Once again I found myself wandering through our town antiques emporium, and since I can't control myself, I emerged with a few interesting old cookbooks. More like pamphlets, actually—all were promotional giveaways, for spices, the glories of cooking with gas, or Lydia Pinkham.
Lydia Pinkham is by now forgotten, save for a few sniggers here and there. Why? Because she made a very popular medicinal tonic for "female problems." (It's all right, guy readers—I won't go into details.) She was born in 1819 to the Quaker Estes family in Lynn, Massachusetts and was a strong supporter of the Anti-Slavery movement there. She married local shoe manufacturer Isaac Pinkham in 1843.
Unfortunately Isaac was not the best of businessmen, and he went bust in the Panic of 1873. That's when Lydia stepped in, with the help of her offspring, with the production and marketing of her Vegetable Compound, which became one of the best known patent medicines of the 19th century. In her advertising copy, women were urged to write directly to her, and they received answers (from staff members)—including long after her death.
The original formula contained pleurisy root, life root, fenugreek, unicorn root, and black cohosh (no, I don't recognize all those lovely roots). Later motherwort, Jamaican dogwood, licorice, gentian and dandelion were added.
And the original formula contained 18% alcohol. No wonder so many women felt better after taking it!
The pamphlet I acquired is titled Practical Cooking Recipes (no date, but ca. 1920-25), and the pages contain more or less equal parts recipes and heartfelt endorsements from satisfied customers. It makes most entertaining reading.
Lydia Pinkham's Applesauce Cake
The original version is a little strange. If you're wondering, "saleratus" is baking soda. I did a bit of tinkering to make the recipe work today.
1 cup sugar
½ cup shortening
½ tsp each: salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups flour
1 cup raisins
The result is a dense, moist cake which surprised me with its flavor. And note that there are no eggs or butter in it, so it's good for you!