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 Sloe, or wild Plum, borne by our Blackthorn of the hedgerows, is well known as an oval, blue-black, small fruit, of autumn produce, harsh, and sour until mellowed by the early frosts. Its dark ruby juice enters largely into the manufacture of British Port wine. If obtained by expression of the Sloes this juice is very useful as an astringent medicine, and is a popular remedy for stopping nose-bleeding. Country people bury the Sloes in jars to preserve them for winter use; they should be-gathered on a dry day, picked clean, and put into jars, or bottles, without any boiling, or other such process, and then covered with loaf sugar; a tablespoonful of brandy should be presently added, and the jar sealed. By Christmas the syrup formed by the juice, the sugar, and the spirit, will have covered, and saturated the fruit; so that then a couple of tablespoonfuls will not only serve as an agreeable dessert liqueur, but will further act as an astringent cordial of a very useful sort. The Sloe bush is often called provincially "Scroggs." Sloe leaves, when they unfold late in the spring, will, if dried, make a very good substitute for foreign tea.
The blossoms answer for preparing a safe, harmless, laxative syrup excellent for children; by taking a spoonful or two daily for three, or four days, costiveness will be overcome gently, and painlessly, but thoroughly.
The Hard, Round Bullace (Prunus Insititia) grows likewise in our English hedgerows, this being the fruit (five times as big as the Sloe) of a shrub having fewer thorns. Country folk make therefrom Bullace wine; and boys in France call both fruits (equally astringent) "Sibarelles," because it is so difficult to whistle immediately after masticating them. Wild Plums in Devonshire are Kestings. or Gristlings.
The Cultivated Plum has been developed from the Sloe, and wild Plum; its Damson variety being formerly the fruit product of Damascus, (Damascenes). When ripe the cultivated Plums are cooling, and slightly laxative, especially the French fruit, which is dried, and bottled for dessert. Philip Dormer, the famous Lord Chesterfield, in one of the well-known letters to his son then at Paris (1757), told him: "Lord Bacon, who was a very great physician in both senses of the word, hath this aphorism in his essay on ' Health ': ' Nihil magis ad sanitatem tribuit quam crebrce et domesticce purgationes'; by domesticce he means those simple uncombined purgatives which everybody can administer to themselves, such as stewed prunes, chewing a little rhubarb, or dissolving an ounce and a half of sweet manna in fair water, with the juice of a lemon to make it palatable.
'In common with Pine-apple juice, and that of figs, the pulp of Plums possesses a peptic ferment which will help the digestion of milk, cheese, and light meats, materially. This fruit is useful for costive habits if made into an electuary, or simple jam; but when unripe, Plums provoke choleraic diarrhoea. The garden sorts contain less sugar than cherries, but a considerable amount of gelatinizing pectose. Lately the superintendent physician of a Reformatory at Chicago found that the boys behaved themselves much better when taking prunes in their diet than at any other time; these act, as he supposes, on certain organic parts which are the seats, and centres of the passions. "Little Jack Horner," says the familiar Nursery Rhyme, "sat in a corner, eating a Christmas pie: he put in his thumb, and he pulled out a Plum, and said 'What a good boy am I!' "
"Inquit, et unum extrahens prunum, "Horner, quam fueris nobile pueris Exemplar imitabile! "
Culpeper has said, "All Plumbs are under Venus, and are like women, - some better, some worse." French Plums are conveyed to England in their dried state from Marseilles, the sweetness having been developed by drying. "Prune butter" may be made, without any sugar, by passing the stewed fruit through a colander so as to remove the skins. Prunes can be taken with benefit at breakfast for correcting a disposition to acid dyspepsia. They contain 2 per cent of proteid, 74 per cent of carbohydrates, 4 per cent of mineral salts, and 18 per cent of water. In cookery Prunes are stewed for a sauce, or otherwise prepared, being nutritious, demulcent, and in a measure laxative. For drying them, at first the fruit is dipped into hot liquid so as to crack their sides, and then dipped into cold water, being left on trays when taken out, so as to mature in the sun for four, or five days; they are finally picked according to size. A Prune Mould, excellent against habitual constipation, and beneficial for weakly invalids, is to be made thus: "Put half a pound of Prunes in a stewpan, with a pint of water, and six ounces of sugar; stew slowly until tender; pass through a fine sieve, keeping back the stones; add gelatine (one ounce dissolved in half a pint of water); mix thoroughly, and boil for ten minutes; put into a border mould in a cool place until set, and turn out (with whipped cream in the middle if the same is approved of for the patient)." "The Damask Prune" (Castle of Health) "rather bindeth than lowseth, and is more commodious unto the stomacke." Long ago Andrew Borde (1562) has declared that "Syxe, or sewen Damysens eaten before dyner be good to prouoke a manne's appetyde." For costive persons Prunes may be taken stewed with meat.
Dr. Johnson was particularly fond of veal pie with stewed Plums. Plum pudding, so called, our national accompaniment to the Roast Beef of old England, is made rather of raisins, which are dried grapes, than of Plums. In the Western counties it goes by the name of figgy pudding. "Now awl tha vokes be agon tu races, us'll ave a frawsy awl tu ourzels! whot shall us 'ave?" "Aw, let's av a fowel, an' a figgy pudden." Plum pudding is safe food for all except the very weakest of stomachs; the long process of boiling helps to make its ingredients digestible, whilst of themselves they are certainly not unwholesome. None the less, it should always be borne in mind that the questionableness of this good cheer lies more in quantity than in quality. Made almost sacred is the sweet Plum, or Prune, by the Poet Cowper in his tender, and touching "Lines to my Mother's Picture," bearing reference to the loving home-days of his fostered childhood: -
"The record fair That mem'ry keeps of all thy kindness there: Thy nightly visits to my chamber made That thou might'st know me safe, and warmly laid: Thy morning bounties ere I left my home, The biscuit, or Confectionery Plum; The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestow'd By thy own hand, till fresh they shone, and glow'd".
"Think what London would be," wrote Horace Walpole (1743) to a namesake, "if the chief houses were in it as in the cities in other countries, and not disposed like great rarity Plums in a vast pudding of country! Well! it is a tolerable place as it is. Were I a physician I would prescribe nothing but ' Recipe: Londin, ccclxv drachmas.' Would you know why I like London so much? Why, if the world must consist of so many fools as it does, I choose to take them in the gross, and not made into separate pills, as they are prepared in the country".
"If pills were pleasant," says an old adage, "they would need no gilding." Dr. Johnson likewise was an ardent lover of London.