Slippery-elm bark tea, flax seed lemonade, arrowroot, mutton broth and onion gruel are just some of the old-time remedies, or "invalid cookery," recommended many years ago in the "Every-Day Cook-Book" by Miss E. Neil. Natural tonics for beauty, child-rearing and homemaking tips, first aid, as well as a multitude of recipes are also found in the book dating to at least 1891. Such a complete book was necessary back when women ran the entire household and was especially useful for those in more rural areas without doctors. As mentioned in last week's column about the county's first doctors, it was the housewife who performed many medical duties and had a bag of tricks to accomplish all that needed to be done. A look at these practices shows that some were effective and have been rediscovered, while others are much more questionable.
It's one thing to hold an old book in your hands and know you are touching history. It's quite another when there are handwritten notes inside of someone in your family line. The inside of our family "Every-Day Cook-Book" has an inscription of "Mary" from 1893. She is the columnists' grandmother and great-grandmother, born in 1865 at the close of the Civil War. She used this book, which is now so worn that the pages are brown and crumbling. What recipes did she use? She's not here to tell us, but we can turn the same pages that she did almost 120 years ago and maybe gain a sense of her life and the advice she might give.
How about some recipes like "mock turtle soup" to satisfy your hunger? For this you need to clean and wash a calf's head, split in two, save the brains, and boil the head until tender in plenty of water. The recipe calls for various herbs, seasonings, and to use the brains to make balls to drop into the soup 15 minutes before the soup is taken from the fire. Speaking of brains, you can also make "head cheese." This basically means thoroughly cleaning a hog's or pig's head, splitting it in two, and taking out the eyes, brains and ears. There is a process of chopping, boiling and using cheesecloth to end up with this chilled treat. The book has old stand-bys of many vegetable dishes, sauces, cakes, puddings, mince-meat pie with real meat, fritters, and preserves of various assortments. Of course, there is ice cream from scratch and treats like lemon ice and molasses candy. The latter is as easy as boiling for ten minutes molasses, sugar, vinegar, butter, vanilla and then cooling it enough to pull. Beverages like green tea and chocolate were made in a step-by-step process.
Recipes have changed considerably over the years — 1928 Good Housekeeping photo.
Whether the food is odd by today's standards or something of which we are familiar, it is very evident that a woman had to stay home due to all the time that was needed in the kitchen preparing everything. Much of the animal was used to make a variety of dishes and apparently few were squeamish about it. Women knew how to select meat and determine if it was edible. For example, lamb can be examined by the neck. The book notes that the veins should be bluish when the meat is fresh. If it has been killed for too long, the veins are green and it is stale. The work of preserving foods without refrigeration also certainly took time with descriptions of using wooden kegs and layering of the food with salt. Other food was put in root cellars and some was hung to dry.
One of the best parts of the book is what the author calls "rules for eating." Rule number one is to never sit down to the table with an anxious or disturbed mind. Eating under such circumstances prolongs and aggravates the condition of things. Rule number two is to never sit down after intense mental effort, for physical or mental injury are inevitable. Number three speaks of bodily exhaustion, or otherwise known as being worn out, tired to death, used up, and over done. It is recommended that the wisest thing to do is take a cracker and a cup of warm tea, either black or green. In ten minutes there should be a feeling of refreshment and liveliness that is pleasantly surprising. It would seem that considering the amount of work that was done, women would have needed to observe rule number three quite often!
As far as the family's dinner behavior, what was good then is good now. The author says that every family member should assemble around the table with kindly feelings, cheerful humor, and courteous spirit. Anything less and the family member should be sent from the table in disgrace for spoiling the family reunion with a sullen silence, impatient look, angry tone, or complaining tongue. Eat in thankful gladness, or away with you to the kitchen, you "ill-tempered thing that you are."
The "Every-Day Cook-Book" is too fascinating a look into history to end here. Next week, we'll see what is recommended for "cosmetiques," household chores, and first-aid. What would "Mary" have to say from 1893?
Make it a good week and eat healthy, Mary and Rosamond
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