The Breakfast Table

This is the forth article in June of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on June 27, 1909, and is an article on the breakfast table. Specifically, Marion Harland talks about how breakfast is not normally anyone’s favourite meal but that needs changing! To help she outlines some rules to brighten up the table.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Breakfast Table

IN all my long life I have heard not more than half a dozen persons say that they really enjoyed breakfast. The consensus of popular opinion is to the effect that the meal is a duty, not a pleasure, and that it is grudgingly performed. In France it is never a family function. Each member of the household, if he or she does not “mourn apart,” sulks in the solitude of the bed chamber over the compulsory task of disposing of rolls and coffee. “Only that and nothing more!” At noon, when they have become measurably reconciled to the fact of continued existence in a world that does not pay the expenses of running it, men and women meet about a civilized table for the “dejeuner a la fourchette,” which corresponds to our luncheon.

The English breakfast, never served before 9 or 10 o’clock, except in the hunting season, is a ponderous affair. Tea and coffee, boiled eggs, muffins, toast, and on the sideboard rounds and joints of cold meat, not to mention larded sweetbreads, deviled kidneys and “broiled bones,” await the robust appetite of family and guests. For, be it known, the English are not early risers as a rule. In America we growl at the laziness of the shopkeeper who does not open his doors and raise the window blinds by 7 o’clock on summer mornings, whereas when we cross the ocean we have to submit to the inconvenient custom of a 9 o’clock “opening” in town and country. It strikes the unsophisticated tourist as what Miss Ophelia, in
Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” calls “dreadfully shiftless.” Yet the British are not a shiftless nation.

The American breakfast is distinctively a national institution. It is served at what nine-tenths of the eaters would condemn as an ungodly hour; it is a heavy meal; it is a family meal, and in a shamefully large percentage of homes, the homes of Christian citizens, the least social and the most uncomfortable repast of the day.

Not a Pleasant Picture.

Gentlewomen and gentlemen of high and low degree confess, with never a touch of shame, that they “are not responsible beings until after breakfast.” Peter familias veils his somber face with the morning paper and the mother bids the children “be quiet!” for she has “a curl headache.” Even the babiest of the group is cross under the teasing of her biggest brother, and the others snap at one another as dogs snarl over their trenchers.

Do I exaggerate the evil? Let those whose experience has been more fortunate and whose observations have been made in sunnier weather arise to dispute the picture. In how many so-called happy homes is not “father’s breakfast grouch” a terror and a bywords? To how many tables does the mother bring a brow furrowed by the coming cares of the new day and a critical spirit totally unlike her tender, kindly self as her children know her for the rest of the 24 hours?

The oddest part of the exhibition is that nobody is humiliated by the recollection of his morning mood. The man who “wishes” his gentle wife “would mind her own business” when she ventures a timid query as to the morning news over which he is scowling, and tosses his carfare to his son with a savage, “You children are forever begging for money!” laughs at the recollection in his afternoon chat. “What else is to be expected of a fellow at breakfast? He is hardly an accountable creature.”

Much-Needed Grace.

We learn at our mother’s knees to pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” and we do well to carry the prayer in our hearts all our life long. Who of us asks in true humility and earnestness, “Give us this day our breakfast grace?”

I believe I have said that before somewhere, but let it stand! Heaven (and our families) know how sorely the petition is needed.

Yet reason and common sense would unite in declaring that the breakfast mood should be blithe and hopeful. Mind, nerves and muscle have been rested and refreshed by sleep. The freshness of the young day; the bath and toilet that have clad the body in fresh raiment; the anticipation of renewed opportunities for usefulness and of enjoyment opening to the imagination with the rising of the sun upon a rejuvenated earth, should combine to exalt the spirit and tone up the system.

I made up my mind fifty years and more ago that the influences of the early morning are distinctly depressing to the average human being. At the same time I made up my mind as strenuously that to yield to these is a sin and a disgrace to decent Christians. As a result the breakfast hour is cheerful in one household, at least in outward seeming. It is reckoned a personal duty that may not, be shirked to stimulate it when it does not come of itself. In time the effort brings the rich reward of the real grace. The “breakfast grace” comes for the asking.

Don’t grumble at the length of the sermon! If you knew how much more bubbles up to my lips and pleads for expression you would be grateful for my forbearance.

Now for the application! Make the breakfast table attractive to every sense. Let the silver be bright, the glass clear, the breakfast cloth spotless and the napkins clean. If you have flowers for but one meal per day, let them brighten the breakfast table about which the family is gathered after the night of darkness and helplessness. Make the whole array of equipage and eaters a visible expression of gratitude for the “blessings of the light.” I like the way the old hymnal puts that! One good man whose life was full of the best things the Father bestows upon His children—love, joy and peace—used always. In asking a blessing upon the first meal of the day, to thank God for “the rest of the night and the light and happiness of the new day which Thou hast made for us.” It was an inspiring thought, that of a new creation, and our very own.

A Few Set Rules.

I have talked once and again with the members of the Exchange of the hygienic value of the lighter breakfast now generally approved by our wisest dietitians above the heavy meal we copied from our English progenitors. In the weekly bills-of-family-fare that go with these very familiar chats with our housemothers I sketch the plan of the meal. In my own home the same line is pursued throughout the year. Fruit; a cereal, hot or cold, and varied from day to day, but always served with cream; eggs or fish, or a light meat, usually broiled bacon; bread and butter; invariably freshly made toast, brought in crisp and hot from the kitchen during the meal; tea, coffee and, for the younger eaters, digestible cocoa.

A dish of apples is on the table as long as apples are to be had, and most of us conclude the meal with one, or a section if the apple be large. If affords a pretext for lingering over the table when the rest of the breakfast has been cleared away. The morning paper is a regular visitor, but he who reads it during the meal must share the news with the family. May I say, furthermore, that in the other households that are the branches of this vine the same rules prevail, to the comfort of all concerned?

