The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
www.GustavusHistory.org - by Lee & Linda Parker
GHAA would like to share some of the tidbits and gems found in May White’s 1899 White House Cookbook featured in last months Fairweather Reporter. One should keep in mind that the book (in addition to menus and meals) would have served as a trusted, contemporaneous reference guide for the many problems facing our early homesteaders. In a remote location such as Strawberry Point, the trials and errors of home remedies were not an option but a necessity of life.
Hundreds of everyday “hints” offer practical helps. For example, to keep meat from flies, put the meat in muslin sacks with enough straw between the sack and the meat so that the flies can not reach through the bag to deposit their eggs.
Food tinting (coloring) was not something one pulled off the shelf on the baking isle of a local grocery store. It was something you made. Juice from the strawberry or cranberry made red food coloring for frosting, sweet puddings and confectionery. Saffron was used for yellow, and fresh-pounded spinach or beet leaves for green. The juice plus 2 cents worth of bruised cochineal and half a teacup full of alcohol filtered through fine muslin and stored in tight phials in dark root cellars did the trick.
Some very old lunch box treats are still around. Strawberry or apple fruit leather (like the Fruit Leather found at ToshCo) was made by stewing mashed fruit and sugar, then spread thinly on a greased board in the sun until it dried. Rolled and wrapped in cloth it “held season to season to the delight of school children everywhere”.
Out of cream for your morning coffee? Beat the white of an egg with a small lump of butter and pour into hot coffee very gradually, stirring carefully so that it does not cook or curdle. This little substitute cannot be distinguished from the freshest of cream.
For a good hops beer (and our homesteaders grew healthy hops!) all that is needed is 6 ounces of hops in 5 quarts of boiled water for 3 hours, a little gingerroot, and 4 pounds sugar. Add a little yeast and 24 hours of fermentation and Strawberry Point was on the bottle. The spruce beer recipe was just as easy—and had a pencil mark beside it. Spruce tip gathering anyone? Apparently there is nothing new under the sun!
But May White was most well known for her home remedies that could fix whatever ailed you. Young Lee Parker’s fishbone in his throat was greased out by the application of jello with May’s steady hand. Many a Strawberry Point child was plopped in her kitchen sink while she went to work with a sure fire application of something or other—quite possibly off the pages of this very book. One of her patients, nephew Lorne Parker (bloody nose and broken arm), would grow up to become a medical doctor. He often remarked that as unconventional as May’s “treatments” might have been, no one seemed the worse for wear (though his own arm healed crooked), and many were helped along the way.
· Flatulent infants? Try a tincture of powders, seeds, peppermints, a lump of sugar and magnesia.
· Finicky digestion? Pour boiling water over 2 slices of thin toast with a pinch of salt. Drain water, add butter and serve while still hot and soggy.
· Growing pains of youth? Wrap limbs in a towel wrung in salt water and tie with flannel.
· A toothache? A bit of cotton saturated with ammonia.
· Bleeding wound? Use unglazed brown wrapping paper attainable from the butcher.
· Lockjaw? Sugar and turpentine.
· Bloody nose? Cold cloth on forehead, fingertips dipped in cold water, and a hot water bottle applied to the feet. All at the same time.
· The cause of the common cold? Well, “people swallow more colds down their throats than they inhale or receive from contact with the air, no matter how cold or chilly it may be.” (We didn’t understand that either.)
· And this is our favorite…The flavor of cod liver oil (which cures just about everything borax doesn’t) may be changed to the delightful flavor of fresh oysters if the patient will just drink a large glass of water poured from a vessel where nails have been allowed to rust. Now, how did they stumble on that one?
And finally from GHAA…If you suffer, forget the nails and check with your healthcare provider. Please, DO NOT try any of these concoctions at home!