My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, left the amenities of civilized society in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1902. She, along with her husband and two little children, traveled 800 miles by steamer, narrow-gauge railroad and carriage to set up housekeeping in Oysterville. Surely this remote coastal village must have seemed like the end of the world to young Helen - or at best, the "jumping-off place."
She had been brought up in a genteel household by a mother who believed that what you did not know how to do, you would never have to do. When she was married at age 19 in 1897, Helen knew how to arrange flowers and plan menus and make fancy desserts - and little else. Yet, she was to spend the next 57 years as a farmer's wife and mother of seven in an area that was 30 years behind the rest of the 20th century.
Along with her skills in flower arranging, Helen brought with her as many of the comforts and luxuries as steamer trunks and portmanteaus could conveniently hold. Tucked in her black silk reticule, along with her lavender-scented, lace-trimmed handkerchief, she carried what was to be the most important single help during those first few years in Oysterville - her little black book.
This four-by-seven-inch volume with its faint blue ruled pages and red vertical lines was originally intended as an account book. Written inside the front cover in my grandmother's incredibly fine and spidery hand is the title, "Domestic Receipts."
The book contains recipes and remedies, cure-alls and formulas covering every conceivable household situation. Most are in Helen's own writing. Some were clipped from newspapers or magazines and pasted, scrapbook fashion, wherever space permitted.
Throughout my childhood, Granny's little black book was kept on a shelf in the pie safe in her old-fashioned kitchen, seldom used by then, but handy as a reference if needed. Today it reposes in a place of honor in my own Oysterville kitchen. Occasionally I turn to it for one of its 20 pudding recipes or seven gingerbread recipes and smile as I think of my grandmother's penchant for desserts. It contains what is still the best chowder recipe of all time, and the household hints and cure-alls, if not so useful nowadays, are a constant source of rainy day entertainment.
Here are a few of my favorites:
"Boil three or four onions in a pint of water and with a soft brush do the gilt frames of pictures and glasses to prevent flies from soiling them."
"Wash ostrich feathers in soapsuds, rinse and dry by gentle heat. Then curl each fibre separately with the back of a pen knife blade."
"To make castor oil palatable, scald in an equal quantity of sweet milk and sweeten with white sugar."
"Iron cement - wood ashes and salt made into a paste with a little water. With this mixture, a crack in a stove may be closed in a moment whether the stove is hot or cold."
"5 cts. worth of tartar emetic, a teacupful of water and a little sugar mixed in a soap plate and set in a place that ants infect will disperse them."
"My Mince Meat - Good"
"Apples 7 lbs., Meat 3 1/2 lbs., Currants 2 lbs., Sugar 3 lbs., Suet 3 lbs., Syrup 1 pint, Brandy 1 qt., Wine 1 qt., Boiled cider 1 qt., Citron 1/2 lbs, Candied Orange & Lemon peel each, 1/2 lb., 6 nutmegs, 4 tablespoonfuls allspice, 4 do Cinnamon, 3 do cloves, 2 do mace
"Put about 6 tablespoonfuls of Brandy to each pie when filling for baking."
"Clean tinware with ammonia Soda on a damp cloth."
"How to Clean Marble"
"To clean marble, brush off the dust with a piece of chamois; then apply with a brush a good coat of gum Arabic of about the consistency of thick mucilage; expose it to the sun or wind to dry. In a short time it will peel off. If all the gum should not peel off, wash it with clean water and a cloth. If the first application does not have the desired affect, it should be tried again."
"Cure for Rheumatism"
One ounce Quassia Bark
One oz. Prickly Ash Bark
One oz. Wild cherry bark
One oz. Dandelion Root
One oz. Colombo Root
Mix - add 2 quarts of water, steep 4 hours, then simmer till reduced one-half.
Take a wine glass full three times a day before meals.
"External remedy for Rheumatism"
One pint good alcohol
One oz. of cayenne pepper
Mix and rub the parts affected.
"For a sore throat there is nothing better than the white of an egg beaten stiff, with all the sugar it will hold and the clear juice of a lemon."
Editor's Note: Sydney Stevens is the great-granddaughter of R.H. Espy who, with his partner I.A. Clark, founded Oysterville in 1854. Members of the Espy family have lived continuously in Oysterville since that time and, through the years have amassed an interesting collection of anecdotes and memories. We offer them here as a salute to Oysterville's sesquicentennial year.