In contrast, I may hint at homes, otherwise worthy of the name, where not a word is spoken during the progress of breakfast, except what is connected with the business of the hour or half hour. There is no lingering over that gloomy altar of sacrifice to physical needs.

It is a cogent argument in support of the light breakfast—that excludes potatoes, steak, pork and chops, and for most of the week hot breads—that the American goes forth to his daily toil at an hour when the foreigner has not left his pillow. To set out upon the arduous round directly after swallowing a solid meal is highly prejudicial to health. Henry Ward Beecher changed the hour of the second service in his church from afternoon to evening because everybody has an early dinner on Sunday. And he “would not preach to roast beef and plum pudding.” The brain worker appreciates the force of the objection. The average American is a brain worker, let his calling be what it may.

Whatever you eat at the meal that breaks your fast after hours or rest for the hard-worked stomach, eat it slowly. I verily believe that the alarming increase in the number of deaths by apoplexy and the more marked suburban popular are largely the direct consequence of the “bolt-and-jump” habit inseparable from the commuter’s daily practice. Better eat ten mouthfuls slowly, reducing each to the digestible paste the alimentary organs demand, than choke or stoke down a hundred with nerves and muscles strained and ears alert for “the train.”

Forego that last delicious doze and eat your breakfast deliberately. It is sound policy in the long run, which will be the longer for your obedience to this law.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

Apartment Home Life

This is the third article in June of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on June 20, 1909, and is an article on renting apartments and how to set up home in one.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Apartment Home Life

“WE DO everything in sections nowadays,” said a merry woman yesterday. “We buy our pianos upon the instalment plan, commit the care of our lungs, stomachs and heads to as many different specialists, and live in slices of houses. And it is getting to be unfashionable to be whole-souled!”

We may demur at the final section of the speech, but we are not here to discuss it.

We are so used to the idea of the sliced house that we do not stay to recall how odd the system would have seemed to us forty years back. We borrowed apartment life from the French, and the marvel is not that it is so general now all over the Northern and Middle States, but that we were so slow in adopting it. The broad strain of English blood in us may have had something to do with our reluctance to resign our lawns, our shrubbery and—last and most dear to the home-loving soul—our very own front doors. A woman who had dwelt in foreign tents for tent years declared to me her intention of taking over her front door and knocker if she ever went abroad again.

“Just to keep up the pleasant fiction that I am a householder.”

The Outside Viewpoint.

Time was, and not so very long ago, either, when to live in a slice of a house implied inability to take a whole dwelling for occupation of one’s self and family. Residents of such were of the class that talked of “the folks downstairs.” In glancing from my desk toward the nearest window I see darkly and voluminously outlined against the sky the steel framework of an apartment house that fills an entire block. It is to be the largest building of its kind in America, we are told. In addition to the stereotyped “modern conveniences” there will be a garage in the rear of the spacious court that opens to the sky ten stories above the street level, and ten elevators in the building. Apartments of fair size will rent for $5000 per year “and upward.”

Coming down in the scale of prices (I do not say in the social scale), we find a more comfortable level in the hosts of family apartments fitted up comfortably, often with modest elegance, with all the requisites for the residence of people of moderate means and simple tastes. They line our streets in what newspapers name “the residential portions” of our towns. They used to look like dolls’ quarters to us when we got into them. A hall that has degrees of narrowness, and never of width; ranged upon the only side of this that belong to John and Mary, two, maybe three, bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom sometimes so near the front door that visitors have a way of blundering into it at their exit under the impression that it is “the way out.” At the end of the more-or-less narrow hall lie the state apartments of the establishment in the guise of one or more sitting-rooms. One ambitious woman clings to the old nomenclature of “drawing-room” and we try to smile in the attempt to fit the title to the ten-by-ten parlor. If there are two of them, the agent is careful to represent that one may be counted in as a bedchamber if one more be required for the growing household. A small dining-room completes the tale of rooms.

From the Inside.

If I have seemed to jest at the strait confines and makeshifts of the lodgings hired for so much per month (with no deduction if rented by the year) in which John, Mary and one, or two, or mayhap four children must live, day and night, in the great Babel where John gets a living for them, it is all in seeming. For hundred of thousands of respectable, refined families live in this manner from year’s end to year’s end, and make homes of the narrow quarters.

There are sundry bright sides to the picture, dun-colored though it may look to the dweller in his spacious farmstead and pitifully mean to the semi-millionaire who could afford to rent (or buy) one of the $5000-a-year “slices,” but prefers a brownstone-front private residence upon a “good” street.

To begin with, the drudgery of American housekeeping is reduced to a minimum in a well-arranged flat. With no stairs to keep clean, no furnace fire to keep up, no sidewalk to sweep and no steps to climb when one is fairly at home, the mother soon appreciates a sensible lessening of the burden bound upon her body and mind. The rooms are small, bur easier to keep clean on that account. There is neither a cellar nor attic. There is, therefore, less danger of rubbish heaps to be disposed of spring and fall. If she be wise in her generation, Mary is not slow in discovering the French-woman’s sound economy of purchasing provision in small quantities. I know this tenet is at variance with the United States’ preconceived idea that wholesale purchasing is a saving in the long run. Applies and potatoes are cheaper by one-third when laid in by the barrel. If the cellar be dry, and if the farmer or the commuter’s wife has time to spare for a weekly overhauling and sorting of the specked, the decayed and the sound, the principle holds good. All the same, fruits and flour, butter and beef are used more freely if there is a big supply on hand than when calculation must be made daily of the stock in refrigerator and cupboard. And there is next to no waste in smaller quantities.

