KEROSENE – FUEL AND FOLK MEDICINE (January 8/08)

With a hint that they couldn’t be “responsible for recipes” calling for flour unless their products were used, the Ogilvie Flour Mills Co. of Montreal released the first of a series of cook books in 1907. A century later, some of those first editions can still be found in Nova Scotia kitchens. We have one in our kitchen, a still handy book used by at least three generations of homemakers.

Oddly, in a book stuffed with recipes, Ogilvie claimed they weren’t offering a “general cook book,” but simply a “help to the average housekeeper.” However, while they called the publication a “book for a cook,” it did stray from being just that. Various household hints are offered, some sensible, some bizarre, the latter hinting at how much different household life was 100 years ago.

Rats must have been common around the home in 1907, for example. Else why, in the section on household hints, would Ogilvie suggest a way to great way to get rid of rats – “besides using traps, cats or dogs” – was to spread chloride of lime, which was probably common in 1907 households where it was used as a bleaching agent and disinfectant. “It is said they (rats) never come where that is placed.”

I was surprised that besides heating and lighting, kerosene oil was used as a cleanser in households a century ago. Ogilvie’s book advises housewives that a spoonful of kerosene oil, added to a kettle of hot water, will make “windows, looking glasses and picture glasses bright and clear.”

Ogilvie claimed that kerosene would accomplish other little miracles around the house as well. For example: “When your kitchen sink is rusty, rub it over with kerosene.” “Kerosene will clean your hands better than anything else.” “Squeaky shoes are cured by dipping the soles in kerosene.” “The white spots appearing in the spring on the lining of your refrigerator will disappear if you rub the zinc with kerosene.”

Maybe kerosene was as useful around the house as Ogilvie indicates. Folk medicine has it that kerosene mixed with molasses was once used to treat coughs in Newfoundland. Other folk medicine says kerosene was an excellent bedbug wash and a rub for rheumatism. In a century old outdoors book, there’s a recipe that says one can make cough drops by boiling a mixture of molasses, kerosene oil and ginger , letting it cool until it solidifies and cutting it into candies.

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