Tag Archives: potatoes

Medical Folklore


Recently, while sorting writing from my past, and I found papers I wrote for a variety of collage classes in the 90s. I have no idea how these papers survived a multitude of moves during my 20s and 30s or my last several years on the road, but there they were.

Most weren’t very interesting. Most were written in that overly academic style required in the university arena. Most were deposited in the recycling bin.

One was interesting, however.  Written in 1993 for an anthropology class, it was called “Testimonies in Medical Folklore.” I didn’t really do anything to make it interesting. I just transcribed the stories told to me by my mother, my father, and my friend’s mother. Like a good anthropologist, I collected and reported. I didn’t comment upon anything I was told. I suppose the assignment didn’t require commentary.

What strikes me now is the ages of my “informants” who were my parents and my friend’s mother. They were 44-49, in the age group my friend and I belong to now. We were so young, in our early 20s, and our parents seemed ancient. Now i realize our parents weren’t as elderly as we thought they were, and my friend and I were just babies.

Today I’ll share these stories of medical folklore, as they were told to me.

I described “Informant #1” (my mother) as “a forty-four year old Caucasian woman.” (I’m not sure why I didn’t describe her as “Cajun” as I did my father. My mother was just as Cajun as he was. Perhaps I was trying to hide the fact that I hadn’t gone very far from home to gather information.)

[This event] happened to my…daughter when she was six months old. I went to visit her grandmother…and the aunt of my mother-in-law was there and when she saw [the baby], she insisted that thunder or some other loud noise had separated the bones in [the baby’s] head, that the soft spot was opening. So, she said that she would pray over [the baby]. In other words, treat her. I didn’t see anything wrong with it because she wasn’t going to be giving any medicine or they weren’t going to do anything strange to her besides the old woman was going to put her hand on [the baby’s] head and say prayers. So, I agreed to let the lady do this. She prayed and put her hands on [the baby’s] head and then when she was done she [said] that [the baby’s] head would heal. I didn’t notice any change. It satisfied the old lady, and I didn’t figure it would hurt [the baby]…

After this happened and I was sharing this experience with my mother, she told me that when she was growing up her grandmother would sew caps for babies…She would make a white cap and a black cap, and they believed that the baby should wear the white cap during the daytime. At night they would put the black cap on the baby and also in thunderstorms to protect the baby’s head from separating…

This was something that was not new to my mother, she had heard this before, so maybe something had happened to [the baby], but I was taking her to the doctor for her checkups, and the doctor never said that her bones were separating in her head…

Something else…In 1970, I was pregnant for my first child. My husband worked with this man, his wife was also pregnant…These people…were black…When the woman had the baby, she had a son, and so once she came home from the hospital, they invited us to go over and see their baby. When we got to their home her grandmother was at the house outside and the old woman was very shocked to see us get there. I thought it might have been because we were white, that it surprised her that we were going to visit to see the black baby. I went in and went to the crib and looked at the baby and held its hand and talked to the mother and the visit probably lasted about ten or fifteen minutes and we left.

Later that afternoon, I got a call at home that they needed a piece of the dress that I was wearing. This was a surprise to me, but my husband and the father of the little boy came over to the house and cut the hem out of the dress that I was wearing to take back to the house where the baby was. The old grandmother took the piece of fabric and cut strips and tied a strip of the fabric on each of the baby’s wrists. Supposedly, what we were told was that when I went to the crib, the baby, sensing that I was pregnant, had started to strain as if he was in the birth canal again and continued straining and holding its breath until this cloth was tied around its wrist. I don’t know how true this is, if it was the old woman’s imagination…After this happened…I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, my mother, and other elderly people…and it was not a surprise to them, they all said that they had heard of stories before…

I described “Informant #2 (my father) as “a forty-seven year old Cajun, Caucasian male.”

When we were young kids and we got warts–that was before you’d go to the doctor and have them removed either by burning or surgically removing them…My mother’s uncle who lived across the street…would treat you for them. In French it’s called “traiteur.” And he would take you and get you off by yourself…and he would meditate and prayer [secret prayers passed down from generation to generation] and while he was praying he would just continue making a circle around and around the wart very slowly…with his finger and it would take about between ten and fifteen minutes and he did that three days in a row. And the wart would, after those three treatments, the wart would gradually start to reduce in size and shrink and shrink and shrink until it would just disappear…

When I was a young boy I used to get what’s called a sunstroke. I’d get out in the sun without a hat and you would run fevers, have cold chills, at least I would, tremendous headaches, just feel like your head was going to explode. And you could also be treated for that. A gentleman that used to live next door to my grandmother would treat you and he would treat you with water, he would use water, sprinkle water on your forehead and also put his hand on your head and pray and that would get rid of the headache. It didn’t really work that well for me the way he did it, but it did help.