The refrigerator is built into the wall or hall or of kitchen in a flat. See to it that it aired into continual sweetness. If salad, lettuce, cress or endive be put into the refrigerator, wrap it in a linen or cotton cloth to keep it fresh and prevent the flavor from affecting milk or butter. Use the like precaution with regard to meats and fruit. Never put away strongly flavored provisions of any kind in the icebox unless in closed cases.

Look to the quantity of closet room before you rent the apartment. So much of family comfort depends upon the condition that she is short-sighted who does not make a resolute stand here. Wardrobe closets in the chambers, china presses in dining-room and kitchen, with roomy not closets in the latter, go far toward making up for the cellar and garret. There is, usually, a storeroom in the basement which empty trunks and boxes may be stored. Examine it from time to time to ascertain if it be dry. I have known trunks rotted into uselessness by storage in an ill-ventilated basement. It is no sign that the said ground floor is dry and clean because the janitor and his family live in it.

The same janitor is an important factor in flat life. Some are intolerably slovenly and incompetent; others are indifferently good; now and then one happens upon a jewel of a Joe or Patrick, who contributes a liberal quota toward the home-feeling to be gained in the sliced home. Make it a point to get on the right side of him. Speak to him kindly whenever you meet on the stairs or have occasion to summon him to your apartment to look after range or plumbing. Fee him judiciously, yet not lavishly, at intervals. It is a good investment of 50 cents or $1.

You will need to put more shelves in your clothes presses and pot closets. A legal friend informs me that, if nailed to the wall these fall under the head of “fixtures” and may not be removed when you migrate to other quarters. If neatly screwed to woodwork they are “portable.” The same is true as to bookcases. Shelve the closets up to the ceiling and make absolute the law “A place for everything in its place.” If you have more china than the presses will contain, and a superfluity of bric-a-brac, dispose of the pieces you use least upon a shelf fastened upon brackets on a level with the picture molding in dining and living room.

From the beginning determine that your abiding place shall be a home, and as pretty and cozy as your means will admit. Strike the keynote of comfort and harmony in the arrangement of the furniture. Don’t crowd the walls with pictures because you happen to have them. A few really good engravings hung in the proper light impart a tone to the parlor not to be gained from mediocre paintings. Hang family likenesses in the bedrooms. Don’t pack bric-a-brac (much abused name!) upon mantels and tables until the place looks like a fancy fair. Select a few of the best vases for show, and when you can, fill them with flowers.

The most woeful want known to the flat-dweller in the city is the poverty of light in the inner rooms. Write it down as a must-have that your children shall sleep in rooms where the sunlight finds entrance at some hour of the day. The conventional “shaft” is a device of the Evil One as truly as the spider’s web is spun to catch flies. Smells arise steadily from pavement, basement and sewer. A dark room is an abomination to the Lord of light and life. I say it reverently. It should be a penal offense to construct a house for the residence of human creatures in which this is a necessity in the mind of the architect. If you cannot avoid renting a “slice” where one of these is a fixture, use it for some other purpose than a sleeping room.

In selecting the flat choose one that is well up toward the sky in preference to a first or second floor. You have more stairs to climb, it is true, but you are amply repaid for the exertion by the better air and purer abundance of light you find at the top. If you are lucky enough to have an accommodating elevator, go as high as it ascends.

On Stair-Climbing.

It may not be true, as some assert, that at the height of seventy or eighty feet one is practically beyond the germ belt. But it is certainly true that one leaves many impurities of this low earth behind as one mounts heavenward.

One word to those who, by reason of flesh, scantiness of breath, weakness or the weight of years, find stairclimbing painfully difficult. Take the ascent slowly, and before lifting the foot for the next step draw a full breath, exhaling it as you set your foot on the higher stair. After a little practice you will surprise yourself by the increased ease of the climb. Give out the breath slowly with the rise of the knee and foot. Halt for a few second on the stair and begin another inhalation. You will not only mount faster, but you will not be breathless when you are at the end of the journey.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

“At Moving Time”

This is the third article in May of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on May 16, 1909, and is an article on how to properly pack and move to a new or summer home.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

“At Moving Time”

“YOU have a disagreeable duty to do at 12 o’clock. Do not blacken 9 and 10 and 11, and all in between, with the color of 12. Do the work of each and reap the reward in peace. * * * The best preparation is the present well seen to—the last duty done.”

Thus said George Macdonald, the apostle of the present; whom common place people heard gladly.

I borrow the bit of practical, “commonsensible” wisdom as the starting point of our chat upon the crucial period of springtime to the housemother who must migrate to other quarters just when the birds have come back for the summer and are chirping—it may be merrily, perchance peevishly—over nest-building. Blessed among women is she to whom the vernal breezes bring no sinking of heart in the anticipation of the ordeal the old adage declares to be equal in destructiveness to three fires. Those who own the homes in which they live, or who are settled for a term of years in leased lodgings made so pleasant by long residence that one forgets they are not one’s very own possession, may enjoy the opening of the bud and blossom season. Their less fortunate neighbor, who has known ever since Christmas that April or May will be written “exodus” in her calendar, is the parishioner in George Macdonald’s world-wide parish to whom I address motherly counsel.

Every Corner and Crevice.

You may be about to exchange a rented flat for what my wee granddaughter describes as “a real, whole house of your own.” Or improved financial status may justify you in transferring family and furniture to more commodious quarters that those you now occupy. Nevertheless, the idea of the process is an abiding shadow. You think of it as your first awakening in the spring morning that comes so much sooner daily as to curtail the few hours of sleep that is haunted by foreboding and forecasting the ways and means of work that must be done and worries that may not be avoided.

