Toilet Talk and the Sick Room

“…A home is a thing of many details, in themselves trivial, in the mass, of first importance.  The housekeeper or the maid (so far as the house is concerned) must live detail, think detail and breathe detail; for comfort comes as a result of attention to detail, detail and then more detail.”

The Toronto Cook Book

By  Mrs Edwin James Powell, pub. 1915

Mrs Powell was writing a serious, and efficient book that contained both recipes and tips, for the woman who was running the house hopefully, much like a man who “requires efficiency in his office.”  And that the “executive office of the house lies with the mistress.”‘  Mrs Powell’s tone was not new to those who could afford to buy cookbooks during this period.  Cooking was not about pleasure and ct=raft but was serious business.  During the late 19th and into the 20th century, the principles of running a house became more ordered and scientific, as was most of the industrialized world with the invention of the time clock and the assembly line.  It was the “American housewife alone who could guide the nation’s home out of their dirty chaos and into the scientific era”  (Perfection Salad, Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. Laura Shapiro, Pub. 1986, Henry Holt and Company.)  Women of a certain educated class were trying to create some sort of domestic haven where the weary family could find warmth, harmony and peace.  And no detail was too small to merit attention.  So cookbooks not only offered recipes, but also cooking tips, child-rearing suggestions, entertaining tips, and recipes for “toilet talk and the sick room,”  The Toronto Cook Book.

I’m offering a few of my favorites; some are funny, quaint, absolutely astonishing in scope, completely ridiculous and thought provoking as in “did women really have to do all of this?”  But it was a different time and most women did not do paid work out of the home as we know, but who would pity whom, if those women could see us know?


For Billiousness

The Juice of one California lemon in water; before breakfast and at bedtime, is a good remedy for bilious troubles.  keep it up for several days.

For Neuralgia Neuralgia and headache may be relieved by rubbing the affected parts by California lemon juice.

To Sweeten the Stomach Squeeze a little Californian lemon juice into a glass of water and drink it before breakfast every morning.

To Prevent Wrinkles Place in a half-pint jar the juice of one large cucumber, which usually yields from two to three tablespoons; half fill with elderflower water, add two tablespoons eau de Cologne; shake well and add slowly one-half ounce of tincture of benzoin(???); shake every little while for two or three hours, then fill the bottle up with elderflower water, and then the lotion is ready for use and will keep for a year.  this lotion will prevent wrinkles and will contract large pores.

From the New Galt Cook Book  revised in 1898, under “Simple Cures” can be found the following helpful hints;

For Cholera and Diarrhoea Equal parts of tincture of rhubard, cayenne, opium (Where did they buy this?), ginger, spirits of camphor and essence of peppermint.  Dose, half a teaspoonful every three hours.

Cure for Sciatica  Two ounces of tartaric acid, four ounces Epsom salts, two ounces citrate of magnesia, two ounce of baking soda,two ounces of cream of tartar, six ounces of icing sugar.  One teaspoonful to a glass of water.

Domestic Hints

A damp cloth dipped in salt with remove egg stains from silver, or tea stains from china dishes.

Tainted meat should be washed with in a little vinegar before cooking.

A recipe for hard soap

Six pounds of lime, twelve pounds washing soda, twelve pounds of grease, one pound of borax, eight gallons of soft water.  Put the lime, water and soda together, boil one hour, let stand over night in a cool place, pour of the lye, add the grease and borax, boil for two hours stirring constantly.  When there are no curdles you will know soap is done.  Pout it into a tub and cut it into pieces when it is cold.  Tip: use only clarified fat (which happens to be the recipe above)

Under Kitchen Hints

A couple of sheets of big newspaper wrapped about the ice will keep it half as long as ice that is uncovered.  The paper is much more clenly than a piece of blanket, as it can be removed daily.

Preserving Eggs  To one pailful of spring water take a pint of common salt and add a pound of slacked lime, and let it stand three days, stirring frequently.  Then pour it off and put in the eggs.

I’m exhausted just thinking about these things, time for a glass of wine while I hit the “start” button on the dishwasher, and  reheat the Thai leftovers in the microwave. I don’t think that Mrs Powell would approve.







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