My partner and I celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary this weekend. We had grand plans to be in a canoe in Algonquin Park, but are both suffering from colds. We decided that sniffling and hacking our way through a cool and rainy weekend in a tent didn’t sound very romantic, so we opted to go with a cushier plan B. In addition to two nights in a lovely Haliburton inn, we spent an afternoon meandering and shopping around our favourite haunts in Bracebridge and Huntsville. Key amongst these – second-hand book shops. We’re both book junkies. He loves history, I usually prefer literature and fiction.
On this trip, we discovered a true gem of a bookstore – a second-hand shop specializing in antique books. At first I thought I would just be window shopping, until I got to the “domestic arts” section. Now I’m a far cry from domestic, but you can’t embrace a year of green life changes without dabbling in cooking, crafting, and natural health remedies. So when I found this book (see picture), I couldn’t help but buy it. In case you can’t read the small print, it’s a “a practical family physician, home remedies and home treatment on all diseases: an instructor on Nursing, Housekeeping and Home Adornments”. And it’s from 1894.
I bought it in the hopes that I would learn some good old-fashioned home remedies, like those that my grandmother and great-grandmother would have used. Ways to get tomato sauce out of a white shirt without bleach, cures for runny noses and coughs, etc.. etc… It has all of this and more. It’s also equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Example: the lengthy section of the role of woman as the “angel” and “queen” of the home, and the chapter dedicated to “figure, form and dress”, including “how ladies should dress”. In case you’re curious, “great latitude is allowed, but the aim of the gentle sex should be simplicity and taste”. So… no leopard print? Got it.
As for the terrifying part… there are endless ingredients in this book that I don’t recognize, but that sound more like motor oil additives than medicines. Their suggestion for cutting a hole in a piece of glass (not sure why you’d need to do that?), is to “pour into it a little melted lead”. Eek.
Long story short (and it is long – 522 pages to be exact), it’s going to take a lot of additional research and reading before most of this book can be of any use. But I’ve already gleaned some useful tips, such as how to make a basic flax-seed poultice, that I will be sure to try. The green pledge in all of this? I’m going to try to cure/clean/bake/fix it the way my great-grandma would have. At least as it doesn’t involve ingesting “subnitrate of bismuth”. Gulp.