Mrs. Owen’s Cook Book and Useful Household Hints
Original publication 1884
Amazingly, I sniffed it out…tucked in a little used drawer. But what a treasure it has turned out to be—not for the purpose of finding a sleep aid, but the contents of this book are incredible. Especially the section in the back one third of the book that offers everyday advice to young wives of the time, beginning with a letter of advice entitled, “From an Old Citizen to a Young Wife”.
The letter took up four single spaced pages, and when I got to the end, it was signed by—you guessed it. A man. Near the end he says: “You see, I mix medicine with meals; it cuts down on the doctor’s bills” and then, “Think how much longer your husband will live on first class food!”
I skimmed some of the other sections, but they were chock full of interesting items from Invalid Cookery and Dyes. In between is everything from lamp care, bed care, laundry, nursery, and remedies. (But no sleep remedies.) The book went on to talk about health care for the livestock, how to get rid of pests, and there was even a section with mathematical tables for the farmer who wished to build “roads, levees or turnpikes.”
So far, I've just scratched the surface of what this book has to offer in the way of historical research. It just doesn't get any better than holding a primary document with a broken spine and fluttering un-stitched pages in the palm of your hand.
For instance, a raw apple would take 1 hour 30 minutes to digest. Fried heart would take 4 hours and cooked spinach 2 hours and 30 minutes. At the end of the charts for the individual foods was a section marked INDIGESTIBLE FOODS. (Foods taking more than 4 to 5 ½ hours to digest.) (And eat these sparingly!)
Here are just a few of the items on that list: hard-boiled egg, melted butter, nuts, cheese, and new potatoes...
This is what threw me. I wouldn't have a clue about which foods I eat today are hard or easy to digest, so it made me wonder what science was applied to this process in the early 1880’s. How did they figure it out? Today we could probably use, ultra sound, MRI, chemical analysis… you name it. But back then? I’m not sure my mind even wants to go there.
The following section put my mind at ease. It was entitled, SEASONS FOR EATING DIFFERENT FOODS: (In the Northern and Middle States) This section reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” on eating locally and seasonally. Although for the life of me, I don’t know where I’d find EELS from April to November!
All in all this was a great reference, and even though I didn't find the remedy I wanted, I found much more…a snapshot into life of the 1880’s. You may hear from me again on this book and topic. The section on how to destroy an ant colony, how to keep the cream from frothing, or the reading of all the hand written notes in the book by some unknown women with a beautiful script and the initials C M S are calling to me.