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Bizarre Cookbooks: Housekeeping in Old Virginia

"Housekeeping in Old Virginia" (edited by Marion Cabell Tyree and originally published in 1879 by John P. Morton and Company), was heralded by the wife of a Kentucky governor as a "valuable addition to the domestic literature of our country." After reviewing it for several hours today, I couldn't agree more. Even today, this book is a remarkable time capsule of information about the everyday lives of the housekeepers and cooks of the day.

Mark, an out-of-town guest, brought along his beautiful edition, and I've been marveling over its various strange sauces (celery sauce? bay sauce?), catsup recipes (walnut, mushroom and cucumber, in addition to the now-ubiquitous tomato catsup), preparations from slaughter to supper table for livestock animals, and the partly-practical/partly-intimidating recipes for the sorts of products one might today seek out in the local drugstore.

Below, you'll find two of the book's edible recipe selections as well as some fascinating late 19th Century suggestions for various potions, cosmetics, remedies and supplies.

Bay Sauce.
One pound salt, one-half ounce cloves, four ounces ginger, all powdered; three handfuls garlic, three handfuls horseradish, scraped fine; six pods of red pepper, cut up fine. Gather leaves of black walnut when young, cut them up fine; put a layer of leaves in the bottom of a jar, then one of ingredients (mixed together), until the jar is filled; tie it up closely and set it in the sun for two weeks; then bottle for use. It is not good for six months. Some think two or three large onions an addition.
—Mrs. H. D.

Note to anyone who might actually attempt this recipe: Mrs. E.C. G.'s version of Bay Sauce proclaims it an excellent accompanyment to fish and recommends (in addition to the salt, garlic, horseradish, etc.) a half-dozen onions, allspice (instead of cloves), black pepper (instead of red) and enough cold vinegar to cover the salt-spice mixture before the fortnight-long stint in the sun.

I suspect (based on a recipe for Walnut Catsup from the Leaves, which is virtually identical to the Bay Sauce recipes) that the lack of vinegar in Mrs. H. D.'s Bay Sauce was a clerical error rather than a recipe decision.

"Old Virginia" also features a number of recipes using now-uncommon ingredients such as rain water, martinas and cymlings (a vegetable previously unknown to me).

Cymlings appear to be a variety of squash. They're used in a few "Old Virginia" recipes, including this one, which sounded particularly simple and tasty. Mmmm. Squash and bacon.

Cymlings Fried with Bacon.
Fry some slices of fat bacon in a pan. Remove the bacon when done and keep hot. Fry in the gravy some cymlings that have been boiled tender and cut in slices. While frying, mash fine with a large spoon, and add pepper and salt. Fry brown, and serve with the bacon, if you like. —Mrs. G. B.

The book ends with a great deal of practical advice that illuminates various conveniences a modern individual tends to take for granted. Store-bought ink, for example. The house-mistress of the era was apparently a chemist, butcher and pharmacist in addition to her work as a chef and cleaning lady.

Herein, then, I relay ten amusing pieces of 19th Century advice on remedies, potions and household supplies for which you, lucky 21st Century traveler, should be happy to have no use. Don't try these at home, folks. Really. Don't do it.

For Sore Throat.
Carbolic acid crystals, pure, half a drachm; tincture kino, one drachm; chlorate potash, two drachms; simple syrup, half an ounce. Water sufficient to make an eight-ounce mixture. Gargle the throat every few hours. —Dr. T.L. W.

Chill Pills.
Sulph quinine, two drachms; arsenious acid, one grain; strychia, one grain; Prussian Blue, twenty grains; powdered capsicum, one drachm. Mix, and make sixty pills. Take one pill three times a day. —Dr. E.A. C.

To Extinguish the Flames When the Clothing has Taken Fire.
First, throw the person on the ground to prevent the upward flames from being inhaled. Then quickly roll the person in a carpet hearth-rug or blanket; if neither is at hand, use any woolen garment, such as a cloat, overcoat, or cloak. Keep the blaze as much as possible from the face, wrapping the woolen garment first around the neck and shoulders. Jumping into bed and covering up with the bedclothes is also a good plan.

To Destroy Bedbugs.
Dissolve one ounce corrosive sublimate in one pint strong spirits. Put it on the bedsheets with a feather, and it will destroy the bugs and their eggs also. —Mrs. Dr. P. C.

Red Lip Salve.
Oil of sweet almonds, two ounces; pure olive-oil, six ounces; spermaceti, one and one-half ounce; white wax, one ounce. Color with carmine and perfume with oil of roses. —Dr. E.A. C.

For Diarrhea.
Take equal parts of laudinum, tincture capsicum, tincture camphor, and aromatic syrup rhubarb. Mix. Dose from half to a teaspoonful, in water, when needed. —Dr. E.A. C.

Black Ink.
Extract logwood (pulv.), two ounces; hot rain-water, one gallon; Simmer over a water-bath one hour, till logwood is dissolved. Put into a bottle the following: bichromate potass., one hundred grains; prus of potass., forty grains; warm rain-water, four ounces. Shake til dissolved, put into the logwood solution, stir well together, strain through flannel, and, when cold, add corrosive sublimate, ten grains; warm rain-water, one ounce. Dissolve thouroughly, put with the above and add pure carbolic acid crys., one drachm. This makes the black in the world, at a cost of about ten cents per gallon. —Dr. E.A. C.

Charcoal Tooth Powder.
Powdered charcoal, six ounces; gum myrrh, one ounce; pale Peruvian bark, one ounce. Mix thouroughly. —Dr. E.A. C.

To Renew Black Crape Veils.
Wring two large towels out of water. Then put the veil (folded across the middle, lengthwise) on the lower towel; spread the other on top and roll the veil, when between, in a small tight roll. Let stand an hour, or until it is damp through. Take it out and air it a little before it dries. Fold it then in smooth squares, put it in a large book, such as an atlas, put heavy weights on it and let it; stand an hour or two. —Mrs. M.C. C.

To Take Quinine Without Tasting It.
Put a little of the mucilage from slippery elm in a teaspoon. Drop the quinine on it, and put some mucilage on top. This will make the quinine slip down the throat without tasting leaving any taste.



Blogger Floh said...

I'd love to recommend The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, by Mary Donovan, Amy Hatrak, Frances Mills and Elizabeth Shull.

a delicious taste of history!

see here:


a dear friend who resides in Connecticut sent this present to me.


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