Turn back to sainted George’s simple counsel and write is upon the tablet of your heart. Then begin in good time to “tackle” singly the inevitable disagreeables. Get ahead of the task instead of letting it drive you. Begin operations at the top of the house, if you have an attic. If not, commence with the closets and corners and cuddies that stand for the garret of better-lodged folk. Get together all the unmistakable rubbish.

No Time for Sentiment.

Despite your best efforts and yearly clearances of whatever may be catalogued as “trash,” you will be surprised and shamed at the result of exploration into the aforesaid corners. Letters that you ought to have torn across and consigned to the waste basket as soon as they were read; Christmas, visiting and postcards, there was even less excuse for keeping; backless books and back numbers of magazines you should have passed on to me, or to some other circulating medium, months ago, tattered music, and the miscellaneous mass of trifles that once seemed too good to throw away and which you confess loathingly were always too worthless to keep over night, prominent among them being broken china you meant to have mended, and children’s toys you “just couldn’t bear to” toss into the scavenger’s cart, the while you recognized the absurdity of putting them away—I need not prolong the list. We “have all of us been there!” Leave the obvious lesson they teach for another day’s consideration and make short work in righteousness of the uncomely debris. While you are about it, think of nothing else.

Of course there may be worse to come but do not blacken the present tribulation with the color of tomorrow. And don’t sentimentalize over the rubbish. The “loan exhibitions” of today night be less crowded with hoards nobody cares to look at except the lenders thereof, if our foremothers had been less romantic in their attachments to fractured china and dried flowers, samplers and rice-paper pictures worn in the back of the watches of Strephon and Corydon. Let us have an eye to possible embarrassments on the part of our great-granddaughters and sternly resist similar temptations. Cremation is (or ought to be) “the destined end and way” of perishables that have no intrinsic value.

Decently and In Order.

Having cleared decks for the real business of moving, fall to work upon china and glass, reserving just enough to enable you to carry on the daily living that must go forward in the few days intervening before the actual flitting. For many years it was my wont to put this delicate bit of work into the hands of the “profession” in our transits from town to country and vice versa. After watching the methods of the men who were sent from china shops for the purpose, and keeping a close account of breakage, I came to the conclusion that I could handle my fragile properties as well as they do, and if glass and porcelain were to be wracked, preferred to do it myself. For the past decade nobody, save a careful handmaiden working under and with me and I myself, has packed crockery, china and cut glass. And I record, more thankfully than boastfully, that thus far not one piece has come to grief during this period.

First, we have six, eight or ten barrels, bought for a small sum from the grocer. Next, we lay in a large quantity of newspapers, having begun to save them for weeks beforehand. For very fine and thin ware we have tissue paper for the inner wrapper, inclosing it with the newspaper, rubbed soft between the hands. Plenty of paper is used upon each article. All that belongs to each set of china or glass is put into one barrel, which is then carefully marked. If more than one barrel is required for the set, the second barrel is marked in the like manner. This saves time and confusion in unpacking and resettling the content. A thick layer of excelsior is put into the bottom of the barrel and lines the sides. The same goes between the layers of paper-enveloped pieces. If one bit of “fragile” touches another, breakage is inevitable. Cushion all thickly and pack closely. Fit a cover on the barrel, that the content may not work loose in the transit.

We pack our linens, blankets, etc., next in order. Old packing trunks are used here when we can spare them. If not, we buy drygoods boxes for linens and for books. These last are laid close together in the cases. Several thickness of papers line the vases, and each bound book is wrapped with paper to avoid abrasion.

Books are uncanny things to pack. One might fancy that they disdain intimate association with others of their kind. The sharp edges of the bindings have a trick of punching the backs of one’s handsome volumes, and the sides rub crossly into those of their neighbors, bruising and scratching them unless the strata are separated by a double fold of paper. Here, again, put each family of books together and mark the box with a list of contents. Sheets and pillow cases, napkins and tablecloths, blankets and coverlets hunt in couples, and need stouter cases than china. Books are even heavier. If they are to be transported to another town or to the country, the cases should be banded with iron or wooden hoops.

Do not try to crate furniture with your own hands. Leave that to the handy man of the family, or, failing such a one, send for a regular workman in that line. Old cloths, carpets and rugs may be utilized in this work to protect fine furniture from rubbing and from dust.

Throughout the task “keep a quiet mind.” And do one thing at a time. Hold the thoughts steadily to the idea that you are moving out. Moving in is one of the discoloring “to-comes” against which our preacher warns you. Let each hour and day take care of itself, and the weeks of readjustment and toil will look after themselves in the order appointed.

One frequent cause of discomfort and subsequent illness attendant upon moving-time is the too common practice of living from hand-to-mouth for days together. No regular meals are cooked or served. The delicatessen shops and bakeries supply food that mother and maids are too busy to get ready. Set your face like a benignant flint against this violence of health laws. Now, if ever, you and your helpers need nourishing, quiet meals, eaten at stated times and as leisurely as if the abhorrent business of removal were not—literally as figuratively—on the carpet. Talk of other matters while at table. If, at the bitterest end of the ordeal, you cannot contrive a table, use a packing case in lieu thereof. See that a real tablecloth is reserved to give a semblance of decency and order to the ceremony of a family meal. Picnics are well enough in their way, but at this crisis, body and mind should have support and the domestic routine be maintained.

“In the suds,” is an expression handed down from a day when the housemother bent her own back and plunged her arms up to her elbows in Monday’s washtub. It has come to mean much more to us, namely, a state of slatternly disorganization and discomfort incompatible with self-respect and orderliness of mind and action.

