The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, NY – Part 1

A Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown??…Isn’t Cooperstown the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame? If you are like most people Cooperstown means only one thing…a shrine to the all American sport…baseball. I admit even I, who know little about baseball, enjoyed the Hall of Fame. However one of my reasons to make the journey to Upstate New York was the Farmers’ Museum also in Cooperstown.

Many friends told us, there is nothing happening in Cooperstown except baseball…the museum, the Doubleday Stadium, many many, many souvenir shops…wrong!

The Farmers’ Museum is about two miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame and is located on 120 acres overlooking the Otsego Lake. The museum features various “Step Back in Time Weekends” and to my delight we arrived for “Treating Our Ills and Curing Our Chills: Medicine Now and Then”. I had the opportunity and pleasure to attend the “Know Your Mints” tour in the herb garden with John Henry Aborn.

It was slightly raining during the tour but who cared. Mint was brought to America by European settlers. There are very few mints that are indigenous to our county. The many mint varietals were used extensively in Early America as a flavoring and a medicine. Peppermint was used to relax the stomach and clear the nose, catnip (for humans) soothes and calms, horse-mint was considered a heal-all and spearmint was a primary flavoring agent. Most medicines at the time had a vile taste and mints especially spearmint was used to mask the bad flavor. Lamb’s Ear with its large fuzzy leaves was applied to the wound as a bandage. The leaf was tied with a string to the injury and since it is high in tannic acid it helped to clot the blood. It was a surprise to me that Lamb’s Ear is a mint but like all mints it has the identifying square stem. After the tour Paul, my husband, and I walked around the Village, visited the print shop and the Lippet Farmstead.

In the afternoon, we attended two sessions of “Making Medicines” held at Dr. Thrall’s Pharmacy. One was on “Identification, Uses, and History of Medicinal Herbs” and “Pill Making, Lozenges, Gel Capsules, Salves, and Emulsions”. Making medicines took a great deal of time – the herbs needed to be harvested, dried, ground and shifted. As mentioned before mints were used to flavor medicines and licorice root which is ten times sweeter than sugar was used to sweeten medicines. Capsules were made from gelatin which is derived from cooking down calves’ hooves. The process to make capsules is time-consuming. A series of wooden sticks the size of a pencil with a rounded metal tip is hand dipped into the gelatin. It must thoroughly dry before being dipped again as it was customary to dip at least three times. Lozenges which are always diamond shaped were made for various ailments.  During our session, Mr. Aborn made clove based lozenges that were traditionally consumed after a large meal to stimulate digestion.  These types of medicines were expensive costing between $1.00 and $1.50. This may not seem expensive to use today but  the daily wage at the time was twenty-five to fifty cents a day!

We finished our day by viewing the exhibit in the renovated barn-,“New York’s Good Eats – Our Fabulous Finds”. In my next blog I will talk about this very interesting exhibit.

Until next time, may you savor all you eat and drink.


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