But in the 1920s and 30s, food also played a large part in the art of healing. And Mama had a remedy for everything . . .
One day one of Willie’s sisters came back from a friend’s house with a rash. Soon the whole family was infected with “the itch”. Mama had heard about a miracle potion using sulfur and lard to kill the little mites. So every night they removed their long underwear and rubbed on the grease. When most of the kids in school were squirming and scratching, they brought the county nurse in. Apparently all of the kids at school seemed to be infected with “the itch” – except for Nora Nixon’s kids.
Mama also had a cure for a cold; juice from the wild plums she had canned and a teaspoon of baking soda. Willie said that, “when the soda hit the juice, it burst into a mountain of bubbles and ran like a waterfall over the side of the glass. One was expected to drink that concoction and drink it quickly. The stomach felt as though it would erupt.” A mustard plaster worked well to break up a chest cold. It also was good for back pains. But then again, it was difficult to remember there had been a back pain when your skin felt like it was on fire.
Any ailment that Mama couldn’t put her finger on got the time tested Castor Oil, but with a twist – hot black coffee! Willie said it was a “loathsome blend.” I’ll bet it was!
Although it didn’t take care of the itch left behind, chiggers were killed by dabbing bacon grease on the bite. And what did you do when a bare foot met with a rusty nail? Ah, soak it in a pan of kerosene and all was well.
How about cuts that didn’t require stitches? Turpentine and sugar! And if one of them had the grippe (the “flu”)? A stinky herb called Asafetida was used. Percy or paregoric was used for colic. (Percy was made with bismuth subsalicylate and Paregoric was a camphorated tincture of opium and anise) Lydia Pinkham compound was used for female disorders.
Natural Soap and Household Cleaners
Mama’s big black iron pot in the back yard was used on hog butchering day to render all the hog fat into lard or soap. Store bought soap was only used for washing hands, face, weekly baths and shampoo (excellent when used with rain water). Unlike the neighbors’ soap which was dark and heavy, Mama’s homemade soap was a beautiful light golden color. Mama’s soap was used for laundry and dishes. Lye was used for the really tough jobs like scrubbing the wooden floor.
Another “Cure” – Home Cured Ham
In Willie’s own words, “The inside of the smoke house was a feast for the eyes. The place was full of home grown pork. The hams were sugar cured to perfection with Papa’s own recipe. Papa ground meat for sausage with just the right proportion of lean and fat. The sausage was stuffed in long white bags Mama made. Its flavor was another of Papa’s concoctions, plenty of sage and pepper. The sides of bacon were a sight to behold. We truly ate high off the hog all winter. Papa cut slabs of ham fit for a king. While the ham cooked in a big fry pan, the red-brown goodness seeped out. It made gravy beyond description. All this was complemented with Mama’s high, light biscuits, homemade jam and sometimes a rare delicious egg-butter. It was golden yellow, smooth, sweet and creamy.” I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering!
Next time I’ll share memories of fun on the farm with Willie and her siblings. And of course more delicious food.