Keep out of the suds in moving time.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

Concerning Oil Cloth

This is the final article in March of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on March 28, 1909, and is an article on the importance of using oilcloth in the kitchen to protect floors, walls, shelves, and the table.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Concerning Oil Cloth

THEY call it American cloth in English talk and writings, and a plebeian flavor clings to every such mention of it. It belongs to stories of squalid lodgings and shabby-genteel eating houses in the rural districts and at the seaside. It cannot be denied that, in our own country, this native product of inventive genius has lost caste within a quarter century. Middle-aged women recollect when the dining table was covered between mealtimes with a square of painted oilcloth, bound with galloon or tape. In some households it was not removed when the damask went on. The oilcloth, if or good quality, was lined with heavy canton flannel, and reversed in spreading the glossy linen over it, serving the double purpose of protecting the mahogany from hot dishes and splashes of liquid and deadening the impact of crockery and silver against the polished surface.

We use the “silence cloth” of quilted muslin or of felt, now, to protect the table and to make the damask lie smoothly, at the same time gaining the effect of a better quality for the linen. A thin, well-laundered table cloth laid over the felt takes on the look of a heavier weave than if spread on the bare boards. It wears longer, too, and keeps cleaner. I have explained repeatedly to the young housewife that a creased and limp cloth “catches dirt” sooner than a smooth, thereby increase the laundry bills.

Zinc Versus Oilcloth

But to our oilcloth, which still has its uses. I might add—and its abuses. For a long time it held its own on the kitchen work-table. It was easily cleaned; it did not absorb grease, and it was impervious to unholy drippings which would have soaked into the wood but for intervention. Zinc drove oilcloth out of housewifely favor on table-tops. Let me say, digressively, at this point, that my vanity as a kitchenly authority had a hard blow in the discovery that I was not the first woman to discover and utilize the value of zinc as a tablecover in laundry, pantry and cookroom. I verily believed that nobody else had ever thought of superseding oilcloth by nailing a sheet of zinc upon the deal boards and tacking the edges neatly under the projecting top of my kitchen work-table. My pride had a fall a year later when I read a recommendation of the plan in a cooking magazine, written by one who certainly had never seen my “invention.”

Oilcloth had a way of curling up at the edges, and one dared not set down a hot saucepan upon it for a second. Carelessness in this respect was registered in discolored rings and crescents, which presently wore into bare spots, through which the foundation of the fabric showed forlornly. Zinc is heat-proof as well as water-proof.

Dubious Economy

The stouter floor oilcloth held its ground longer. In fact, it is still extensively used in halls and kitchens, especially in the country. The gorgeously impossible flower and fruit patterns that pleased our childish fancy have passed away, with the monstrous deigns of carpets affected by our grandmothers. Neat, geometric figures, in imitation of tiled pavements and other “conventional” designs, show an advance toward just artistic taste that is gratifying.

In buying oilcloth never lose sight of the truth that a cheap article in this line is the dearest in the end. Likewise, that the end is not far off for the housewife who lays the “bargain” upon hall or kitchen floor. Within a few weeks there will appear little lanes and alleys, criss-crossing one another, where the mother’s busy feet and the boys’ brogans have trod into the soft lacquer, which is the best the manufacturer can afford “at that price.” The coating is thin, and the cotton web it overspreads is also of poor quality.

The number of distressful letters I receive from housekeepers begging for some method of making oilcloths last long enough to pay the buyers for putting them down are abundant proof of the false economy of laying cheap stuffs upon floorings where there is much passing. “Much traffic,” one housewife styled the going to and fro of many hurrying feet. It was an apt word for the rush of the day’s occupations in an American home.

If you can possibly afford it, buy linoleum—the aristocratic cousin of oilcloth—for the kitchen and bathroom. It outlives the usefulness of the best oilcloth by an incredible term of years. The “inlaid” linoleum of fair quality is the next best thing to a tiled floor.

Some years ago I visited a friend who had hung the walls of her kitchen with oilcloth. The pattern, an arabesque design in green and white, matched the linoleum on the floor, and the effect was most pleasing.

She expatiated upon the merits of the material for covering the side walls with all the zeal of an inventor and benefactor. It was easy to keep clean. A little soap and water, a soft brush, a soft cloth—and presto! a wall as good as new. It as not injured by smoke and steam, as paper would be. It did not scale off and crack after the manner of painted walls. It was tacked smoothly to the wall and finished at the top with a pretty frieze. I heard from my friend last summer a tale of disappointment that was affliction. The vaunted oilcloth had proved a harbor and breeding ground for roaches and croton bugs—for black and red ants that equaled Pharaoh’s plagues in degree if not in variety. It was necessary to tear down the beautiful screen to unearth the pests. The walls behind it were literally black with the hordes.

“I am having the walls and floors painted!” wailed the disconsolate victim. “But shall I never get rid of the infliction I invited so ignorantly?”

Other housemothers tell me of similar experiences with the pinked shelf oilcloths that have superseded paper in most of our pantries, storerooms and china closes.

“There are so many hiding places for vermin of all kinds,” writes one. “Hereafter I use papers and look under them every week.”

I answered that she would find it an easy to look under the oilcoths. They are prettier, firmer and not susceptible to dampness; more easily dusted and altogether preferable to shelf papers, provided they are lifted frequently and search made for the intruders. If the shelves are treated once a month to a hot bath plentifully dashed with red pepper, the tiny pests will not take refuge under them.

I am surprised that so few housewives supply themselves with kitchen aprons of oilcloth. A light and flexible quality should be selected for this purpose. The apron must be made with a bib, kept in place by shoulder straps. It should be ample in size, furnished with a couple of pockets and bound with galloon. It may be slipped on over the dinner dress at the mistress’ flying visit to the kitchen to see that all is in proper trim, or to put the finishing touch to some peculiarly delicate dainty. A pair of oilcloth sleeves, buttoned at the cuffs and shirred above the elbows with a “drawstring” would complete her defensive armor.

