I was mired in the “mother-of-all-colds” when we returned home from a week of thanks and giving in Washington State. I can’t blame the airplane bugs for this one. I was already experiencing the harbingers of tough times ahead with a scratchy sore throat as I checked in at the airport. I felt some relief when the airline agent handling our solitary checked item went wide-eyed after asking what was in the old cooler that was wrapped in duct tape. “A dead turkey,” I replied.  But that’s another story.

For a week I suffered mightily. I fought my flagging health with naps, lots of water, tea, and perhaps too many vigorous hikes. Returning to Minnesota, I had another five days of middle of the night coughing jags that were so intense they squeezed tears out of my eyes.

When you lay in bed you have time to think. I recalled various cures such as hot chicken noodle soup, oil of oregano in hot water or a nightly shot of peppermint schnapps. I tend to eschew pharmaceuticals but I had even resorted to some tablets of something that phonetically sounded spooky.

As I lay semi-comatose, sketches of a life unfinished danced through my mind. One was like an angel-delivered epiphany as I recalled how my late Great Grandma Schmidt dealt with a cold.  She lived 104 years, but this tale took place when she was younger, in her spritely and sharp 90s.

I remember it quite clearly because Gramma, as the family called her, was battling a cough and cold. She had gone to the doctor and reported to him that the prescribed medication wasn’t working. She told the doc that she was going to go home and make a batch of Bodybuilder just like her mother used to make her when she was sick.

Curious, the doc asked about the ingredients of this miraculous potion. As she told him she wondered aloud if she could get all the necessary ingredients.

Like all honorable Grammas, this one never went to the liquor store and she wasn’t sure if they would have the needed rye whiskey. I don’t know if it was out of genuine curiosity or because he felt bad that his prescribed medicines didn’t work, but the doc called the liquor store to ask if they had rye whiskey. They did.

Born in Nebraska well before Henry Ford wheeled his first auto out, Gramma moved with her family to South Dakota when she was eleven.

I recall asking Gramma how she garnered the recipe for this healthy concoction. “Well,” she said, “I was seven or so . . . .no, no, I was six.” (Remember I noted her sharpness.) She continued, “My parents had just bought a new Round Oak Heater. You could load the firebox with coal before bed and that stove would hold heat all night. A pamphlet called Home Remedies and Household Hints came with that stove. And my mother recognized a recipe for ‘consumption’ because she had a bout with consumption when she was five years old in 1864. It was called Body Builder.”

Gramma explained, “Consumption could get in your lungs and begin to deteriorate your body.”

For centuries, “consumption” was used to describe any fatal wasting disease. In essence, the body was consumed by the unknown malady that most often affected the lungs. It wasn’t until 1882 that a German physician, Robert Koch, identified the bacterium that caused tuberculosis.

I was visiting my recovering Gramma when she showed me the Body Builder recipe:

½ lb. of fresh beefsteak, finely cut or ground with no fat

1 dram (or 1 oz.) of pulverized charcoal

4 oz. pulverized sugar or powder sugar with no cornstarch

4 oz. of rye whiskey

1 pint of boiling water

 Mix all together and let it stand in a cool place overnight. Take 1-2 tsp. of liquid and meat before each meal.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you choose to try this cold fighting remedy, you do so at your own risk.

Gramma smiled as she recalled recruiting her perky 75-year old daughter-in-law to drive her around town to pick up the Body Builder components.

First stop was the local butcher shop. Gramma closely watched the grinding of the fat-trimmed piece of beef. Then they went to the drug store for the pulverized charcoal. The local pharmacist knew her well and asked, “Elsie, are you going to make gunpowder?”

Both tee-totaling ladies felt “a little naughty” at the final stop, the liquor store. When the clerk set the fifth of whiskey on the counter, Gramma asked if she could have just half the bottle as she didn’t need that much. Regrettably she had to buy the whole bottle. “But,” Gramma reported with a grin, “the nice man gave us each a pen.”

While Gramma was relaying the story to me, she walked slowly over to her fridge and returned carrying a jar of what I thought might be a glob of oil sludge. She opened the jar and dipped a teaspoon in the Body Builder and offered a few drops for me. Not bad. Really. Not bad.

Then she shuffled over to her cupboard and carefully took out a nearly full bottle of rye whiskey. She unscrewed the cap and held the bottle up to my nose. With an impish, elderly smile she said, “Smells kind of strong doesn’t it?”

I knew she was feeling better when she said, “You know I’m a naturalist, I let nature dictate my life.”

Hmmm. I wonder if she added a bit of “Wisdom Builder” in her last batch?




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