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Palabras Pintorescas - Household remedies of the old days

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By Editha Bartley

‘To know what you do know and not know what you do not know is true knowledge.” So said Confucius a very long time ago. This quote is on the cover of a very old and terribly worn cookbook that belonged to my grandmother, which she inherited from my mother.

This is one of the oldest cookbooks I have in my big collection of cookbooks.

The title reads, “Tested recipes compiled by Ladies of the congressional Church, Lancaster, Wis.” This is the second and revised edition and might have been published in the late 1800s.

My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Dr. Samuel E. Hassel, who bought an ad in the cookbook. Dr. Hassell is listed as a M.D. and a dentist is listed on the other half of the ad. These ads are listed under a larger ad, “George P. Goble, dealer in Furniture, Frames and Moldings. Undertaker and Embalmer. Lancaster, Wis.” A similar business combination thrived right here in Las Vegas for many years. The J. C. Johnson and Son Hardware and Furniture Store on Seventh and Douglas, and Johnson Memorial Mortuary on the corner of Eighth and Douglas.

My grandmother Brown’s father-in-law, Dr. Hassell helped him build Valmora Industrial Sanatorium, way back in 1904. Johnson’s Mortuary was on-call when a patient died at Valmora. And much of the hardware and furniture that held Valmora together came from Johnson’s big store, I have some of that old furniture in my house.

A chapter on Household Hints in this little ragged book has some interesting hints. The first hint fits yet today, “If possible, buy for cash; ready money commands best in the market. Buy soap by the box and let it dry before using. Eggs will beat up lighter if kept on the ice or put into cold water for half an hour.” Refrigerators weren’t around back then, kids.

“To polish flat irons tie a piece of beeswax in a cloth, if this is not sufficient to smooth them, polish with emery flour wet with kerosene.” Did my grandfather’s starched shirts smell of kerosene?

“Wash windows with a few drops of kerosene in warm water (no soap). Rub dry with paper or cloth.” Paper towels were unheard of so long ago, among many other things.

“Gasoline kills moths; pour it around the edges of carpets or saturate stuffed furniture being careful not to use it in a warm room or near a burning lamp.” I would put that in the homemade fireworks at its best category for sure!

“Oxalic acid is deadly poison but it may be used with care to take out rust or ink from linens.” One could be killed just cleaning a table cloth no less.

Wouldn’t the ladies of this long ago era be flabbergasted, floored by the isles, rows and rows of cleaning products found in our stores today?

I marvel at how they managed to keep those long, flowing, heavily starched fancy dresses so clean and presentable.

And, I will share some fun to read recipes in another column.

Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.