James Steen: Can toast be drunk?

By James Steen

In his New book, The Kitchen Magpie, James Steen presents a veritable host of household hints. Here are some of our favourite.

In Victorian times the British working classes drank "toast water", using it during illness as a form of nourishment. Photo / Thinkstock
In Victorian times the British working classes drank "toast water", using it during illness as a form of nourishment. Photo / Thinkstock

On bee and wasp stings

Do not bother searching for a dock leaf to rub on the sting. The search could take hours, or days. Instead, rub a wasp sting with vinegar. This will soothe, stop swelling and reduce pain. Poppy leaves are also said to do the trick. For bee stings, dab them with bicarbonate of soda.

Why does salt bring out the flavour of food?

This happens for two reasons:

1. Salt can literally "salt out" flavours. This means that it effectively pushes out of the product more of the volatile flavour.

2. The aroma (smell of food) can be enhanced by tastes that are "consonant" with the flavour - these are the tastes that you expect. So a salty taste makes you think that volatile savoury flavours are stronger.

On curing a headache (and jet lag and wrinkles)

Don't reach for the aspirin: have a dozen cherries instead. Cherries contain anthocyanins,
which are also potent anti-oxidants to fight cancer. Sour cherries, such as morello, contain significant amounts of melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that slows the ageing process and fights insomnia and jet lag. It's also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression and other diseases and disorders.

The haggis: myths and legends

In 2003 a survey of 1000 American tourists visiting Scotland revealed that a third of them believed the haggis to be a small animal. About a quarter of those questioned were coming to Scotland to "try to catch a haggis". One American tourist described the haggis as "a wild beast of the Highlands which only comes out at night".

Why do cold things like mustard and peppers taste hot?

This is due to "chemesthesis" and our trigeminal senses, the nerves for which are wrapped around the papillae on our tongues, but also have branches on the eyes and nose. Trigeminal senses include heat from mustard and chilli as well as cooling sensations from mint and the pungency of onions. These senses can also induce "cheese sweats" around the eyes.

Famous last words

Lou Costello - the funny, chubby half of American comedy duo Abbott and Costello - suffered a heart attack on February 26, 1959 and was admitted to Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills. On March 13 he was visited by his manager, Eddie Sherman. Lou persuaded Eddie to nip off to a nearby drugstore to get him a strawberry icecream soda. After relishing it, Lou declared, "That was the best icecream soda I ever tasted." Then he died of another heart attack.

Can toast be drunk?

It can. In Victorian times the British working classes drank "toast water", using it during illness as a form of nourishment. The recipe goes like this:

"Toast a piece of bread thoroughly browned to its centre without being burnt, put it into a jug, pour boiling water upon it, cover it and allow it to stand and steep until it has cooled; it will then be fit to drink." Toast water benefits from a dollop of blackcurrant jam, added to the jug before the boiling water.

Why can you eat mould in blue cheese but not on bread

Some moulds produce toxins that can cause a variety of health problems, but many are perfectly harmless. If you eat mouldy bread you have no idea which moulds are growing on it. Blue cheese, however, is made with specific strains of moulds which are deliberately introduced to ripen the cheese and give it flavour. These strains are food grade and have been used for hundreds of years. We know that they do not produce toxins and the manufacturers are very rigorous over their quality control so that they introduce only the correct strains.

On curing a cold

The English author of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management's recipe from 1861: Put a large cupful of linseed, with 1/4lb of sun raisins and 2oz of stick liquourice, into 2 quarts of soft water, and let it simmer on a slow fire till reduced to one quarter; add to it 1/4lb of pounded sugar-candy, a tablespoonful of old rum, and a tablespoonful of the best white wine vinegar or lemon juice. The rum and vinegar should be added as the decocoction (mixture) is taken; for, if they are put in at first, the whole soon becomes flat and less efficacious. The dose is half a pint, made warm, on going to bed. A little may be taken whenever the cough is troublesome.


Ketchup, catchup or catsup, derives from ke-chiap (sometimes written ke-tsiap), which was a pickled fish sauce popular in China. European traders loved the sauce and brought it west with them in the 17th century. Or does the name come from Indonesia, where kicap (or kecap or ketjap) was a sauce made of brined shellfish, herbs and spices?

Whatever the exact origin of the term, it was mostly catsup in Britain. Jonathan Swift's poem, Panegyric On The Dear, (1730) refers to it:

She sent her priests in wooden shoes
From haughty Gaul to make ragouts;
Instead of wholesome bread and cheese,
To dress their soups and fricassees;
And, for our homebred British cheer,
Botargo, catsup, and caviare.

Freaky fridge facts

In 1948, just two per cent of households in Britain owned a refrigerator. Even in 1959 only 13 per cent of homes had one, compared with 96 per cent in America. But this next bit is even more alarming: in the 1700s when the word "refrigeratory" was coined, no one had a fridge. It meant "something that cools" - but no one really had anything that cooled. In the 1820s brewers came up with a cabinet for keeping food cool - they called it the refrigerator. The electric-powered household device was available from the end of World War I. Refrigerator became frigerator and then Fridgidaire started making fridges. The word "fridge" was considered a bit common; like "loo" instead of lavatory. Cookbooks in the 1970s still shied away from the colloquial "fridge", preferring "refrigerator".

Extracted from The Kitchen Magpie by James Steen (Icon Books $36.99), out now.

- NZ Herald

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