If you are lucky enough to get hold of either The Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge printed in the USA in 1891, or else the selection of advice and advice collected and edited from this in Remedies, Potions and Razzmatazz by Don Roberts, you are in for a treat of advice and amusement. For those who aren’t so lucky to find these books, here is a summary of some household tips from 1891.Kitchens have long been the centre of the home, and that was no exception in 1891. While their kitchens weren’t quite as full of electric gadgets, chrome or even linoleum (hard oiled wood was the recommended flooring in kitchens), they still knew the importance of keeping kitchens and kitchen implements clean and sparkling. Here’s some of the ways they did it:
• To prevent tea-kettles becoming encrusted inside, keep an oyster shell inside it. The theory is that the shell will attract all the particles so the particles don’t end up coating the kettle. To clean the outside (presumably) of a tea kettle, wipe it with kerosene (and presumably rinse the kerosene off afterwards).
• Make a special silver soap for cleaning silver articles by mixing half a pound of soap, 3T of turpentine (preferably the plant-sourced type) and half a glass of water. After boiling this for ten minutes, add 6T of “spirits of hartshorn” (known today as ammonium carbonate). This soapy, bubbly liquid should be used to wash silver items.
• Brass kettles can be cleaned with a mixture of salt and vinegar rubbed on as a paste then wiped off.
• For steel and iron that isn’t stainless, you can keep it from rusting by a good wipe with kerosene before storing it. This technique was not only recommended for stoves that were not going to be used over summer (we tend to forget nowadays what having a coal-fired stove in the kitchen would have been like during summer heat), and also for farm/garden implements that are going to be stored unused for a while.
• The standard method of cleaning out bottles by swirling lead shot around inside them was not recommended, because of the risk of lead poisoning, especially if one of the pellets got stuck inside a bottle or decanter that would be used for alcoholic drinks that could dissolve the lead. Instead, warm water and wood ash was recommended as the mixture to shake around inside a bottle before storing its upside down and open before use, or else chopped raw potato and water. Modern people can still try the first trick, but substituting steel shot or (grease-free) ball bearings instead of lead.
• Most modern people would prefer to stay away from the advice given for cleaning porcelain china: strong acid, either sulphuric or hydrochloric. While strong acids and alkalis are used to scour milking machines in commercial dairy operations, most households would prefer to avoid these dangerous and corrosive chemicals – although dishwasher powder is pretty rough. It’s better to stick to hot soapy water.
• Knives that are going to be stored away for some time should be cleaned and dried thoroughly, then dusted with wood ash and rolled up in paper for storage.
• The idea of reusing and recycling isn’t new. The book suggests several kitchen uses for used paper. The first of these is to use it to clean windows and glass, and to buff up and dry cutlery (sounds like paper towels – but who says you can’t use old newspaper for this?). Brown paper is ideal to wrap around pickle and jam jars, or for sealing the tops. The other uses for old, used papers in the book are a bit more out of the ordinary, such as using it as carpet underlay, or even making a type of flooring by gluing many newspapers together onto the floor then wallpapering over the top. Reminiscent of the stereotype of a tramp on a park bench, the book also suggests using paper as an extra layer of bedding during winter, and putting a folded newspaper down your front when riding in cold windy weather (presumably, they meant putting newspaper down your waistcoat while riding a horse, but it would work inside a jacket while biking, too).
While it isn’t so much a kitchen cleaning tip, the recipe given for making your own chewing gum is one that needs passing. The mixture calls for 2 oz “balsam of tolu” (a type of balsam of Peru with vanilla and cinnamon flavours), 1 oz white sugar and 3 oz oatmeal. Soften the balsam in water, then mix the other ingredients in. Shape and roll in icing sugar. Worth a try if you can get balsam of tolu or balsam of Peru.