? though you can cry over its departed spirit! If there is any one thing on this fallen earth that the angels in heaven weep over more than another, it is the Onion. I know that there is supposed to be a prejudice against the Onion, but I think there is rather a cowardice regarding it. I doubt not that all men and women really love the Onion, but few dare to confess their love; the affection for it is concealed; good New Englanders are as shy of owning it as they are of talking about religion.
Some persons have fixed days on which they eat Onions, - what you might call ' retreats,' or their 'Thursdays'; the act is in the nature of a mystic ceremony, an Eleusinian rite; not a breath of it must get abroad; on that day they see no company; they deny the kiss of greeting to the dearest friend; they retire within themselves, and hold communion with one of the most pungent and penetrating manifestations of the moral vegetable world. Happy is said to be the family which can eat Onions together; they are for the time being separate from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration." "Let the reformers then become apostles of the Onion: let them eat it, and preach it to their fellows, and circulate tracts of it in the form of seeds! In the Onion is the hope of universal brotherhood. If all men will eat Onions at all times, they will come into a universal sympathy." Again, in the eloquent words of another writer: "The fragrance of this wine-scented esculent not only whets the appetite, but abounds in associations glad, and picturesque.
All Italy is in the fine penetrating smell, and all Provence, and all Spain. An Onion or garlic-perfumed atmosphere hovers alike over the narrow Calli of Venice, the cool Courts of Cordova and the thronged Amphitheatre of Naples. It is the only aether breathed by the Latin people of the South, so that ever must it suggest blue skies, and endless sunshine, cypress groves, and olive orchards. For the traveller it is interwoven with memories of the golden canvases of Titian, the song of Dante, the music of Mascagni. The Violet may not work a sweeter spell, nor the Carnation yield a more intoxicating fragrance. Sometimes even yet when I enter a London restaurant, however pretentious, an aroma arises of the Allium sativum, from a sauce, and I am back straightway on the Isle Sainte Marguerite, listening to the music of the leaping waves, feasting my eyes on the tempting fruit; and then once more the golden Aioli advances with its shining waters. I am lost! the summer is manque; the many delights of the cuisine Provencal are blotted out of memory by the swift inhaling of an evanescent sauce.
The French leg of mutton of la cuisine bourgeoise is always Piquee a l'Ail. Thereby, amidst the resinous groves of the Isle Sainte Marguerite, opposite Cannes, I was introduced to the potent virtues of savoury garlic".
Beau Brummell, when asked whether a gentleman might eat Onions immediately before going into the company of gentlewomen, remarked sententiously, "No man is so well looking, and fascinating, that on entering a ball-room he can afford to handicap himself with a stink".
Leeks (Allium porrium) contain sulphur, and possess expectorant properties. Their juice will purify the blood at springtime.
"Now Leeks are in season, for pottage full good, That spareth the milch cow, and purgeth the blood".
Tusser, Husbandry for March.
Furthermore, they stimulate the kidneys, and will dissolve earthy phosphates in the bladder.
"Eat Leeks in Lide, and ransoms in May, Then all the year after physicians can play".
For chilblains, or chapped hands, Leek juice with cream is an efficient salve. The Emperor Nero, (Porrophagus), ate Leeks with oil for several days together so as to clear his voice. When meat savour is withheld from soups, a flavouring by Leeks will satisfy any. ordinary craving for condimentary taste; but if a stronger desire prevails, then the most acceptable flavouring vegetable is the Onion. Hence among persons who are not fastidious, or soon offended by powerful, even vulgar, odours, strongly-flavoured meals are thought highly palatable, though they surround the eaters thereof with an atmosphere of garlic, and cause them to be given a wide berth by sensitive neighbours. "We have known a whole suite of most aesthetically fresh apartments, the drawing-room being scented by a fragrant wealth of natural flowers, literally penetrated for the entire evening with the oniony exhalations of a single guest who had made his mid-day meal on a collation of unmitigated coarseness. Such feeding is only fit for those who remain in quarantine, or in the open air, and its results should never be inflicted on delicate noses.
The soups, and vegetable dishes consisting mainly of Onions, should be so mitigated as to bear the test of polite intercourse, and should fall into the rank of civilized cookery, be it au gras, or au maigre, for days of rejoicing, or abstinence".
The Cock-A-Leekie Soup Of Caledonia is graphically described by Sir Walter Scott in The Fortunes of Nigel. This was the favourite clear soup of her late Majesty Queen Victoria when at Balmoral. The Leeks must be young, and small, and well cut (using the white part only) into pieces about half an inch long; these are to be thrown into cold water overnight; in the morning remove just the centre of each piece with a small wooden skewer; next blanch them; cool, and drain, and place the pieces of Leek in a stewpan of the required size, with plenty of clear clarified butter, and a few slices of raw, green ham; in the evening pass the Leeks very slowly indeed over the stove for about fifteen minutes; pour off the butter, and add a good boiling consomme (in which a chicken has been cooked) during the clarification, and boil for half an hour; cut the breast of this chicken into very small white pieces, and put them in the tureen; remove the ham from the soup; season the latter, and pour it into the tureen, freeing it from all fat with whitey-brown paper. Then the soup is ready. French plums (stoned, and stewed in the consomme) were always served on a soup-plate with this Cock-a-Leekie at the Royal table.
The Welsh, who live much upon Leeks, are found to be very fruitful of progeny. "These products are," writes Evelyn, "of virtue said to be prolifeck; since Latona, the mother of Apollo, longed after them".
Chives (Allium Schoenoprasum) are an evergreen perennial herb of the Onion tribe, with a milder flavour than the bulbs. Epicures consider this the best seasoning for beef-steaks, either by eating the small bulb, or by rubbing the platter therewith when cut in half.
The Schalot is another variety of this Onion tribe, being called also the Scallion, or Cibol, of a mild flavour, and preferred in pickle-making. As to Chives, these tiny Onion-like plants are as superior in flavour to an Onion as an oyster is to a cockle; they are said to have been introduced into Britain by the Roman soldiers, and accordingly they are found flourishing in plenty near the Roman Wall in Northumberland, and elsewhere. They grow there like thrift, and without any bulb, the stalks being edible at the top, and making a very excellent antiseptic flavouring.
Among herbal simples the "Poor Man's Garlic, or "Jack by the hedge," (Erysimum allium), occurs as a well-known roadside variety of the Onion plant tribe, growing in wild and luxuriant abundance throughout the whole English summer. It is distinguished by brightly green, glossy, heart-shaped leaves, which when bruised emit a strong odour of garlic; also by headpieces of small white flowering bunches. This homely plant has been of popular use as a savoury accompaniment of a poor man's bread and cheese, from quite early times; it also bears the name "Sauce-alone." When gathered fresh, and boiled separately in its own juices, it makes an excellent addition to boiled mutton, and is of antiseptic virtue, with slightly aperient effects which are easy, and not griping. Our forefathers valued the same modest herb highly for its anti-scorbutic usefulness. "The antients," says Evelyn, "employed 'Jack by the hedge' as a succedaneum to their scordium".