Friday, May 8, 2015
The Age Before Mass Chemical Cleaners
Today we buy our cleaning goods and our remedies in ready-made bottles and cans and boxes. Prior to the era of mass manufacturing, which started after the Regency, all these items were manufactured in the household. This stands out at once in the household books from the late 1700's and early 1800's.
The variety of 'tips' offered is astonishing, covering everything from cookery for the sick, to making pomades, to how to blacken fire grates and clean marble, to how to keep the rot off sheep. ("Keep them in pens till the dew is off the grass," advises Mrs. Rundell in her book on Domestic Cookery.)
Some directions are quite straightforward. To keep a door from squeaking, "Rub a bit of soap on the hinges." Other directions can list either products not readily available today, such as the orris-root and storax listed in a recipe for potpourri, or the spermaceti (from whales) to be used to make ointment for chapped lips. Also, amounts are often inexact. For chapped lip, "twopenny-worth of alkanet-root" is also required--probably a small amount, unless alkanet-root came very, very cheep.
Within the household, items would be made for beauty as well as practicality. Recipes are given for Hungary Water (early cologne), which took a month to actually make. There is also Lavender Water, a recipe to prevent hair from falling out and thicken it which includes using honey and rosemary tops, a paste for chapped hands, and pomades for the hair.
The time spent on making up these recipes could be considerable. To make black ink with rain water, bruised blue galls, brandy and a few other items meant stirring the concoction every day for three weeks. Other recipes, such as Shank Jelly for an invalid, requires lamb to be left salted for four hours, then brushed with herbs and simmered for five hours. Time passed differently in the 1800's.
Sick cookery is an item of importance, from recipes for heart burn to how to make "Dr. Ratcliff's restorative Pork Jelly." Coffee milk is recommended for invalids as is asses' milk, milk porridge, saloop (water, wine, lemon-peel and sugar), chocolate, barley water, and baked soup.
An interesting distinction is made in that recipes pertaining to personal appearance and sick-cookery address the reader--and owner of the book. However, recipes for household cleaning and those not related to a person--such as how to mend china--are listed under "Directions to Servants." This shows clearly the distinction that the mistress of the house also acted as mistress of the still room, tending to the really important matters, and leaving the heavy work to her staff.