Food & Drink

The crud unites us in misery. The remedies should unite us in something more hopeful.

Chicken soup, like this carrot top soup from “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Market,” can be a cure for the crud.
Chicken soup, like this carrot top soup from “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Market,” can be a cure for the crud. jleonard@newsobserver.com

We all get ’em. We all hate ’em. Colds, coughs, sinus infections – stuff that adds up to the generalized malady of “the crud.”

Now, the flu is different. It’s nothing to mess around with, especially this year. If you think you have it, hie yourself to the doctor quickly.

I’m talking about the garden variety winter crud, and there’s plenty of that around, too.

If you have taken to your sickbed with the crud, I sympathize. Truly I do. But I don’t want to hear how your crud is the worst in history dating all the way back to the stone age, which, by the way, is what you feel like your sinuses are packed with. Or that your crud has spawned a cough that makes you sound like a combination of a wounded water buffalo and a pickup truck with a broken muffler.

Why? Because the crud that I had was the worst. My head felt full of tiny miners trying to drill to the surface, and the only thing I had the energy to do was watch figure skating while beached on the sofa like a whale in a blanket. Why look at more ice while the house was encased in it? The crud makes you do strange things.

The Hub had it, too, and our bouts overlapped for a time, leading to debates concerning whose nose was stuffier. The loser had to unload the dishwasher and the winner was allowed to continue lounging under an afghan and a cat.

One’s personal crud is always worse than anyone else’s.

And everybody swears by a cure-all food.

We all know about chicken soup, to which more miracles have been attributed than to the Shroud of Turin. However, I grew up with a different remedy: tomato soup. The basic condensed stuff. The connection is so strong that I still crave it when the crud is upon me.

Hub feels the same way about chicken soup, preferably homemade, long-simmered from chicken, celery, onion and carrot. Matzo balls are a must for him, although they’re optional for me. As my condition improved, I made some chicken soup and handed his sniffly self a bowl without them (we didn’t have the ingredients). He ate the soup, but I could tell he thought it was like not finishing all 10 days of antibiotics – a less than complete cure.

I investigated what remedies other cultures offered for the crud, which unites us all in winter misery. The treatments are different, but they have similarities that might account for all home remedies’ abilities to soothe to some extent: Vitamin C, warmth (teas and soups) and pungency.

The familiar citrus juices, hot teas, ginger and honey are universal remedies, stretching from Asia to Latin America. One I had not heard of is yujacha, a favorite in Korea. It’s a tea made from yuzu, a tart tropical fruit that tastes like a cross between mandarin orange and grapefruit. Making the tea is easy once you find a jar of the base, which is like a yuzu marmalade or syrup. Stir a spoonful of it into boiling water, stir and sip. (Another requirement for crud cures? It must be easy to make. It’s hard to stand over a stove while grabbing boxes of tissues.)

Another interesting idea, this one from Japan: chopped daikon radish soaked in honey. Daikon can be a little peppery, but mainly it’s another remedy in the Vitamin C category because the root contains a lot of it.

Chomping down on a hot pepper is suggested in Mexico – and by me, because I love them. The capsaicin will blast those balky sinuses and give you an happy endorphin boost.

I’ve never had a bad time eating hot peppers, but I recognize that others might not enjoy the flaming roller coaster. There are other traditional pungent cures. In Russia, cold sufferers bite down on raw onions or garlic. That treatment would have the additional advantage of stopping the crud from spreading because no one would want to be anywhere near you after you do that.

However, some remedies defy categorization, such as one that a friend shared with me. When she has the crud, she craves burnt toast. Yes, bread burnt black. She doesn’t know why, but her mother always gave it to her when she was sick.

Perhaps the toast falls into another category, that of remedies that make no sense but carry memories that comfort us while the crud goes its merry way.

Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at debbiemoose.com, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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