Marian Carcache: Pepper sauce memories

Marian Carcache: Pepper sauce memories

While organizing cabinets during quarantine, I found where I had safely tucked away my great-great grandmother’s bottle of pepper sauce for safekeeping. Eliza Jane Curington Blackstock, who was born in 1847, died in 1928, a year before my father was born.

My great aunt Evelyn — who had the wisdom to pass down stories, as well as mementos, of lost loved ones — gave me the pepper sauce. She knew I would treasure it. She also told me that the original Jernigan Methodist church, a log structure, was built for the wedding of her grandparents. Eliza married John Wilson Blackstock in January 1870. The story goes that as the winter weather got colder and wetter that year, it was difficult to travel in the slippery hills where the Blackstock family had settled, and nearly impossible to get to the Glenville Methodist, the only church in the district.

Eliza told John that she wanted to get married in a “real” church. So John’s brothers, members of the Curington family, and the community came together to help build not only the couple’s house, but also the log church for them to marry in.

John and Eliza had six children. Fittingly, the couple named their sons after Methodist preachers. Their oldest daughter, Minnie, who had eleven children of her own, continued the tradition.

When Eliza and John’s oldest son, Timothy Ellison Blackstock, died at 16 from typhoid fever, his was the first grave in the Jernigan Methodist church cemetery. The small Jernigan community lost three young men to the typhoid epidemic in two weeks’ time that year.

 In researching the typhoid epidemic of 1898, I have learned a good bit about Mary Mallon or “Typhoid Mary” that parallels what I am observing during the COVID pandemic of 2020. Mary was an asymptomatic carrier who distrusted science. When her quarantine was lifted, she refused to comply with the specifications of the agreement and continued to spread the disease to more people, at least three of whom died.

(Further exacerbating the problem, the Typhoid Board took decision-making powers away from Drs. Walter Reed and Army Surgeon General Sternberg and authorized military commanders with no medical training to make recommendations on containing the outbreak in military camps. Consequently, more people died of typhoid fever than died in the Spanish American War.)

The bottle of pepper sauce that Eliza made would be over 90 years old now, even if she made it the last year of her life. Of course, I have no idea what year she placed hot peppers into the flask-shaped bottle and poured boiled vinegar over them.  But almost a century later, her paper sauce has a place of honor in her great-great granddaughter’s kitchen. 

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