Marion Harland

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Ways and Ways of Doing Things

This is the first article in March of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on March 7, 1909, and is an article on how much easier life gets for the maid if she employs a business-like mindset to her work.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Ways and Ways of Doing Things

“SHE is quiet and methodical.”

This was but one clause in the eminently satisfactory certificate given to Serena by her former employer.

One delightful Milesian used to call it “a stiff ticket.” I have never been sure that she was far wrong.

The aforesaid employer was “declining housekeeping”—which I believe to be a purely American phrase—and going to a hotel to live. There were but herself and husband “in family,” and where was the sense of keeping up a regular household for two old people?

This, likewise, I remark, is a sentiment and expression of American coinage.

But as to Serena, who had applied for the vacant place of waitress and chambermaid in my house. She was warranted willing, honest, neat and obliging. She had lived for 14 months in these capacities with the writer of the “stiff ticket,” who would not give her up now save for the declination I have named. Yet my yes returned once and again to the five words I have quoted on this page.

“Quiet and methodical.” No other employer with whom I have ever had similar dealings had used the phrase. It impressed me the more favorably that memory instantly conjured up the vision of the last incumbent of the office for which Serena had offered herself. Martha had not been noisy, it is true, but—methodical? At the idea I smiled broadly, and raising my eyes from the certificate, I saw the flicker of a responsive, yet a respectful gleam cross the face of my companion. She could not have divined the source of my amusement, but she saw that I smiled in a friendly fashion and reflected the light. I have bethought myself sometimes that that brief sympathetic flicker was a key to Serena’s innermost self. Nothing escapes the eyes that never stare inquisitively, and action follows perception.

A Willing Soul.

I engaged her on the spot. She has been an inmate of my house now for five years, and in all that time I have not had occasion to reprove her once for negligence or for any fault of manner of speech.

When, one morning last week, she forgot to put the salt on the breakfast table, a chuckle of delight ran around the board.

“The first time we ever caught her napping!” ejaculated a grinning lad.

And another, as the maid hastened to repair the omission: “Why, Martha, in all the two years she was with us, never set the table once without forgetting something. Don’t you recollect the morning we counted 10 articles she had to put in place after we sat down to breakfast?”

The tale was literally true, and she had believed, like a willing and honest soul (for she was that!) that the table was properly laid. From the time she left her bed with the sun and sought it long after the god of day had withdrawn his face from our side of the world, the girl was in a hurry. She swept with quick swirls of the broom that would have left a stream of mare’s tails in her wake had she been the old woman that brushed cobwebs from the sky; she scrubbed hard, irregularly and painfully, overlooking a corner here and there in her anxiety “to get through with the job.” That was a frequent sating with her. Every task was a “job,” and her eyes were always fixed upon another just ahead of her. Details were as nothing in her sight. “Consequentimentally”—as Mrs. Plornish says in “Little Dorritt”—Martha had what the boys called “the best forgettery” upon record in our domestic archives. It was absolutely phenomenal. And strange to say—for the girl, as I have said, meant to do right abashed her. She rectified them without a blush or murmur of apology. They were all in the day’s work.

Why did I keep her for two years? Partly because she was neat in person, quick of apprehension, willing, industrious and honest; partly because, as I shall show presently, her “ways” were so much like those of an immense number of other women. “Method, system and businesslike” are words which have no place in their working vocabulary. When at last Martha became the wife of a mechanic and departed to another city to miskeep a house of her own, we were sorry to part with her personality.

And, up to the last, her desire to preform her duties properly was so apparent that we were lenient in judgement.

Serena talks little in our hearing at any time. When about her work she never speaks except to answer questions. She does not “take life hard.” On the contrary, she is uniformly cheerful, and the children love to be with her. The secret of her success as a housemaid may be condense into one sentence: She knows what she means to do, and she thinks of nothing else while she has the task in hand. For the time she is a well-regulated machine, warranted to keep in order and to turn out certain results. Each hour has its appointed duty, and she drives steadily on until the next hour brings the next duty. The observant eyes have a cool brain behind them.

To sum up the case, she runs her housework as a man runs his business. I should not dare assert it were this a fancy sketch.

The world is likely to be turned upside down by the frenzied efforts of “pioneers” in the mission of raising women citizens to the level of men. Without trenching upon the field of controversy, may I say a few direct, plain words to my fellow housemothers with regard to what we have actually in hand and not what may or may not be?

Business Methods in the Home.

To begin with an unpalatable truth: As housekeepers we are, as a rule, unbusinesslike. When men say this we retort that a house cannot be run like a store or shop or office. Sometimes the husbands believe us. Oftener they are silenced, not convinced. The boldest and most compassionate of them dare not attempt to point out the flaws in his souse’s system of daily toil. I would better say “her lack of system.” When I have hinted at the possibility of performing the multifarious tasks incumbent upon wife, mother and caterer, according to rule and measure, I am assured that it is impracticable. I would not attempt to say how many thousand times that hateful adage.
“Man’s work is from sun to sun,
But woman’s work is never done,”
has been flung at me in the course of arguments upon the vexed subject.

There is no stranger feature in the whole question than that factory girls and clerk after they are married never think of applying to domestic labors the habits of punctuality and precision they learned in their former spheres. Yet the woman who brings energy, will and ingenuity to bear in the resolve to regulate her household by fixed laws, assigning to each hour its task and finishing each before the next is brought forward, finds to her amazement that she secure for herself what the rhyme I quote intimates can never be hers, to wit, leisure.

To illustrate, by a return to the true story of my maids, Martha never had “a moment to herself,” as she put it. Serena secures an hour in each afternoon for a bath and dressing for the evening, and has five evening per week on an average in her quiet room for her own sewing and reading.

