Thursday 25 October 2018

Chemistry At Home & A Fruitless Experiment

Pass me the pipette, Mr P!
Henrika Šantel, Kemičarka, 1932, lady laboratory chemist

I'm rather fond of playing with a bit of Chemistry in the home. Nothing too technical, nor beyond me requiring more than my kitchen scales and some litmus paper; just the sort of stuff that housewives used to knock up without much fuss in the days before the White Lab Coat of Authority sternly told us through advertising that only factory-produced household sundries &c. are to be Trusted, and anyways are so much more Convenient, and thus those little skills nearly vanished overnight.

Vintage household chemistry book, Two Thousand formulas, recipes and trade secrets, Harry Bennett
Handy Household Reference

While researching some of these lost Olde Ways, I found an excellent second-hand book by Harry Bennett, F.A.I.C., entitled catchily, Two Thousand Formulas, Recipes & Trade Secrets: The Classic "Do-It-Yourself" Book of Practical Everyday Chemistry. It's a reprint from a 1930s publication and an example of the kind of book that most householders had as a handy reference for when they needed to refresh their memory on how to prepare envelope mucilage or cold cream or billiard chalk or Absinthe (choose from English, Fine, two styles of Swiss & à la Turine!).

Norman's Indian Mucilage advertisement, bulldog strength glue
Pipistrello's Frugal Tip:
Make your own mucilage, instead!

Truth be told, some of the ingredients for the myriad recipes are a tad hard to come by these days, if not downright illegal, and serve to remind the Modern Reader just how far Society has regressed in its trust of our Fellow Man. I'm sure some sideways glances would be cast at my local Chemist if I was found to be shopping for some Sodium Cyanide (NaCN) and Mercury (Hg) and what-not for my Iron Rustproofing Solution. But if the End-Of-Days comes and Electricity & Google were to be switched firmly Off then the Pipistrello's will be fine as I now have my handy recipes for making the Rubber Bands which will be necessary for holding our post-Apocalyptic world together and the Tutti Frutti Essence which will add a bit of colour and flavour to our fallout-grey lives.

Hiking boots fail, rubber bands and crocs, one-size fits all
Rubber bands, so essential for navigating the
Post-Apocalyptic Future

Anyhow, it has been a Bit of a Year here, what with one thing and another, and the Pipistrello colony has had to become rather more intimately acquainted with some new-fangled advances in the Field of Medicine than we none of us had expected a little while back. One of the many joys of belonging to a family means that while one member may get the Hands-On Experience, we all get to Learn Something. Today's Lesson, concerning the treatment for a Gentlemen's Complaint, comes not from my copy of Two Thousand Formulas &c., nor even from Modern Western Medicine but from something more thrilling and far, far older: viz. Traditional Chinese Medicine ... Or would have, if Australia's quarantine laws were not so stern and unadventurous.

Chinese acupuncture chart
Coy and mysterious

Last weekend, over at my Brother's place, the Gorgeous A, whose culinary talents are a rival to the transfixing Li Ziqi, was hoping to prepare a decoction for her father as an adjunct to the Western Medicine treatment for his, ahem, condition*. It may surprise you, or not, to discover that when she trundled down to the Chinese Herbalist to fill the "prescription", as dictated over the telephone by the Chinese Doctor in Guangzhou, he merely threw his hands into the air with frustration and declared that this infuriating country prohibits the importation of most of her required ingredients!

While we were all poised to discover how efficacious this Tonic would be, Gorgeous A's quest for seven Periplaneta americana** thus Came to Nought, and I have sadly no scientifically-tested results to report. Now if you know Sydney, you might puzzle over this Quarantine Mystery, as the humble American Cockroach and their German cousins positively flourish in this fine city (and are the pesky reason why my experiments with Home Curing have to be refrigerator-focussed) and wonder why the apothecary did not figure for himself, Oh, a gap in the market! Opportunity knocks!, for they abound in a free-range capacity here, and are thus ripe for canny exploitation.

* He is unlikely to be lurking about these pages so the shared confidence shouldn't cause further embarrassment.

** Yes, the American Cockroach is Farmed in China for the lotions & potions so-beloved by the Chinese. And while you may look askance at the prospect of being prescribed 7 in a tea, Your Correspondent caught and ate one, sashimi-style, as a toddler to no ill effect!


  1. Now, that's a book I'd dearly like to look over. Several years ago, I followed my cousin into a wonderful shop in London, which sold all manner of oddities for such potions and lotions. I ended up leaving with, of all things, a package of cochineal, derived from beatles. Don't ask me why, but I took it home and it sat there for years until I tossed it recently. Perhaps I should have sent it your way. Who knows what you would have found in your book to do with it.

    1. Oops, that would be beetles not beatles! Now, that would be an oddity!

    2. Haha, yes it would be! I do applaud your sense of adventure even if you couldn't find a use for the cochineal. I did look through the index for you and while as an ingredient it didn't warrant its own entry, I feel sure that it would be found wanted in at least one of the alchemical delights in my book!


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