A Proper Nutritionist

Harriette Chick at work in the 1930s. Image from the Wellcome Library.

Dr. Harriette Chick (1875 – 1977) was a nutritionist best known for her research on vitamins and rickets.

After qualifying as doctor of science in 1904 she applied to work at the Lister Institute .  Apparently, a few members of staff objected to her appointment on the grounds that she was a woman but, happily, the director, Charles Martin, appointed her anyway.  She worked there for over 50 years.

Harriette Chick’s main contribution was to the emerging science of nutrition.  In the wake of the First World War she led a research team to Vienna.  The War had resulted in food shortages and the population was severely malnourished.  Local doctors had noted an increase in rickets among children and similar bone deformities in adults.   At the time it was generally thought that rickets was an infectious disease. The research team, on the other hand, suspected that the problem was due to poor nutrition.

Working with the hospital staff Harriette’s team made changes to the patients’ diets and recorded the results.  The research demonstrated that rickets was caused by dietary deficiencies, specifically a lack of vitamin D.   The findings were published in 1923 as Studies of Rickets in Vienna.  Her notes from this time are held by the Wellcome Library.  They are scientific but they are also very human.  I especially like her recipe for “anchovy paste”.   It contains cod liver oil and marmite rather than anchovies but it would have contain plenty of vitamin D, which is what helped to fix the bendy bones of  the people in Vienna.

On her return to Britain Harriette became the head of a new department of nutrition at the Lister Institute.  She never married and lived to the ripe old age of 102.

Now We’re Cooking With Gas!

Marie “Jenny” Fleurot and William Sugg the day before their wedding in 1871. Image from http://www.williamsugghistory.co.uk.

The first gas cookers went on sale during the 1830s and while there were some early adopters, for example, the kitchens at the Reform Club were fitted with gas cookers as early as 1838, most people carried on using solid fuel ranges. I am proposing Marie Jenny Sugg (1850-1919) as a food heroine for her promotion of gas cookery.

In 1890, when Mrs Sugg ‘s book, The Art of Cooking by Gas, was published gas cookers had become more common but the author felt that readers needed a bit of reassurance about the advantages of cooking with gas. In the introduction she wrote, … the economy of cooking by properly regulated gas is beyond question: and this economy is realized not only in the fuel saved but on the food itself, the nutritive properties of which are fully developed without waste. The cleanliness and convenience of gas as a fuel and the saving in time and labour, need only be once understood to be thoroughly appreciated, and those who adopt gas in the kitchen will find themselves free from all that trouble, dirt, and uncertainty in working which attend a coal kitchener.” (p.7)

Mrs Sugg’s promotion of gas cookers was far from disinterested. She had married into a family that ran a firm specializing in gas lighting, heating and cooking. Rather excitingly, Mrs Sugg met her husband, William Sugg (1832-1907), while he was visiting France on business during the Siege of Paris. The marriage produced 12 children and, after the birth of the last one, a cookery book.

Their great-grandson has set up a very informative website about the history of William Sugg & Co and for a more general history of the gas industry there is the Gas Museum in Leicester.

Red Herrings, Bloaters and Kippers

Red herrings, bloaters and kippers all begin life as herrings but are transformed by being cured in different ways.  Before electrical refrigeration curing fish by salting and smoking was an important method of preservation.

Of the three red herrings have the strongest taste.  They are made by soaking whole herrings in brine for up to three weeks and then smoking them for another two or three weeks.   This turns the flesh red.   Red herrings have been made for centuries.  In 1567 Thomas Nash wrote Lenten Stuffe, or the Praise of the Red Herring, in which he praises their keeping qualities and their ubiquity,

“… it is most precious fish-merchandise, because it can be carried through all Europe.  No where are they so well cured as at Yarmouth.  The poorer sort make it three parts of their sustenance.  It is every man’s money from the king to the peasant.”

These strongly flavoured fish have fallen out of favour but they live on in the phrase “red herring”, i.e. a misleading and irrelevant distraction.

Bloaters are a lot like red herrings in that they are not gutted or split before being cured, but bloaters are only lightly salted and lightly smoked.  The cure for bloaters is considerably quicker than for red herrings.  This produces a mild tasting soft fish which does not keep for very long.  Bloater paste, a Victorian tea time treat, was a way of extending the shelf life of bloaters.

Kipper workers in Craster, Northumberland. Photo from http://wecanmindthetime.org.uk.

John Woodger is credited with inventing the kipper in Northumberland during the 1840s.  His innovation was to split the herring along its back (not along the belly) and remove the guts.  Once this is done the herring is soaked in brine for 20-30 minutes and then smoked for 12-20 hours.  Regional variations mean that there are lots of different types of kipper.To summarise,

  • Red herrings – an old cure for whole herring that produces salty and highly smoked fish.  A good keeper.
  • Boaters – lightly salted and lightly smoked whole herrings.  Mild tasting.
  • Kippers – a 19th century innovation.  The fish are split, gutted and smoked.