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4 years ago

The Housekeeper’s Handy Book: A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Useful Information & Domestic Science

The inside cover of The Housekeeper’s Handy Book lists the Average Time Required for Cooking and Digestion of foods, in a chart covering both the cover and flypiece. It’s divided into Meats and Fowl, Eggs, Fish, Etc., Vegetables, and Cereals. There is then both a table of contents and a listing of the Order of Departments (subjects) covered in the book. The order of the departments doesn’t exactly follow the listing of Departments (as listed below), but with the page numbers of each section noted, it isn’t difficult to figure out.

Household Departments Treated in This Volume

  • Successful Marketing – this doesn’t refer to the modern meaning of “marketing” as merchandising but actually means “going to the market” and buying one’s food. Topics covered include how to recognize and purchase good meats and healthy fowl, fish, game, eggs and “sundries”, and keep them fresh in the home until used.
  • Good Housekeeping – With the introduction “An event so punctual, proper, and at the same time so disagreeable and wearisome in its recurrence that a few hints as to simplifying its details will be by no means out of place,” the section begins at the cellar of the house and covers whitewashing of the walls, how to prevent dampness, and purifying drains. It moves on up to the semi-annual clearing of closets and how to prevent moths. Cleaning carpets and wallpaper is next. Simple “receipts” for taking out spots and removing grease from carpets and marble are included. By the time one has progressed, according to the book’s instructions, to make one’s own furniture varnish and polish, clean the nickel, zinc and brass fittings in the house, oil the floors and mix a good blacking for the stove – the house is ready for the season.Furniture Polish: “Take 4 ounces of alcohol, 4 ounces of boiled oil, 1 ounce of Japan dryer, and 1 ounce of benzene. Mix all and shake well while using. This removes all foreign substances, at the same time gives a fine polish. Rub dry with a woolen cloth. This recipe sells regularly for seventy-five cents.”
  • Economic Home Cooking and Baking – This section is the largest of the book, with hundreds of recipes for main dishes, vegetables and side dishes, condiments, desserts, preserves and jellies, bread and pastries, and more. Few of them are arranged in the familiar style we associate with the modern cookbook, however. The instructions generally are 300 words in one single paragraph, several to a page, with no illustrations. (There are few illustrations in the book, all of them engravings or line drawings.)Rolled Corn Beef (sic): “Take a piece of corned beef – a flank piece. Make a dressing as for chicken or turkey. Spread over the beef, roll tightly and tie. Fold in a thin cloth. Boil until tender. Take up, drain and press under a weight, slice cold, garnish with small cucumber pickles.”
  • Carving and Serving
  • First Aid and Relief in Accidents, Injuries, Poisons and Sickness –The homemaker needed to learn basic first aid and care of the sick and injured. The cook book includes an extensive section on “Health” which covers everything from Heartburn (“dissolve 1 salt spoonful of salt in half a wineglass of water and drink”), to Hysteria, and to “A Copper Coin Swallowed”:”A Copper Coin Swallowed may be rendered harmless by a diet of bread and milk, giving nothing sour, as this would corrode the metal. Also give the raw white of an egg three times a day, and a dose of castor oil every night.” The perpetrator of this prank would not be likely to repeat the experience!
  • Preserving, Canning, Pickling
  • Home Made and French Candies
  • Bills of Fare for Every Day
  • Housecleaning, Paperhanging, Calcimining
  • Laundrying and Dyeing
  • Invalid Cookery – At best, the invalid was advised not to eat anything that would upset the digestion, so most of the recipes are for bland, overcooked and fairly harmless fare. For example, there are several recipes for “gruel” including Oatmeal Gruel, Rice Gruel, and Arrowroot Gruel.Cracker Dessert: “Put 8 soda or 10 milk crackers into a deep dish and pour on boiling water to cover. Let stand until the water is absorbed, grate over them nutmeg and white sugar, adding sufficient milk to make a nice sauce.”
  • Health Hints and Toilet Preparations
  • Miscellaneous – subjects such as making liquid glue, getting rid of rats and mice, feeding turnips and potatoes to cows, and filling pin cushions.
  • Fruit Salads and Fancy Fruit Dishes
  • Hygienic Food Values – discusses the virtues and flaws of various foods such as salad oils, oatmeal, buttermilk, honey, etc. “Oatmeal is a heavy diet and not at all fitted to the nervous, sedentary man, woman or child. Cracked wheat, well cooked, is far better. The laboring man or woman, alone, can digest oatmeal properly.”

Bridging the 19th Century and 20th Century

Books such as this one were popular at the turn of the 20th century, especially as more and more young people were leaving the farms of the great Midwest and coming to the cities to look for work. Immigrants coming to the Americas were unfamiliar with the requirements of housekeeping for a typical middle-class home, but as many of them were being hired as housekeepers, maids, and cleaning women, these books enabled their employers to direct the work and instruct the novices.

Today we turn to Martha Stewart, or the pages of Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, or Real Simple for help in learning how to keep a 21st-century home. It is apparent that much has changed in the methods, but not in the desire or need to properly maintain one’s home.

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