It’s the end of the line, or so it seems. As flu season nears an end, generally tapering off in early March, I sit here writing to you feeling like death warmed over. Like a chafing dish of doom and gloom. Like a buffet of disaster, if you will. So what better time to look at everyone’s favorite sick foods, comforting and glorious, through over-the-counter cough syrup goggles and put some recommendations to the test.
Southern remedies are some of the finest, and I am more than willing to be the guinea pig since the hardest part is already upon me, but first remind me of something. Is it “starve a cold, feed a fever” or “feed a cold, starve a fever?” Ah, what’s the difference, nobody in this household is starving anything. This family is going to eat when it is hungry, in sickness and in health.
Today we will explore remedies of many sources including solid foods, liquids, alcoholic beverages and anything else that comes our way. Nothing is off the proverbial dining room table when you’re looking for a culinary cure. But our bodies are different. The point is if it makes you feel better then you should consume it.
There is bit of scientific evidence to this cliché. According to WebMD there is limited research suggesting traditional chicken soup “may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity.”
I’m a firm believer. My own version has been refined over the years, and I’m not as heavy on the salt as I was in my 20s. I start with a quality steroid-free chicken, skin removed, to create a gently cooked stock. This is the most important part. The soup is created with lots of vegetables that change upon availability. I’ve always used a ton of onions, carrots, and celery, but have expanded flavors with skinned red bell peppers, yellow squash and zucchini. The soup isn’t complete until I add handfuls of raw spinach in the last few minutes of cooking.
An alternate version of chicken soup comes from Las Vegas native hip-hop star K-Dubs who prefers Bavarian Chicken Supreme soup as her comfort food. It’s basically carrots, onions and ground chicken thickened with a roux. This was the star of the now-closed Alpine Village Inn across from the Vegas Hilton.
Greens and Mississippi things
It must be part of God’s little plan that flu season coincides with the availability of fresh greens. Collards, kale and mustards are fine sources of antioxidants, vitamin C and flavonoids. But the greenery I celebrate the most is the almighty turnip.
I love the greens cooked down with chopped roots. A little bit of pork and a bit of salt is a simple way to prepare a masterpiece. But the healing property of this dish for me lies in the pot liquor (Yankee talk) or potlikker (us).
The steam from the pot opens up my sinuses just a bit. I have to be careful with my first serving of turnips because I tend to eat too much. If you are looking to get maximum benefit from this, you don’t want to be painfully full. Return to the pot with a ladle. Spike your bowl with a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce (the red dot label) and sip until those sinuses open the rest of the way.
If you need something sturdier in your meal, drown a chunk of white cornbread (not sweet) in the potlikker.
Lima beans with ham and onion are another childhood favorite when ill. Researching it we find they are loaded with soluble fiber that rids the body of harmful germs. My mom is the only person I know who loves onions as much as I do, and we use a lot. I also believe in the healing power of garlic, so my skillet is a hotbed of flavor when these come out. Canned, dried, fresh, I will take them anyway I can get them.
From the Gulf
Zinc is one of the trace minerals your body needs to keep your immune system functioning properly. You can get your zinc in many ways, but my favorite way is from oysters.
Oysters are loaded with zinc. While I am not opposed to oysters combating the flu or the common cold I am fully behind ingesting them weekly as a preventative measure. To get the full effect I prefer them raw.
My good friend John T. McCook, known for his Sunday gravy recipe, recommends Gulf fish with lemon. Grilled or broiled is better than fried when you feel the pain of the flu. The lemon has much more vitamin C than an orange. He also uses lemon for other things, which brings us to…
Mr. McCook prefers his lemon with tea, honey and whiskey. Bourbon is usually the whiskey choice for these cocktails. The most common version includes honey, lemon juice and boiling water. You’ll find this recipe works with brandy almost as well.
My longtime sick drink is a shot of bourbon (preferably cheaper stuff, save the good) with a peppermint, juice of a lemon wedge, a teaspoon of honey and a splash of water in a coffee mug. Microwave it until coffee hot and stir to melt the peppermint. Sip until finished and repeat as necessary.
Bushmill’s honey-flavored whiskey is the choice of my old man. A little in your breakfast coffee will help a sick man jumpstart his morning. The Irish know how to drink away a cold.
We’ve all got our rituals. If you hate bananas you will love them when you have the flu. It’s like pickles and ice cream for pregnant women. Covering yourself with Vick’s and sipping 20 ounces of Jack Daniels is another way to forget how you feel (temporarily). Right now I am about to knock back a hot toddy with a potlikker chaser. Celebrate the healing power of your favorite foods and keep an open mind. Get well soon!