In 1903 Blackwells of Oxford published Handbook of Wholesome Cookery for Household Use and Technical Instruction written by Edith Sorby who was a lecturer at the Oxford City Technical School. The recipes in the book make interesting reading but what is particularly engaging is the vocabulary she uses to describe those foods, as she puts it, ‘which are necessary for the due nourishment of the body.’ She classifies them according to three headings:
- Nitrogenous or Flesh-Forming, containing as a chief ingredient nitrogen, ‘which builds up the muscular tissue of the body’ exemplifying them with meat, eggs, cheese and pulse foods.
- Carbonaceaous of Heat-Giving with carbon as the most important constituent which ‘by a change taking place within the body, is converted into heat, so necessary to our life and activity’; exemplifying them as sugar, butter, bacon, and all farinaceous foods. (I had to look that up and it means containing starch.)
- Mineral or Bone-Making which ‘must contain a large proportion of mineral matter, to give rigidity to the bony structures, and act as purifiers of the blood’; exemplifying them as fresh ripe fruits, green vegetables and salts.
I wonder what today’s students would make of such vocabulary but I must admit to thinking that the terms flesh-forming, heat-giving and bone-making would have more than a little appeal and maybe aid comprehension.
She writes briefly about milk, not included in the above, ‘because as the perfect food it belongs to each containing in itself in right proportion, all the ingredients necessary to the nourishment of the body.’ Interestingly although she mentions rickets as a disease brought about by dietary deficiency she makes no mention of vitamins. It had long been known that scurvy could be avoided by a regular intake of vitamin C. This was made available to sailors crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the 17000s by eating limes, hence the term ‘Limey’ used by Americans to describe the British. Why the omission I wondered? A quick visit to Wikipedia provided the answer. It was not until 1912 that the term ‘vitamine’ was coined to describe organic micronutrient food factors that prevented dietary-deficiency diseases. At the time the micronutrient known to prevent beriberi was thiamine, which as the name suggests was an amine. As such micronutrients were vital for healthy life the term vital amine was coined, and became contracted to vitamin. We now know that not all micronutrients are amines but the name has stuck. But all this was after Edith wrote her book. An interesting example of how scientific knowledge is a function of time.
As always comments welcome.