Before we get started, a little recipe (for disaster maybe?)
For dough-nuts, take one pint of flour, half a pint of sugar, three eggs, a piece of butter as big as an egg, and a tea-spoonful of dissolved pearlash. When you have no eggs, a gill of lively emptings will do; but in that case, they must be made over night. Cinnamon, rose-water, or lemon-brandy, if you have it. If you use part lard instead of butter, add a little salt. Not put in till the fat is very hot. The more fat they are fried in, the less they will soak fat.
Before you rush out to make these stop and figure out what you are using for leavening. What exactly is "pearlash"? And how do "emptings" (whatever they are) replace eggs. Oddly, I wasn't the first to highlight this particular recipe out of the hundreds in this book. It looks deceptively simple until you decipher it all. Once you realize that "pearlash" is a leavening made from lye, you need to think about this again. I thought a bit too hard it seems and the results are dubious
No rainbows and unicorns here!
Or continuity it seems! Here is a tidbit from the very first page to get us started. I have not edited this at all. It just all spills out just as I show you here:
Children can very early be taught to take all the care of their own clothes.
They can knit garters, suspenders, and stockings; they can make patchwork and braid straw; they can make mats for the table, and mats for the floor; they can weed the garden, and pick cranberries from the meadow, to be carried to market.
Provided brothers and sisters go together, and are not allowed to go with bad children, it is a great deal better for the boys and girls on a farm to be picking blackberries at six cents a quart, than to be wearing out their clothes in useless play. They enjoy themselves just as well; and they are earning something to buy clothes, at the same time they are tearing them
It is wise to keep an exact account of all you expend—even of a paper of pins. This answers two purposes; it makes you more careful in spending money, and it enables your husband to judge precisely whether his family live within his income. No false pride, or foolish ambition to appear as well as others, should ever induce a person to live one cent beyond the income of which he is certain... .
WHOA WAIT! Where did the children go? We suddenly got so caught up counting our pins we forgot the children? And this is even before she has gotten through her introduction to the book.
Bits and pieces from her days
In her very first sentence, Mrs Childs promises that "the true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost." True to her word, her book does just that to an almost laughable degree. Imagine keeping notes as you ran through your chores and you have the gist.
And thus, when we finally get to her first chapter, her initial six "rules" tumble out:
Look frequently to the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot.
Look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.
See that the beef and pork are always under brine; and that the brine is sweet and clean.
Count towels, sheets, spoons, &c. occasionally; that those who use them may not become careless.
See that the vegetables are neither sprouting nor decaying: if they are so, remove them to a drier place, and spread them.
Examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mould; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless.
I'm exhausted already and we're only half way down the first page!
Of Pearls and Swine (yes, she has words on the care of both)
Are there some pearls of wisdom here? Might we find some interesting uses of herbs and plants? An old recipe (or receipt as the book says) for making soap? Oh yes, there is that. And dropped right into the middle you might find the cure for rattlesnake bite or the story of someone-who-knew-someone-who-tried-something-but-we're-not-sure-if-it-worked-or-not followed rapidly by some terse maxim she felt we could not live without. And maybe she's right?
I'm breathless, are you? Hang on, friends! This will be a ride! I'm not sure what you are looking for by reading here, but I promise it won't all be what you expected.
One book, many journeys
Since my sister sent me the book a few weeks ago, it has taken me on broader journeys than those contained in its fairly sparse pages.
The author's journey
First, the book, as published, has a rich and interesting history. It was originally simply The Frugal Housewife before being stolen by a British publisher and appearing in London without the author's knowledge (and without compensation). But that's ok! Fifty years before all that there was another book by the same name by a British author that was published in Boston (with engravings by no less than Paul Revere himself). The tensions between all of these editions prove interesting and, I think, fun. In the end Mrs. Childs was something of a mover and shaker in her time and not afraid of politics or progress. Her story is worth knowing.
The book's (this edition's) journey
Then, my sister and I pondered where it came into our family. It could well have been a curiosity my mother or a friend found in a junk pile somewhere or it, more likely, since it wasn't culled after major moves, was in among those books from my mother's family. If so, the publication date suggests it likely traveled the Oregon trail with my great great great great (yes, that was four "greats") grandmother. My sister, keeper of the archives and family historian, sent me off to discover the stories about that bit of my family she had tried to tell me for years. I would try to be interested, but then, sadly, glaze over. Somehow, with this book in my hands, those stories took on a presence I never felt before.
Whether by the hands of my family or someone else, this book's condition reveals evidence of what was important to its owner. Some pages look barely touched, while stains, oil marks and bent edges indicate the bits that were referenced time and time again. HINT: Someone really liked cakes!
And yes, I know this is what some of you, dear reader, have come for; some of this book speaks clearly to those of us in the present who want the strength of self sufficiency that frugality serves. So while I wander through the many journeys here, lets pull out some bits and pieces and chew on them together, shall we?