Sunday, April 19, 2009

Old Fashioned Cure

One of the many reasons I collect old cookbooks is that they provide a peek into a woman's life so long ago. I'm always amazed at the responsiblities that a woman had - not only as a provider of food, from scratch, three times a day - but also as the caretaker of the family's health.

Most cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th centuries include sections on medicinal remedies. "Cures" for smallpox, typhoid fever, diptheria and cholera are included along with recommendations on how to treat fits and hysteria ("chiefly seen in females, and generally connected with uterine irregularities" according to The Dominion Cook Book-1899). While some remedies seem laughable knowing today's science other remedies still make perfect sense. "Rules for the Preservation of Health" in the latter cook book include instructions to drink water, avoid excess of spirits, exercise regularly and sleep in a well ventilated room.

Some remedies call for tincture of opium and chloroform - I can't imagine you would feel anything after that! Ingredients that I don't think I could find in a grocery store or at a pharmacy are listed: antimonial wine, laudanum, best manna, and tincture of senna are things I have never heard of before.

So while I was wrapped up in a blanket on the couch trying not to feel sorry for myself after developing my fifth cold since December, I decided to consult my old cookbooks for an old fashioned cure. Egg gruel or beef tea didn't sound appealing and I really didn't like the idea of simmering bacon in vinegar and then laying the bacon on my sore throat for a cure. I settled on "A valuable recipe for fever and ague" figuring I at least had the fever. According to Mrs. R.A. Sibley from "The Home Cook Book" of 1877 I should steep 4 ounces of galangal root in a quart of gin left in a warm place; take often. Unfortunately I didn't have any galangal root handy but I substituted some tonic water. Now I feel just fine!


Leslie said...

I think actually you can still find senna in a drug store - it's an herbal laxative often used in like those health food store cleanses and I think even the OTC brand Senokot.

I collect old cookbooks for a lot of the same reasons...I happened upon a stack of "American Cookery" magazines from the '30's. They each contain an index of all of the articles for that year, and the list of titles is such an interesting overview of what the readers' interests and needs were: "On What Food Does Your High School Daughter Do Her Studying" or "Have You Reached the Goal in Dishwashing?" (I know the answer to that for me: no.)

I think you made the right call with the gin, hope you are feeling better! Look forward to reading more about the old books!

Yvonne, My Halal Kitchen said...

I also just love old cookbooks. You're right, you can really learn how women lived long ago, and there is much wisdom in their frugality and ingenuity that we can all benefit from, I believe. I also notice that most of those women were extremely organized, early risers, hard workers-- I could definitely take something from that!

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