I was reading The Beth Book: Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure, a Woman of Genius, an 1897 British novel by Sarah Grand, a month or so ago. Beth is tending to a sickly fellow lodger, who says that he'd like to switch treatments and "try Salisbury." Beth reads his book on Salisbury, and a footnote explains, "The American physician James Salisbury, believing that human nutrition should be meat-based, introduced the 'Salisbury steak' (beef deep-fried with onion) in 1888. He recommended that patients should be given this three times a day" (520n102).
Well, this was a discovery! I'd had more than my fair share of these as a child:
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...and never had I known that I was ingesting medicine! (TV dinners were an occasional special treat for me. Plus I worked at a grocery in high school and would eat them for lunch.)
Smithsonian magazine provides more detail:
Dr. Salisbury, like many people before and since, believed that food was the key to health and that certain foods could cure illness, especially of the intestinal variety. He tested his theories during the Civil War, treating chronic diarrhea among Union soldiers with a diet of chopped-up meat and little else. After 30 years of research he finally published his ideas, setting off one of the earliest American fad diets.He perfected the food in his 1888 book, The Relation of Alimentation and Disease, saying that you basically had to avoid vegetables at all costs in order to stay healthy. How did he know this? Real scientific research:
Then he did it with two thousand pigs, because pigs you can go "on to the death point, as could not be done with men." (I guess some of the guys in his group were wimps, huh? Who isn't willing to eat oatmeal porridge for thirty days in the cause of science?) I'm not sure why the idea of a diet where you ate more than one food never occurred to him, but he does have that sort of delightful Victorian scientific monomania.
The cover page of The Relation of Alimentation and Disease is a real treat, by the way, not in the usual nineteenth-century sense of a crazy title, but check out that author attribution-- not to mention what someone wrote on the copy that was digitized by Google Books:
In the The Beth Book, three Salisbury steaks a day saves Beth's friend's life. I don't think it would save mine, though; I'm supposed to be on a low-fat diet, and this seems exactly the opposite!
I'm not sure I've ever had a Salisbury steak outside of a TV dinner, though. It seems like the kind of thing Bob Evan's or a classic diner would do, but I can't find any evidence of that. Sokolowksi's University Inn in Cleveland does them, though, so if I ever go back there (and get better), I will have to get one!
* Second on the list of great Connecticut culinary contributions, after the steamed cheeseburger, of course.