During my trip to New Iberia, Louisiana in April, I picked up several books, two of them by Lydia Child and written in the early 1800’s. The American Frugal Housewife “was an extremely popular nineteenth-century manual for homemakers. Interesting recipes and remedies, advice on parenting and the myriad responsibilities of housekeeping are all put forth in straightforward, no-nonsense, Yankee prose.”
Here are a few of Mrs. Child’s tips for the Frugal Housewife (direct quotes):
When ivory-handled knives turn yellow, rub them with nice sand paper, or emery; it will take off the spots, and restore their whiteness.
Tortoise shell and horn combs last much longer for having oil rubbed into them once in a while.
Indian meal and rye meal are in danger of fermenting in summer; particularly Indian. They should be kept in a cool place, stirred open to the air, once in a while. A large stone, put in the middle of the barrel of meal, is a good thing to keep it cool.
Those who make candles will find it a great improvement to steep the wicks in lime-water and saltpeter, and dry them. The flame is clearer, and the tallow will not ‘run.’
Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared. One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water. If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs; and if there be a single egg cracked, it will spoil the whole. They should be covered with lime-water, and kept in a cold place. The yolk becomes slightly red; but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years. (AKL note – I’m not sure I want to eat an egg thus kept after three years!)
A new iron should be very gradually heated at first. After it has become inured to the heat, it is not as likely to crack.
Clean a brass kettle, before using it for cooking, with salt and vinegar.
The oftener carpets are shaken, the longer they wear; the dirt that collects under them, grinds out the threads.
Do not wrap knives and forks in woollens. Wrap them in good, strong paper. Steel is injured by lying in woollens. (AKL note – I have no idea if this is true or not).
Suet and lard keep better in tin than in earthen.
It is poor economy to buy vinegar by the gallon. Buy a barrel, or half a barrel, of really strong vinegar, when you begin house-keeping. As you use it, fill the barrel with old cider, sour beer, or wine-settlings, etc., left in pitchers, decanters or tumblers; weak tea is likewise said to be good; nothing is hurtful, which has a tolerable portion of spirit, or acidity. Care must be taken not to add these things in too large quantities or too often; if the vinegar once gets weak, it is difficult to restore it. If possible, it is well to keep such slops as I have mentioned in a different keg, and draw them off once in three or four weeks, in such a quantity as you think the vinegar will bear. If by any carelessness you do weaken it, a few white beans dropped in, or white paper dipped in molasses, is said to be useful. If beer grows sour, it may be used to advantage for pancakes and fritters. If very sour indeed, put a pint of molasses and water to it, and, two or three days after, put a half pint of vinegar; and in ten days it will be first rate vinegar.
Never leave out your clothes-line over night; and see that your clothes-pins are all gathered into a basket.
Have plenty of crash towels in the kitchen; never let your white napkins be used there.
*****Have you come across any unusual housekeeping tip while doing research?
For anyone writing in the 1800’s I would recommend Mrs. Child’s books for your research shelf. They can be found at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Lydia Child, by the way, also penned the classic Thanksgiving poem, Over the River and Through the Wood.
Click HERE to read a previous post I did on Mrs. Child's - "Education of Daughters."
I will be teaching an online class at Heart Through History's campus in August "Pioneering Women of the West." Cost is $10 for HHRW members and $20 for non-members.
Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hand Their Hats.