I know—no one better!—how many and vexatious and inevitable are the interruptions which are hindrances in the “just one day” of the housemother’s life. Our husbands, sons and brothers have the same in number, if not exactly in kind. These are “circumstances” which we are to expect and to conquer. In planning what is to be done today allow for these. As your husband would say, “leave a margin,” or perhaps he will phrase it, “Set it down to profit and loss.” But hold fast to your schedule—when you have made it.

Did you ever talk to the manager of a successful hotel? Or ask to be conducted through the kitchen of the same establishment? You will learn much that will set you thinking, if you will do these things. I did. There is no reason why your house may not be “run” with the like regard for order and punctuality on a miniature scale. I have the pleasure of visiting homes where the experiment has been made, and successfully. Would it not be wise for each “progressive woman” to introduce “business methods” into her own home before essaying to lend a hand in making national, State and township laws? It may be capital practice for what lies before the sex in the future of the country. It should be easier to manage Bridget, Dinah and Thekla than to manipulate their masculine counterparts in primary meetings and at the polls. Lift the reproach of “unbusinesslike ways” from women. Put it out of the power of satirists to ask:

“If thou hast run with footmen and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? And if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then what wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”

Marion Harland

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The Box from Home

This is the second article in February of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on February 14, 1909, and is an article on sending a box of goodies to children attending boarding school.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Box from Home

THAT was that I was trying to get off by express from a country railway station. It was addressed to a certain great preparatory academy at L—–, a rural town, but so widely advertised by the list of graduates who have distinguished themselves in universities to which the “rep” was the vestibule, that I was confounded at hearing that the express office at which I applied had no branch there. While I parleyed with the agent, endeavoring to convince him with a woman’s logic that, since I was positive I was right, he must be wrong, a man whom I knew slightly as a commute on the railway to New York, stopped and lifted his hat to me with:

“Pardon me! but can I be of any help to you? I could not avoid overhearing part of your conversation.”

I explained and he lent an attentive ear.

“I am on my way to P—–.” Naming a two a few miles from L—–. “If you will permit me to take charge of that box and see that it is transferred to the local delivery line at P—–, it will give me real pleasure to do you the trifling service.”

“But,” I began, “that would be asking a great deal from a busy man—”

He interrupted me, but courteously:

“It will be my pleasure, as I said. For I have not forgotten hat I, too, was a boy once,” glancing with a kind smile at the address on the case, “and what it was to me to get a box from home.”

I have never packed one since without recalling the smile in the kindly eyes and the softened tone that told of fond and grateful memories.

While I write of the incident there float back to me, as if 45 yeas were less than that number of days, the words of a letter received by me the middle of January, 1864. My favorite brother was in the Southern army, and was now a prisoner of war in a Federal fortress. Though the courtesy of his nominal warders I was permitted to send him a great case at the holidays. Nothing was “contraband” at that season of good will to men.

“I wish you could have seen the opening of that box!” he wrote. “The roast turkey, the ham, the fried chicken, the cakes—with all the delicious et ceteras, set out a royal feast. We shut our eyes (but not our mouths!) and ‘made believe,’ as the children do, that we were at home.”

The “Ground Swell.”

Those of our readers who are not good sailors will comprehend what is meant by the “ground swell” succeeding a storm. Voyagers who are never sick at sea—and, as the manner of such is, boast ostentatiously of the immunity—succumb to the long, slow roll of the sullen billows. The ground swell of subsiding excitement that follows the joyousness of the holidays is to many the dreariest period of the year. To the schoolboy and schoolgirl the routine of study is drudgery until they get used again to the pressure and pull of the harness. The month preceding vacation was all aglow with anticipation. January is like flat champagne. Hearts and spirits obey the universal natural law of rise and depression.

How many mothers remind themselves of the general operation of this law? Jack writes home that he is “in the dumps,” and Mary that she is homesick, and the trend of all the letters bearing the date of “January, 1909,” betrays the settled conviction of boy and girl that dolls are stuffed with sawdust and “all the world is hollow! hollow! hollow!” The ground swell is in full action.

Now is the nick of time for the box from home.

In preparing for Christmas the mothers who have had experience along this dark-blue line have held back a few things, which, but for that wise forethought, would have gone into the array of holiday gifts that made glad the hearts of children. Let her bring them out now from their hiding places and make them bear their part in the blessed work of “making believe.”

I digress here to observe that those who have put the habit behind them with other childish things lose much of the flavor and sweetness of everyday life.

The lose much who do not read Lewis Carroll’s inimitable “Alice” books. They lose more, and they will go on losing, who cannot appreciate the delicate, delicious humor of the works. Nobody who has been with our darling Alice “Through the Looking Glass” will ever forget Humpty-Dumpty’s arguments in favor of the “un-birthday presents,” as opposed to that bestowed on the anniversary. According to him, “there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents.”

“Certainly!” said Alice.

Then—“there’s a knockdown argument for you!”

My readers are more stupid than I could be made to believe if they fail to apply the “knock-downer” for themselves in connection with this, my un-anniversary lay sermon.

The case you fill for the “un-birthday” and “un-holiday” surprise should have a lingering fragrance of the festive season. Some wants were left unsatisfied, as you may know. I doubt if the boy has a pincushion on the dressing bureau he may share with a roommate. I would be willing to wager that he has not a shoebag to hang on the inside of his closet door, or a framed photograph of his country home. A cake with his initials on top will bring up a glow of self-importance that will strengthen his resolution to live up to the ideal the old mother sets up for him in her heart. A pocket edition of an author you know to be a favorite with him will go with him on trolley car and train, and when summer days come will be a companion in forest rambles.

Mary is not superior to enjoyment of home-made “goodies.” We have no better word for bonbons, fruits, cookies, nuts, candied cherries and plums, beaten biscuits, wee jars of pickles and jams, fancy cheeses—that go into the composition of a Saturday supper in a dormitory, with one’s dear particular group of cronies to help dispose of it.

