Book Review: Old-Time Country Wisdom and Lore for Hearth and Home
Old-Time Country Wisdom and Lore for Hearth and Home: 1,000s of Traditional Skills for Simple Living by Jerry Mack Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The promotional blurb for this book invites you to “Achieve your goal of a self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle, no matter where you live, with instruction on a range of basic home skills inspired by old time country living.”
Sounds downright cozy, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to enhance their lives with some practical budget-friendly skills?
The blurb waxes poetic some more, then wraps itself up with the assurance that “Basic, thorough, and reliable, this book deserves a place in urban and rural homes alike.”
Luckily, the publisher decided to have a word, too. The front matter of the book states in no uncertain terms that “Any recipes or “health cures” are intended as a historical reference only. They are NOT recommended by the editors or publisher of this book. They have been compiled as a historical narrative for historical purposes only. The publisher assumes no responsibility whatsoever for any injury or damage resulting from reader’s use of any of the material or information contained in this book.”
Who to believe? Well, I’ll give you a few examples of the book’s advice, and then give you my advice on how to use this book. Don’t worry, I will be kind.
“When labor is prolonged in childbirth, blow snuff, held on a goose feather, up the mother’s nose. This will induce a sneezing fit, resulting in delivery.” Go ask a mom right now if she would have appreciated that helpful gesture. I’ll wait.
Some advice might be fairly harmless, or provide a little relief, such as “Eating a hot roasted onion before retiring can be helpful in curing a cold.” I find a bowl of French Onion soup to be just as helpful. Onions get the sinuses open, can make you tear up, and basically get that snot packing its bags. So, yes. Harmless and probably will work.
Fortified by that thought, I read a cure for earaches. “Place a brass button in the mouth of one suffering from an earache. Surprise him by discharging a gun at his back. This will cure the pain.” Sounds more like a cause of earaches to me, or perhaps a fine way to bring on a heart attack. Doesn’t this make you wonder who the first person to try it was? And what they were thinking?
“To treat snakebite, cut open a freshly killed chicken and place it on the wound.” I’m fascinated by what’s left unsaid. Where do you cut into the chicken? Do you drain the blood, or just let everything gush freely over the snake bite? How long do you leave the chicken on the bite? Do you strap the chicken to the wound, or just ask the patient to balance it? In a pinch, would a duck work?
After the many pages of ‘cures’ mercifully ends, there’s advice on miscellaneous topics such as choosing the right astrological sign under which to have your surgery. There’s lots of recipes for household cleaners and pest control, some of which are clever and others are downright hazardous. Some of the recipes for cleaning soaps contain quicklime, which can be harmful if not handled properly. No caution or handling advice is given. Some of the recipes for insect repellants make me wonder how many small children and pets were eliminated along with the roaches and ants.
But, rather than nitpick the entire book to pieces, let me praise it a little. From a historical point of view, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of our ancestors. It gives insight into why lifespans were shorter, how everyday meals were prepared, and what sort of work kept the housewife toiling every waking moment. You’ll learn how homes were cleaned and maintained. What was involved in painting a house, or wallpapering it? How was clothing dyed, how was leather tanned?
Some activities are harmless and could be tried, if you’re feeling crafty. Make a quill pen and also the ink to dip it in. Dry and carve a corncob pipe, and if your land is cooperative, make some adobe bricks or clay for pottery.
In part two, “The Country Table” we learn all the little tricks that went into putting food on the table. Most of it is harmless and some of it is innocently silly, but our family trees might have had more branches on them if the advice for “Restoring Tainted Meats” never existed.
Summing up: This book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn about our past. It would be an excellent reference guide for writers of historical fiction. Authors of murder mysteries will find dozens of interesting ways to kill off their characters.
Lastly… I will admit that now I kinda want to build an oatmeal box radio.
My thanks to author Jerry Mack Johnson, Quarto Publishing Group – Cool Springs Press, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.