My mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, loved to tell a story about her Grandmother Hattie Stout’s home remedies for her grandchildren. When she was feeling under the weather, Grandma Stout gave her grand daughter a glass of warm liquid that made her tummy feel warm and her body relaxed.
Little Harriette told her brother Bill about the delicious medicine Grandma gave her, and Bill went into action with moans and groans telling Grandma how sick he was. She dosed him and he gagged and went back to his sister and said “I’ve never had such awful stuff in my life.”
Harriette asked Grandma why Bill didn’t like the medicine, and Grandma said, “Well I gave you some brandy, but that might lead a little boy astray, so I gave him castor oil.”
Not everything made in the kitchen of our ancestors in aprons was destined for the dinner table. It took me a while before I saw the connection, but:
- Grandpa (“Doc” WIlliam ) Stout believed in home remedies. He said his guide in prescribing for patients was to ask himself, “What would the old women do?”
- The book that traces the history of food in America, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove says,
- “During the seventeenth century, food and medicine did not reside in the separate spheres they do today. Before the rise of professional medical schools (exclusively for men) during the nineteenth century, the job of healing or ‘physic’ naturally belonged to women. Most doctoring came from the kitchen and its gardens, and you were as likely to eat or drink something for your ailment as to take a specialized medicine.”
- Emeline Cochran Stout (Mother of two physicians) was praised in her obituary: “Her large sympathy led her far and wide among the afflicted of her neighbors. Many a home was cheered by her gentle presence and kindly help.”
- Isabell McCabe Anderson’s obituary is even more specific: “In those early days, physicians were few and far apart and no night was too dark or stormy for Mrs. Anderson to respond to the call of a sick neighbor.”
- Medical care during the Civil War included special diets, which today we might find very strange, (gingerbread being a favorite of the home remedies) but at least they were trying to connect the ideas of nutrition and health.
- The Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book contains a whole chapter on Invalid Cookery. (As in cooking for a sick person, not cooking that is not valid!) Suggestions had not changed a lot since Civil War Days.
The introduction to the chapter in the Buffalo Cook Book is detailed.
The recipes for home remedies from the kitchen include barley water which is also recommended in the Civil War diets.
2 Tablespoons pearl braley, 1 quart cold water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, juice of 1/2 lemon and a little sugar if desired. Wash and soak the barley, add salt and cook at least three hours. Strain, flavor with lemon and add sugar if desired.
Some sound quite tasty like:
- 5 eggs
- 1 Cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Make a custard of the egg yolks, sugar, salt and milk. Add vanilla, whites of eggs beaten until stiff, and cream which has been whipped. Freeze and mold in brick form.
But some I think I’ll pass on, like this treat fit for the vampire in you.
1/2 lb. top round of beef, pinch of salt
Broil the meat for about two minutes “to start” the juices, then press all the liquid from it with a meat press or an old fashioned wooden lemon squeezer. Serve in a warm cup, add salt to taste, and serve. This will not keep it must be prepared fresh for each serving.
Along with the expected oatmeal gruel and tapioca, the book recommends Irish moss, which stumped me, until I did a bit of research. Turns out “Irish Moss” is a seaweed that contains carageenan, and although it has been touted by raw food advocates for some time, recently Dr. Andrew Weil has pointed out that it is actually harmful. So lets hope the ladies reading the Boston Cook Book did not make more people sick than they healed.
Since Mary Stout had lung trouble, she would not doubt have benefitted by hot lemonade with honey, which is not recommended in this cook book, but is a cure I have used for years. The latest recipe making the rounds on the Internet tastes delicious, and makes your throat feel better and clear phlegm at least for a little while. Plus, all those vitamins can’t hurt.
Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
- 2-3 lemons sliced thin.
- Piece of ginger root the size of two fingers–sliced in thin rounds.
Layer lemon slices and ginger root in a pint jar and fill the jar with honey, poking a knife down the sides to make sure the honey fills the spaces. (Remove the seeds of the lemon first, if you’re feeling ambitious). Let sit in refrigerator for several days. To use, scoop two spoonfuls into a cup of hot water or tea (I scoop some lemon and ginger along with the honey–personal choice). Drink frequently throughout the day. It will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of months–but probably won’t last that long. It’s doggone good. Definitely better than castor oil.
A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone (2003)
Obituaries of Isabell McCabe Anderson (d. 1912) and Emeline Cochran Stout (d. 1905), newspaper unknown. Photo copies in the author’s possession.
The English Housewife by Gervaise Markham (1615), quoted in A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove
Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (1925)
Reminiscences of Harriette Anderson Kaser, recorded by the author in the 1990s.