A bit of a pick me up: Benger’s Food

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!


Filed under Collecting, Food, History, Natural Home Medicines, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

12 responses to “A bit of a pick me up: Benger’s Food

  1. I think I’ve got some of my old granny’s Fynnon Salts and Energen Rolls you could have, if you like.

  2. I remember going through a phase of drinking as much Complan as possible as I despeartely wanted to put weight on…alas, I don’t have that problem nowadays.

    • wartimehousewife

      VG: The only thing I can say about being somewhat ’rounder’ than one once was, is that I was finally obliged to buy a bra – when I was pregnant with Boy the Elder. Never had ’em when I was skinny.

  3. Myrtle

    The word ‘Complan’ makes me want to shrink shaking into a corner – something to do with my mother…..need more counselling…….!

    • wartimehousewife

      Dear Myrtle. I’m so sorry, it was thoughtless of me. I will send you a box of Benger’s Food and some Beecham’s Pills in compensation.

      • BigDave

        My old mum used to give me Bengers food when I was poorly as a child.
        It was so scrummy I would sometimes fake being ill just to get a drink of it.
        I have looked everywhere to try to buy some recently, but I think its gone out of production.
        What a same and a great loss to my taste buds.

        Does anyone know if it can still be bought anywhere…………and if not does anyone have any at home they would like to sell to me?
        I would pay a very good price.
        Contact me on………..
        verytalldave (@) hotmail.com
        If you can help…………..
        Thanks to all………………..

      • wartimehousewife

        Welcome Big Dave. As far as I know Bengers went out of production many years ago. Have you tried e-bay? Have you tried Complan?

      • BigDave

        Hello WH……….
        Many thanks for your welcome…………
        Yes…..I have tried Complan and unfortunately its not a patch on the taste of Bengers. I wish it were.
        I have a lonely tin of the elixir in my cupboard and I ration myself to one cup every so often. If it were available as it used to be, I would drink it probably almost every day ! ! ! ! ! !

      • wartimehousewife

        Gosh BigDave, wherever did you find it, or is it an old one which has survived? Do let me know if you manage to track down any more down – I’m dying to try it myself now.

      • BigDave

        Somebody had one for sale on ebay a while ago………………..still full of “product”.

        Been looking for more ever since but with no luck.

      • BigDave

        As a complete change of subject……………..

        If anyone is still missing the wonderful taste of PAN YAN Pickle, there is a very good substitute nowon the market.
        Its called “BAXTERS Albert s Victorian Chutney” and I challenge anyone to taste the difference between this new pickle and the old PanYan.

        Looking forward to next Boxing Day with cold turkey and boiled ham…………………………

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