Let's Recycle Grandma's Household Hints

Some may be outdated, but much of the information in the "household hints" pamphlets your grandmother relied on as a young woman will apply just as well today.
by Edith E. Olson
September/October 1978
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Don't laugh, don't jump to conclusions. Those old "household hints" pamphlets still have a lot of useful info.
ILLUSTRATION: トラノスケ/FOTOLIA


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The other day I came across a pamphlet of "household hints" that my grandmother had owned. Though the booklet was published in the days when milk came from a cow instead of a carton, the tips in it work just as well today as they did when they were first printed.

Here's a sample of grandma's "kitchen tricks" that I've found to be especially handy at this time of year when summer meets fall ...and neither of 'em want to take full responsibility for the weather.

Wood Stove Tips

The old wood stove will soon be in regular use again, and you can prepare it for its "busy season" with the kind of stove top cleaner they used in the old days. Just mix one part grease, one part paraffin, and one part kerosene in a clean can (preferably one with a lid) and melt these ingredients—carefully, they are all flammable—to combine 'em. Let the mixture cool, and then apply a small amount to the top of your stove. A clean cloth or a piece of paper bag should be used to rub the "polish" in.

Another old-timey idea: If your wood-burner is made of malleable iron, it can be kept as black and glossy as new if washed with cold coffee every now and then.

You can also restore the mica window on an old-fangled stove or furnace. Just clean it with a cloth dipped in a "half and half" vinegar and water solution.

And, if all this work has plumb worn out your stove-polishing brush, you can freshen that utensil up by putting a cover made out of scrap velvet on its business end.

Cake, Anyone?

If you dust a little flour or cornstarch on a cake before icing it you'll find that the frosting won't run as much. Also, put a piece of apple in the cake tin to keep your confections fresh longer. Then, if despite this precaution, you find yourself stuck with a stale dessert, just dip the cake in milk for a minute and rebake it.

Good, natural colors for especially decorative frostings can be made without commercial "food coloring," if you try these alternatives:

RED: strawberry, raspberry, or beet juice
LAVENDER: blueberry or blackberry juice
GREEN: spinach juice
BROWN: chocolate or coffee
YELLOW: egg yolk or orange juice

Vegetables Made Easy

You can clean spinach effectively—and use less water—if you add a little salt to the first wash.

Turnips can be a real chore to peel. However, if you slice 'em before you try to remove the skin, the job becomes much easier.

Bug "Discouragers"

Those long marching columns of ants sometimes invade even the cleanest kitchens. However, powdered cloves will keep the pests away, and cucumber peels will drive out the ants and make crickets skedaddle too. For the especially stubborn red ants, try a little parsley.

Moths around a porch light or window can be fun to watch, but often get so numerous that they become a nuisance. If the furry fliers overstay their welcome at your house, try hanging up a scent bag made from equal parts of ground cloves, nutmeg, and caraway seeds.

Jams and Jellies

The late summer/early fall months produce a lot of fine jam and jelly fruits. Remember when you're putting up your favorites, though: Never heat the paraffin for the tops of the jars until it smokes. If you do, the wax will contract too much as it cools and won't seal properly.

To test your batch of jelly—and see if the "jelling" point has been reached—put a spoonful of the stuff right from the pan on a cold plate and run a knife through the glob. If a path remains, the spread has cooked long enough.

If you've already bottled the preserves and then found that they won't jell, place the jars in cold water and bake them in the oven (set at "low" or "warm") for about an hour. Then test' em again as above.

Finally, a couple of cloves placed in the top of each jar will help prevent mold.


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