I have written several blogs reminding bakers and cooks to be aware of food allergies. However, it is just as important for all hosts and hostesses to remember people who have religious food restrictions, or other health concerns…such as diabetes.
Co-worker, friend, or family member, I’ll bet most of us know someone who has been affected by diabetes. Just recently my Cousin Sylvia, who is in her late seventies, told me about the day her mother, my Great Aunt Ida, discovered that a second child in their family had this dreaded disease.
Sylvia remembers the exact day and moment when her second sister was diagnosed. Aunt Ida was working in the kitchen and asked Sylvia where her younger sister was? Sylvia told her that her little sister was sleeping. Aunt Ida instantly became upset and told Sylvia to go and wake her immediately…no matter what! Then, bring her down to the kitchen. Sylvia did as she was asked.
The first thing Aunt Ida did, was to get a urine sample from her small daughter. Then, using the home testing kit she had for her older diabetic child, she tested the urine sample. Sylvia remembers her mother boiling something in a test tube, adding something to it, the solution turning blue and then Aunt Ida just stood there crying.
For over 2000 years humans have been recorded as suffering from diabetes. This disease was first mentioned in an 1500 B.C. Egyptian manuscript. The ancient writer described it as “Too great emptying of the urine.” About that same time physicians in India also made note of this disorder. They called it Madhumeha or “honey urine” after noticing that ants were attracted to the urine of the patients. About 500 B.C. it was observed that this condition occurred most often in the obese. In 250 B.C. Apollonius of Memphis, a Greek physician, named the wasting disease diabetes, or siphon, to describe its effects on the human body as it “Melt down the flesh and limbs into urine.”
In ancient times diabetes was diagnosed by establishing that there was sugar in the urine. Before 1100 A.D. “water tasters” would drink the urine of people who were suspected of having the disorder to determine if it tasted sweet or not. I am pretty sure that “water tasters” were probably not members of the nobility. It was at this time that the Latin word for honey, Mellitus, was added to describe diabetes.
Physicians early on could diagnose the disease, however, without any real treatment options they could only watch their patients waste away and die. Doctors did try a variety treatments, such as: roses, dates, raw quinces, viper flesh, almonds, nettle blooms, broken red coral, and, of course, the ever popular and anemia producing…bleeding.
In spite of the doctors best efforts, prior to the discovery of insulin just a century ago, a diabetes diagnoses meant death. Children would die within days of the disease onset. The average lifespan for an adult with diabetes was one to two years.
As doctors learned more about diabetes treatment options were developed. The first was exercise. It was believed that exercise, especially horseback riding, would help stop the excessive urination. Then, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), a French physician named Apollinaire Bouchardat noticed that his diabetic patients improved during war-time food shortages. He developed diet treatments.
Once patients food consumption began being monitored, it was observed that sugar in the urine increased when people ate starchy foods. Patients were directed to consume high fat and protein foods. By the late 1700’s dietary restrictions extended diabetes patient’s lives another year or two. In 1916, diabetes expert Elliot Joslin wrote the textbook “The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.” His guidelines for diet and exercise are still used and taught today.
The great breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes came in 1921 when Dr. Frederick Banting and his student assistant Dr. Charles Best extracted insulin from a dog pancreas. They then injected the insulin into a dog whose pancreas had been removed. The animal’s blood sugar levels decreased! The diabetic dog was kept alive for 70 days.
Doctors quickly worked together to refine insulin. An insulin for human use was developed and given to a young boy dying from the disease. After the first insulin injection his blood sugar fell into the normal range within 24 hours. One of the first children to be treated with the new wonder drug insulin was Elizabeth Hughes. She lived to the ripe old age of 74.
Within just two years of Dr. Banting’s discovery commercial production of insulin began. Patient treatment results were nothing short of miraculous and Dr. Banting and his supervisor Professor J.J.R Macleod were awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize.
Today diabetes costs our world an estimated $612 billion per year, about $245 billion in the United States annually. Worldwide an estimated 415 million people, just over 8 percent of the entire adult population, suffers from this chronic, incurable, but treatable disease. Chances are someone you know has diet restrictions due to diabetes.
Aunt Ida’s children were some of the first to be treated with insulin. Her older diabetic daughter, Idella, born in 1936 passed away at thirteen years of age. Idella was buried wearing her mother’s confirmation gown. I have seen the picture, she was a very beautiful dark-haired little girl. The younger diabetic daughter lived a long life well into her seventies.
Aunt Ida was a great baker and her sweets were always well received whenever they were served. I have shared several of her recipes on this blog. This recipe was very precious to her, because it was one of her, “diabetes” recipes. During our frequent visits, she would get out an old tin molasses can that would be filled with these delicious Swedish Rye-Crisp crackers. Then, we would commence engaging in the long lost art of…visiting.
Aunt Ida’s Swedish Rye-Crisp Crackers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2-1/2 cups flour (half rye, 1/2 white)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 stick butter
1 Tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a small bowl mix sugar and cinnamon together. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix butter and dry ingredients together with a fork until they form into pea-sized crumbs. Add buttermilk and mix until dough forms. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
On a lightly floured counter-top roll dough out thin. Thin like Lefsa. Be careful to use very little flour when rolling out. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and prick all over with a fork. Lightly sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll over with rolling pin to press sugar into the dough.
Bake for about 8-10 minutes until the cracker just starts to brown. Remove from oven and cool completely. Break into serving size pieces and store in an airtight container.