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Complaints, lifehacks and a questionable recipe from Austin's Victorian-Era summers

 A black and white photo of Austin from 1882. It is a neighborhood with a couple houses and lots of green space.
Austin History Center, PICA 01090
Austin in 1882

This story was originally published on June 22, 2016.

Well, it’s summer. And, if there are any certainties in this life, you’re bound to hear people complaining about the heat – you’re also likely to see a smattering of summer recipes, as well as tips for beating the heat. So what sage wisdom did Austinites of summers past have to offer? What were Victorian-era Austinites' summer complaints?

Tip: To avoid summertime blood poisoning, don't eat meat.

An 1872 Democratic Statesman article entitled "Meat in Summer" curtly advises Austinites to be wary of their butchers’ wares, suggesting (rightly) that heat speeds up the decomposition of meats.

While the piece admitted meat like beeves, pork and fowl “must become partly decomposed before it becomes tender and fit to eat,” it also said Austinites should proceed with caution, lest they fall ill.

The eating of meats in this condition, especially in hot weather, poisons the blood with the products of decomposition, stimulates the system to unnatural action, increases the heat, produces a general condition of feverishness, and renders the person more liable to fevers, inflammations and other diseases.  
Complaint: The weather's not the problem. You're the problem.

A glowing "general remarks" editorial from an October 1886 edition of the Daily Statesman admitted Austin's prone to "Northers," but suggested the cold snaps helped "purify the atmosphere" and castigated those who find its heat oppressive. 

"In a word, anyone who would object to the climate of Austin, in the winter or summer, must be hard to please."

Tip: Don't go to Cincinnati. Do change your underwear.

For Austinites in the summer of 1891 – or the “heated term,” as it was called – meant “a slack trade as compared with the hurly-burly of the other eight or nine months of the year, more time to dance on the green, fewer oysters and more ice cream,” according to an August 4, 1891 article from the Austin Daily Statesman.

Responding to a Cincinnati Enquirer article lamenting a summer crimewave, the Daily Statesman commented:

“[S]ome people are foolish enough to go North for the summer; to turn their backs upon Austin’s cool, purple hills and seek discomfort among such scenes as the Enquirer pictures…The heated term in Texas simply means an exchange of heavy for thin underwear, excursions and the summer girl.” 

Tip: When in doubt, take a vacation, or a nerve tonic. Or both.

In what can only be described as an 1892 equivalent of sponsored content in the Austin Daily Statesman, the Peruna Manufacturing Company admitted that a vacation “is probably preferable to tonics; but for the tens of thousands who can take no rest the brain and nerve tonic of modern medical science is an indispensable safeguard.” So, if you can’t take a vacation, their nerve tonic is best for the “cure or prevention of all derangements due to hot weather.” 

Tip: Get outdoors, if you can.

A heat wave descended on Austin on Friday July 1, 1894. A Daily Statesman account the next day reported it was 101 degrees in the shade, with a “breeze that fairly burned the cheek and withered all vegetation.”

Still, it was apparently cooler than the newspaper’s office, from which a writer lamented and pined to go outdoors because of the stifling heat in the office:

While humanity in general rested from their labors and sought the coolest spot they could find, the poor newspaper gang toiled the weary moments away in a stuffy office where the temperature was like that of a furnace. Taken all in all, yesterday was not a day conducive to good humor nor any great amount of labor.

Tip: If you eat hot foods, you "must suffer."

In 1895, the Austin Daily Statesman panned the consumption of “roast beef with rich gravy, potatoes heavily buttered, ham and eggs, [and] pork and beans” in hot weather. “[T]hey are adding artificial heat to natural heat and must suffer,” it said.

Tip: Wear Byronic collars.

An 1896 Daily Statesman article disparages the overly-starched, high collars of the Edwardian and Victorian eras, labeling them as one of the principle culprits of heat exhaustion.

“It is safe to say that the fashion of having the neck tightly encased in high collars is responsible for a great deal of discomfort, and that to return to the Byronic style of collar would be the most sensible innovation that could be made.” 

Complaint: Come to Austin, they said. It's nice, they said.

"I have been heartlessly betrayed," said Fred Davis to a Daily Statesman reporter in 1897. "Betrayed in the house of my friends, as it were." 

The employee of the district clerk's office said he was promised shady woodlands, waving grasses and the wild carols of songbirds. 

"The only carols I hear are those of ferocious mosquitoes," he said. 

Recipe: Yeast cake ginger beer.

There are plenty of ways to cool off in the summer, but an 1897 recipe for ginger beer seems dubious, at best. Maybe it's the home fermentation. Or maybe it's the requirement of one-quarter of a dissolved yeast cake. But if you've got the courage to try it, you can find the recipe below. You'll also find within a pro-tip for those suffering from a heat-related migraine: horseradish.

A recipe for ginger beer that calls for two ounces of pure ground ginger and one quarter of a yeast cake that has been dissolved.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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