Melt Down the Soap & Wash in Kerosene

I’m back to the real world now with a day of work-work-work ahead. Gonna have to improvise for supper. ‘Course back in the old days people really knew how to improvise, as I’m  reminded every time I reach for this 19th-century home management manual that I keep in my kitchen.

Oh sure there were a few things you had to go out and buy before you could begin improvising – the kitchen of the 1890s, for example, was going to need, among other things, “one stove, one coal shovel, one meat cleaver, one clock, one kitchen table and two kitchen chairs’ – but then you could just go town mixing and matching to make do with what you had.

I do that myself now, thanks to this book. Say I’m out of butter and it’s time to make the doughnuts?  I now know I can just scare up some chicken fat, melt it down and add salt. It says so right in this old book that someone gave my grandmother as a young bride at the turn of the last century.

Say I have no chicken fat? I can just use suet. And if you don’t know what suet is, it’s what your thighs appear to be made of when you’re trying on bathing suits in the department store dressing room.

Or say I cut myself with my meat cleaver. With this dandy book by my side I now know all I have to  do is take a handful of flour and some cobwebs, apply that mix to the wound and – presto! – the bleeding will stop.

(And no, I’m not making any of this up.) I am at the book constantly. It inspires me to make do with what I have.

Last month I wanted pink Peppermint Stick ice cream to serve to some dinner guests, but out of respect for people’s diets I wanted the kind made with Splenda. As luck would have it I couldn’t find this kind of Peppermint Stick ice cream anywhere. So I just squeezed a few drops of red food coloring and a few drops of peppermint extract into some sugar-free Vanilla and there I had it, a lo-calorie dessert as pretty and pink as a Barbie prom dress.

And sure, maybe I did use a tad too much of the peppermint extract, whose label says that it’s 89% alcohol, but those dinner guests practically tipped up their sherbet glasses and licked ‘em clean. And really what does a cook from any era want but a tableful of eaters as eager as that?

You should totally come over. Dinner’s at 6:00.

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8 thoughts on “Melt Down the Soap & Wash in Kerosene

  1. My mother had an ancient Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School cookbook. I noticed that butter was an ingredient in many recipes, and lard also. Another book she owned was A Catholic Girl’s Guide, which was a black, leather- covered handbook. I don’t have it now, but I remember that women were advised to be constantly stoic when husbands turned out to be mean, or even violent.

  2. I have the same book I bet Joan!

    Did the Catholic Girl’s guide have an adult counterpart? Did you know that women were advised to cleanse after sex with LYSOL? True enough!

  3. Henry Ford used Kerosene as hair tonic on the theory that he had
    noticed oil field workers all had good hair.
    Henry was more than a little strange you understand: not a man to admire.

  4. Terry, I don’t know of an adult counterpart to A Catholic Girl’s Guide. But I do remember finding Van de Velde’s Ideal Marriage in the college library. We passed that one around, you can be sure. I eventually bought my own copy and kept it in the attic! I think it was a precursor to Our Bodies, Our Selves (no pun intended – HA HA).

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