"Why are you putting an onion in the oven? It's 10:30," my husband questioned me the other evening. "I'm fighting off a cold," I explained. "It's a cure from George Washington*, and I've got to eat it with my feet soaking in hot water, so can you help me find a bucket?" "You've been reading that book again," he said, sighed, and left before I could ask him if we had any turpentine lying around.
By "that book" he meant my Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician. Published in 1888, it has a marvelous collection of old timey diseases and cures, many of them involving mustard plasters, turpentine, or opium. Some of the therapies are innocuous, some are quite alarming. I'm fairly sure an egg white and turpentine enema will not cure appendicitis. Not to worry though, the good doctor has included an illustration showing exactly where the appendix is if you decide to take it out. And you might have to, because medical professionals were far, few, and not very good back then. For instance, Dr. Chase opens the medical section of his book with a phrenology chart.
Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book is much more than your great grandmother's WebMD, it is a book of tips and advice on every aspect of Life. In fact, the full name of the book is Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, or Practical Knowledge for the People, From the Life-Long Observations of the Author embracing the Choicest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanical, and Household Economy; including a Treatise on The Diseases of Woman and Children, in fact the Book for the Million, with Remarks and Explanations which adapt it to the Every-Day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and most Copiously Indexed.
In 1888, receipts meant a written note, or recipe, and basically what the Doctor had done was collect notes and letters from people around the country, and print a 19th Century Hints from Heloise. The cooking section has six types of plum pudding in it. The household section has recipes for dyes, and glues, and what not, and they all involve chemicals you get from your druggist, which is a funny word to say in these modern times.
There are also sections on raising cows, raising chickens, raising children, bee keeping, keeping a budget, keeping your complexion young, interest tables, planting tables, table manners…you get the idea. It was just the ticket for the aspiring homesteader. In fact, Dr. Chase's TLC was so popular among immigrants moving West, he opened his own steam-driven printing house and started publishing them in German to meet the demand.
1888 was also the year the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was printed. While that was an example of research, clarity, and order, Dr. Chase's TLC is a mess. Even with an index, I'm not sure how people found all the information buried away in it. That's why I suggest wandering through its pages. Recently I learned how to survive the malarial district of Indiana, how to sex an egg, and frogs are best consumed next to the pond they came from while listening to the mournful croaks of their kin (which is some effed up Vlad the Impaler shit, I'll tell you what).
Despite the medical section, it seems there's a lot of good advice in the book. I can't judge the tips on livestock or beekeeping, but the recipes are viable, the household hints are fun, and Dr. Chase's occasional snarky remarks add cranky grandpa sass.
Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete is in the public domain, but you can also buy a new copy on Amazon. I would recommend getting an original book if you can find one, just because it adds a little gravitas when you're making an argument for roasting an onion at 10:30 at night for health reasons.
*General Washington's Cure
The Baltimore American informs us that Gen. George Washington gave the following recipe for a cold to an old lady now living in Newport when she was a very young girl in 1781–103 years before this writing. He was lodged in her father's house, the old Vernon mansion. As she was being sent to bed early with a very bad cold he remarked to Mrs. Vernon, the mother of this lady, "My own remedy, my dear madam, is always to eat just before I step into bed a hot roasted onion if I have a cold."