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Gruel world

Londoners are 'treated' to a taste of the bad-old days as Oliver Twist's hated dish returns to the menu.

by: AFP:Robin Millard: | 20 Jan 2009

Gruel; the miserable dish slopped out to Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens' 19th century novel; has made a comeback , bringing the cuisine of Victorian poverty to credit crunch-hit Britain.

The Royal Society of Chemistry consulted the 1838 book "Oliver Twist" and historical sources in order to cook up a version of the dreaded, bland gloop of oats, milk and water.

Passers-by in London were invited to sample the gruel, with some even conceding that it tasted quite good.

As a special treat, Oliver got raw onion in his gruel twice a week, and those outside the RSC, which publishes a report on sustainable food next week, were not spared either.

Sharon Weatherlake, from New York, added: "I'm surprised how good it is. I imagined it would be much nastier, tasteless and lumpy."

Anna D'Alessandro, 39, a marketing executive from Italy, was also enthusiastic.

"I could eat gruel, regularly, definitely. It's a good way to start the day. If you need to say goodbye to luxuries and go back to basics, I recommend it. In fact, I want some more!"

French chef Fabian Aid created and served up the gruel.

"It's half milk, half water. It's a bit like porridge. There's no seasoning, like at the time," he explained. "If you didn't have a choice, it was better than nothing. There's nothing wrong with it.

Dietician Leanne Fishwick said gruel was good for you, but only as part of a balanced diet. "If you ate only three pints of gruel a day, like Oliver, eventually you'd die," she warned.

"We're looking at iron deficiencies, scurvy, rickets, the thiamin deficiency beriberi, and there are nowhere near enough calories. Working pretty hard in the workhouse, they would have become more and more malnourished."

RSC chief executive Richard Pike said: "Thankfully in Britain matters have improved tremendously but (malnutrition) remains a daily threat in many parts of the world."

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