And then i was told by someone else about a Mr. H who treated for that. He had a grocery store…about a mile from the house, and when I’d get a sunstroke I’d get on my bicycle and ride over to the grocery store and the man would take me into the stockroom, turn out all the lights, and place both of his hands on my head, pray in the dark for me, and believe it or not, when I’d leave there [and] go back outside from the grocery store, my headache was completely gone, the fever and chills were gone. He only treated me about three or maybe four times at the most, and I’ve never had a sunstroke since…

I described “Informant #3 (my friend’s mother) as “a forty-nine year old Caucasian woman.” I went on to explain, “The events she relayed to me over the phone…were told to her by her husband and his relatives who grew up in Croatia.”

When my husband was a child living in a poor, rural area of Croatia, they wouldn’t go to the doctor and have their tonsils taken out if they had tonsillitis. If their tonsils swole up, they would take some wool–there was always wool in the house because they raised sheep–and they would wrap the wool around their neck to help the tonsils get better…

My sister-in-law’s mother came from Croatia to visit last year. While she was here, my sister-in-law told me that every day her mother would take plain yogurt and chop garlic and parsley really, really fine and mix it all together and eat it. When my sister-in-law asked her what she was doing, her mother said she was eating the mixture to treat her high blood pressure…

My same sister-in-law went to Croatia a few years ago to visit with her young son. While they were there, the son got a fever and my sister-in-law didn’t have any medicine…An old lady in the village told her to get potatoes and slice them and put the slices on the balls of her son’s feet and this would pull the fever out. She was warned not to put the potatoes on his head because that would pull the fever up and possibly give him meningitis. The potatoes had to be put on his feet so the fever would be pulled down and out of his body. I’ve never tried it, but she said it worked, that the potatoes shriveled up as if they had been cooked and my nephew’s fever went away…

I got an A- on the assignment.

Potato/Turnip Mashup


Potatoes Beside Stainless Steel Cooking Pot

The neighbor gave the host family a bunch of turnips. (By “bunch, I mean about two dozen of varying sizes.) No one in the host family had any interest, so I felt obligated to find some use for them. My tooth was still giving me problems and was going to be pulled the next day, so I knew I needed very soft food. After looking at a few recipes online, I decided to do a mashed potato sort of dish with turnips added.

I went to the store and bought a 15 pound bag of potatoes. I didn’t need that many potatoes, but per pound, the 15 pound sack was the best buy. I guess I’ll be eating a lot of potatoes in the weeks to come. That’s ok. I’ll need soft food for a while.

In addition, I bought a box of vegetable broth, a large yellow onion, butter, and milk. (I also bought a carton of half-price chocolate ice cream, but that’s not part of this recipe.)

In the host family’s kitchen, I got out two large stockpots. I threw a couple tablespoons of butter in each pot and let it melt and get a brown, but not burn. While the butter was melting, I chopped the onion very fine. I threw half of the onion in each pot, and cut the potatoes and turnips I had scrubbed.

I didn’t peel either the potatoes or the turnips. I don’t usually peel potatoes for mashed potatoes or potato soup. The peels don’t bother me, and I’ve been told they offer added nutrition and fiber. According to http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/skin-potato-really-vitamins-5378.html, “The skin [of a potato] contains 5 grams of fiber, and you’ll get 2 grams of fiber from the flesh.” Also,

It doesn’t represent the amount of skin and flesh you would get in one whole potato, but another way to compare them is by considering an equal amount of each. One hundred grams of skins, which is about equal to the skin from two potatoes, has double the amount of seven nutrients, five times more riboflavin, seven times the calcium and 17 times more iron than the same amount of flesh. You would get the same amount of vitamin C from equal portions of the skin and flesh. By comparison, 100 grams of flesh is about two-thirds of a whole potato.

But if potato peels bother you in mashed potatoes or potato soup, by all means, peel your potatoes.

I didn’t know if I needed to peel the turnips, so I didn’t. I think the turnips had less of a peel than the potatoes did.

After reading other recipes for turnips and potatoes together, I kept the potato to turnip ratio about 3 to 1. (Since the turnips have a stronger taste, you need to use more potatoes, unless you want your dish to taste strongly of turnips. If that’s what you want, it’s fine with me.)

Once the onions were very soft and translucent, I added the scrubbed and chopped potatoes and turnips right on top of the onions. I made sure to leave enough room in the stockpot to add plenty of liquid. Once the potatoes and turnips were in the stockpots, I added about half a box of vegetable broth to each pot. (You can use chicken broth if you prefer.) Next I added water until the potatoes and turnips were totally covered. Then I let the potatoes and turnips boil until both were very soft.

At this point, a lot of the water had boiled away in one of the stockpots, so I was able to get all of the potatoes and turnips in one pot. I didn’t pour everything together, because I had more liquid than I needed. (I saved extra liquid for cooking whatever may need liquid to cook in later.) I mashed up all the root vegetables, and added milk as the concoction needed thinning. I left it pretty thick, but if I’d wanted to, I could have thinned it even more, until it was more like a thick potato soup. I added more butter to the whole pot, but added salt to each individual serving I ate.

It was pretty good. The turnips added an extra, unusual flavor kick, but did not dominate the dish. Eating the mashup did not hurt my mouth.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/potatoes-beside-stainless-steel-cooking-pot-45247/.