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Clever ‘cures’ needed

December 26, 2010
By DON WILLIAMS, For The Leader-Herald

When I heard of the nationwide outbreak of bedbugs, it triggered my Adirondack bedbug memories. The lumbercamps were filled with bedbugs. Once, when we moved into a different house where the previous tenants had left their bedbugs behind, my mother showed me how they snuggled along the seams of our mattresses. I picked them off and threw them into a can of kerosene. My clever mother then set the four legs of our beds in tin cans filled with the kerosene. I guess that kept them from returning back to the mattresses.

On another occasion, I spent the night at the farm home of a friend and returned home with red spots on my arms. My mother took me to Dr. Grant thinking I had some strange disease. He laughed and said, "He slept with the bedbugs."

Our forefathers always had a "cure" for whatever came up. I looked up bedbugs in one of my old household books. It is filled with recipes, preserving techniques and suggestions used by the resourceful Adirondack housewives. The suggestion for taking care of bedbugs was interesting: "These offensive bugs and nits may be exterminated by the free use of alcohol." It neglected to say whether you drank the alcohol or sprinkled it on their tails.

A word should be said about kerosene, the "wonder drug" of the 1900s. It had many uses. It was used to thin the skunk oil that was put on sore muscles. Kids' heads were soaked with kerosene to kill head lice and nits. Little kerosene vaporizing lamps were used in sick rooms to kill germs and to help with breathing. Beyond "medical uses," kerosene lamps and lanterns lit the world. Our kitchen four-burner summer cooking stove was fed by an inverted glass jug of kerosene on one end. Kerosene room-heaters looked good in the parlors of yesteryears. Kerosene was used to clean tools and parts and to remove rust. My mother used kerosene to keep her glove sewing machine belt supple. Sawmills used it on belts and blades. It was used to start the fires in wood and coal stoves. And, at Scout camp, "Indian Fire Water" - kerosene - was used to start the big campfire with a flaming arrow.

Those who settled the Adirondacks became self-sufficient in many ways. In those remote settlements they often had to make their own products which could not be easily brought in from the "outside world." We buy our ginger ale, ready-made. It was often used to settle an upset stomach so they made their own. One quart of cold water, one teaspoonful of ginger, two large sprinkles of sugar, half a teacup of vinegar, and a little grated nutmeg made a good "ginger pop."

Keeping cheese out of the icebox improved the flavor but it dried out or began to mold. Adirondackers solved that problem. They soaked a linen cloth, made from the flax of their fields, in white wine. The cheese was wrapped in the wine-cloth which kept the cheese moist and preserved, and also improved the flavor.

"Use it up, make it do" drove many Adirondack practices. An abundance of milk and eggs, along with leftover homemade bread, always were available in our house and others. One of the many uses of these products was to make some "Bread Crumb Pancakes." The bread was crumbled up as fine as possible and covered with the sour milk to which a half teaspoon of soda had been added. It was soaked overnight and the next day it was beaten smooth. For every two cups of beaten crumbs a beaten egg was added along with a cup of flour, some salt, and little more milk if needed to make a thin batter. Get out your old iron pancake griddle and have yourself some Adirondack Bread Crumb Pancakes.



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