I spend most of my waking hours trying to think of items for my ever increasing audience, which they will find entertaining, informative, amusing and diverting (although not necessarily all at the same time; I would hate for any of you to actually explode with excitement as I am not insured for such an eventuality.).
I am also always on the look out for ephemera or items which are of interest to a Housewife who, whilst having not actually been born at the time of the last War, disports herself in the kitchen as though she was.
Consequently, I have shelves full of ‘Housewife’ Magazine, wartime cookery books, kitchen utensils dating back to the 19th century and the quiet conviction that if one’s grandmother wouldn’t recognise it, it isn’t food. I’m also fascinated by the ingenuity of our forbears, particularly during wartime, when so much was unavailable or on ration, and yet they still managed. When one compares that skill with these ghastly television programmes depicting ghastly middle class families spending £400 a week on groceries and throwing a third of it in the bin, it motivates me still further to be as resourceful as possible.
I was therefore very interested to notice, particularly in ‘Housewife’ Magazine, the amount of advertisements for products which we simply don’t have any more – various medicines, tonics and supplements which acknowledged and supported how valuable and tiring it was to run a home. One of these adverts was for Benger’s Food. I did a bit of research and found that it was somewhere between baby milk and invalid food. The entry in ‘Family Doctor’ (1938) described it thus:-
”As it contains a very small quantity of fat, Benger’s Food is made with milk to make good the deficiency. It is a mixture of wheat-flour and an extract containing the digestive ferments of the pancreatic juice. When a mixture of the food with milk is kept at blood heat, these juices partly digest the proteins of the milk and the food, and convert the starch in the food into sugar.
This action may be allowed to go on for five to forty-five minutes, and in the end there may be very little starch remaining unconverted. This makes it a very suitable food for babies and invalids. According to the time allowed for preparation, the milk mixture may be graded to the capacity of the child. As the baby grows, and its own pancreatic juice comes into operation, less time will be required.”
There was also a mention of Benger’s in a soldier’s memoirs of Red Cross Parcels which were distributed during WW2:-
”Sometimes a parcel would have something different in it like a tin of cocoa or Horlicks or a tin of Benger’s food. Benger’s food is not unlike dried milk – it can be used to make a milkshake or can be added to food like a sauce. Mixed in with a custard, there were lots of different ways it could be eaten. I think it’s main advantage was it was ideal for people with tummy troubles, and since it was enriched with vitamins and minerals to enable the sick to cope better with their malady.”
Nowadays, I always have a box of Complan in the larder. Complan has long been used as an easily digestible food for invalids, but I often use it when I simply don’t have time for breakfast or as a good re-introduction to food after an illness. I buy the plain variety because it’s cheaper and you can mix it with cocoa and a bit of sugar, or one could use a banana and honey for a really nutritious and filling ‘meal in a drink’. Because I do a lot of manual work and I have to get up very early (for me anyway), my breakfast has usually worn off long before lunchtime and I find that a glass of chocolate flavoured Complan is an excellent way to keep me going and stop me going face down in a plate of Jaffa Cakes.
When we were children, I remember being given Fairy Milk if we’d been poorly. This was a glass of full fat milk with an egg and a teaspoon of sugar beaten into it. It was absolutely lovely, although for my own children, I sometimes add some pureed banana or soft fruit to make it a more complete food. It was certainly a better option than the tinned chicken soup which was later considered the answer to everything from a gippy tummy to plague!