Cooking up cures at home

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At last count we have something like 50 or 60 cookbooks around the house. With that said, the recipes my wife uses the most are the ones stuffed in a wicker basket sitting on the kitchen counter. I’ve been warned against touching these. The only one I’ve ever used from it is an old cardboard cutout shaped like a dog bone from Chef Fido. It gives instructions for making dog biscuits. There’s “Lassie’s Cheese Nuggets,” “Fido’s Favorites,” and “Rover’s Rewards,” which are the ones I make for Bo, my dog. The recipes came with a small plastic cookie cutter shaped like a dog bone.

The dog biscuit recipe is always at the bottom of the basket buried under dozens of pamphlets and booklets. One that caught my eye is a small spiral bound cookbook made by Westport Fire Department’s Lady Auxiliary. There’s a black hand-drawn picture of an old-fashioned cookstove on its cover. Printed in 1989 it contains recipes contributed by island residents for appetizers, snacks, soups, seafood dishes, casseroles, breads, cakes, pies and desserts.

Some of its contributors include Pam Frenier, Karen and Bill Mitman, onetime owners of the Squire Tarbox Inn, Bill has since passed away, and another from Ann Cavanaugh. Anne along with her husband Neil owned Westport General Store in those days. There are also directions for making “Dick’s Potato Soup with Homemade Noodles” which was submitted by the late Dick Malone. He served for many years as chairman of the town’s select board. Gail Swanton, author of her own cookbook titled, “Maine Tight Spot Gourmet” submitted several tasty recipes including one for making deep fried “Fish Nuggets.”Anne Fairfield compiled the book that was edited by islander Brenda Bonyun. Marjorie, my wife, helped with the book’s production, doing some of the typesetting. When we were first married we lived on Westport for about a year on the East Shore Road.

In the back of the cookbook are helpful tips for removing stains from clothing, and also carpeting, everything from spilled wine to chewing gum, pet stains and ink. Here’s a hint for removing water stains left on a wooden table. Try rubbing it out using gel toothpaste and then buffing the surface with petroleum jelly.

A hundred years ago a good cookbook in the house was indispensable. It offered more than just simple instructions for making meals to feed the family. The better ones included instructions for making “proven” home remedies and other household necessities. Mother could whip up things like cough drops, muscle rubs, hair tonic, shoe polish, laundry soap and more. I recently came across one from the 1890s with directions for making something called “Electric Cream.”  When mixed properly, this concoction could be used to treat bruises, coughs, pneumonia, and “frosted feet.” Like most home remedies, the ingredients needed for making Electric Cream could be found around the house or easily obtained. They included an egg, two tablespoonfuls of “good” cider vinegar, three tablespoonfuls of turpentine, a half-tablespoonful of alcohol, one teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of camphor. Mixed together in their proper order, they were then whipped to form a heavy cream. The mixture was then spread between two pieces of woolen flannel and used as a compress.

Old cookbooks included treatments for poison ivy, headaches, ear aches, toothaches, insomnia and bad breath. As you might expect, a good many of these home remedies were also passed along from one generation to the next. Great grandmother Magonigal, the doctor of our family when I was a lad, could always be counted on to concoct one home remedy or another. She had remedies to deal with a cold, cough, or a case of the mumps. Most of her cures seemed to include using raw garlic or onions in one form or another.

Dozens of home remedies can be found, too, on the internet. Many recommend using natural ingredients, stuff like honey, lemon, garlic, cider vinegar and onions to cure one complaint or another. I recall a few years back trying a so-called “five-star” cough remedy. The ingredients were ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, cider vinegar and olive oil. One sniff of the jar’s contents prompted Mrs. Di Vece to comment it would be better to use as salad dressing. It didn’t taste bad and it worked too; I stopped coughing for almost 10 minutes.

Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to the Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at pdivece@roadrunner.com



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