Friday, March 28, 2008

Housekeeping: Classic v. Modern

I have long promised a ramble about the toilet section of the awesome cookbook by Maud C. Cooke called Three Meals a Day: Cooking, Table, Toilet, Health (1890's). Alas, the toilet section will sit unread because today it is time for spring cleaning.

Past the standard pudding and bread and preserve recipes, nestled between recipes for invalid cooking and advice for table etiquette, we find a chapter on housekeeping. Here we learn how to scald the brooms ("by dipping for a minute or two in boiling soap-suds"), why we should keep "wings of fowls" (of course! they can be used to dust furniture and clean the hearth), how to remove tar (butter or lard) and how to wash "fancy hose" (salt and water, and lots of running them through a wringer). Pressed in between the pages is a tiny piece of newspaper, about 3/4" by 1 1/2" that recommends making fabric resistant to fire by "soaking the material in a solution of five parts of boric acid, six parts of borax and 100 parts of water." Wow! Look kids, you can make your own stunt clothes and go running through fires!

Much of the advice is useful today, especially for those of us who try to minimize the use of chemicals in our cleaning. Maud tells us how to use borax and baking soda for cleaning, something I do on a regular basis. The advice for how to clean a closet includes considering all your clothing and distributing what you don't want "to the needs of others." And, of course, sort odds and ends into sacks or boxes just like "every thrifty housewife."

Now, for the modern version of housekeeping, check out the Kitchen Cure at Apartment Therapy. Hundreds of people have signed up for the Cure so we can share horrible before pictures of our kitchens and following weekly commandments on how to clean it up. First up, we got rid of old condiments and this week we chuck processed foods (but I'm totally keeping our Girl Scout cookies). I'll periodically update my pictures and a new, gloriously clean kitchen will appear. You can check out the before pictures here.

Floor Wax
From Three Meals a Day: Cooking, Table, Toilet, Health (1890's).

1 pint turpentine
1/4 pound beeswax

Combine and melt over a slow fire, no blaze because the mixture is explosive.* Apply to the floor with a piece of flannel. Polish and shine with more flannel.

*maybe the borax fireproofing solution would be helpful here?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Frugal Graham Flour Muffins

You aren't going to believe this recipe. Water, sweetener, and flour. That's it.

Now, admittedly, I didn't follow the recipe exactly because I don't have iron gem pans like those found here so I just used regular muffin pans. I'm sure I didn't get the crisp outside that I could have otherwise. And because there is no temperature recommendation in the cookbook I basically made that up. Oh, and there is no time recommendation so I made that up, too.

Do you see where this is heading? The only reason you need this so-called recipe is to free yourself from needing a recipe at all. Forget what you have learned about needing a delicate balance of salt and baking soda and flour and liquid, just try whatever you have on hand. At least, that is the spirit of this cookbook and thrifty, creative cooks of yore.

There is a trade-off, of course. Be warned: these gems are heavy and have a dense crumb. But the graham flour has a nice flavor, and they pair nicely with sweet and savory. Trying spreading them with butter and preserves or crumble over soup.

Hygienic Graham Gems
Adapted from Three Meals a Day: Cooking, Table, Toilet, Health circa 1890. This recipe calls for graham flour which I happen to have because I am singlehandedly trying to keep King Arthur Flour in business. If you don't have graham flour, try substituting just about any whole grain flour. The recipe specifically recommends against using salt.

1 pint tepid water
1 Tbs molasses
Graham flour (whole wheat pastry flour)

Preheat oven to 400. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin. Add enough flour to the water and molasses to make a thick batter. Bake for 15 minutes.