The box from home may keep the “dumpish” boy off the streets for more than one night. It will put a different complexion upon the world Mary has discovered to be hollow all through.

If you have no bairns of your very own, or if yours have passed their school days, or if they are still in the nursery, do a little make-believe on your own account. The year is still new and the need of each human creature for comfort and cheer is ever old and never distant from each one of us. Bethink yourself who dwell in luxury and love among your own people of the lonely lad who is trying to “keep straight” in a sixth-rate boarding house upon a wage of $10 per week; doing his very best to be honest and clean and diligent in business for the sake of the old mother who lives 1000 miles away, or for the dearer sake of her who died last winter.

Brace up the sinking heart of the girl from a village you know of in New Jersey or in Michigan, who is fighting the world single-handed. God help her! in in the wilderness of a city of 1,000,000 souls (so-called), not one of which cares for hers. Bestir your wits and energies to send her a box from home. She may have no home now, but beguile her into believing that she has by the beautiful appropriateness of what she will draw from the depths of the fairy coffer. Things which her mother might thought of; useful trifles that she may keep about her every day and handle gratefully; books of cheer wet and dreary evenings when she is too tired to sew or knit or even to sleep. Not trashy, sensational fiction or goody-goody books, but healthful stories with more laughter than tears in them. And do not forget “sweeties” of the right kind, done up in tissue paper and tied with bright ribbons, such as everybody used at Christmas and next-t-nobody uses between times. In short, such a box as the girl would have had on a birthday from the homestead in that far-off State had not poverty pulled it down over her head and beaten her forth to struggle for bread and shelter.

Marion Harland

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Proper Care of Sink and Refrigerator

This is the second article in July of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on July 14, 1907, and is an educating article about keeping sink and fridge clean.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the Boston Sunday Post.

Proper Care of Sink and Refrigerator

THE kitchen sink cannot be made slightly by any device. It cannot be draped; and to draw a screen before it is to subject the priestess of the domain to countless inconveniences when she must have light and room for operations. The basin may be of porcelain, and the row of faucets above it of shining nickel. The whole construction is unmistakably and irredeemably ugly.

It is, nevertheless, the criterion of the housewife’s or cook’s “management.”

“Show me your sink, and I will describe your cook!” is a homely old saying.

If it be littered with tea leaves and coffee grounds; if it be “whisk-clean” save for a greasy gloss on bottom and sides, while in the far corner the blackened whisk conceals a disgusting deposit of refuse and of coagulated fats—you need not inquire verbally into the management of that mistress’ housewifery or into that cook’s fidelity to the duties of her calling.

Keep a sink sieve hanging above the sink and use it whenever anything that contains sediment is poured out. The stationary grating in the bottom of the basin is too coarse to keep back the substances which clog the pipes.

Beware of Grease.

The vilest of these in all its works and ways is, of course, grease, invisible to the careless eye when hot, but afterward working out the mischievous fruits of neglect. It coagulates upon the sides of the drain, and if not “cut,” becomes as hard and as impervious to water as wax. Nine-tenths of the disastrous stoppages in the pipes that flood the kitchen floor with all manner of uncleanness and involve the expense of the costly plumber and his equally costly assistant, are the direct result of a collection of oil matter that should never have found its way into the sink at all—or if this had happened, ought not to have been suffered to stiffen into a mass.

In consideration of this truth, the duty of flushing the sink daily with caustic alkalies cannot be too strongly enforced upon cook and housewife. Have ever on hand chlorides—or, better still, and more easily procured— washing soda, which disintegrates the accumulation of grease. Plain folk say “cuts” it, and the term is more emphatic than the polysyllable.

Scald the sink every other day flushing the pipes by letting the hot water run when at its hottest and for ten minutes at a time. Before the flushing begins, lay a lump of washing soda over the grating and run the water directly upon it.

Summer Expedients.

In summer, substitute, twice a week, a lump of unslaked lime for the soda. If a handful of borax be thrown into the sink at night directly over the grating and left there until morning, it will tend to dissuade water bugs from creeping through the pipe and sweeten the first dash of water turned out of the faucet on the morrow.

Beside the can of borax set above the sink should stand the bottle of household ammonia. The combined cost of an abundant stock of the two would not equal in a year what a plumber “and man” would charge for three hours’ work—“and time.”

(By the way, why must a plumber invariably bring a helper along when one man could do all the work? Must the species always hunt in couples?)

I mentioned “water bugs” in a casual, airy manner just now, that was altogether disproportioned to the part they play in bathroom, kitchen, and sink, not to speak of pantry and refrigerator. They are cousin-german to the cockroach.

There is a covert pun in that compound word. For our water bug was brought to our shores in the holds of German vessels. Ever since that unhappy hour he has been a “stowaway” of the most detestable type. To cap the climax of odiousness, he and his kinsman inflict upon the memory a sesquipedalian title. The cockroach is “Blatta (or Periplaneta) Orientails.” The imported variety is “Blatta Germanica.”

A naturalist thus describes the pest of sink and larder:

“Nocturnal in habits and very troublesome in houses, where they multiply in great rapidity, infesting kitchens and pantries and attacking provisions of all kinds. They have a very offensive smell.”

He might have added that an ill-kept sink is their favorite resort.

Borax comes into deserved prominence in the list of our helpers in the mission of freeing our premises of the loathly things. Strew it thickly over shelves and blow it into cracks. Or—mix it with molasses and cornmeal into a paste, work in tartar emetic, or red lead, and set tiny plates of the delicacy in the sink and on the shelves overnight. Or (again!) pour a little oil of pennyroyal down the pipe at night and wet a cloth in hot water, drop a little of the oil upon it and wipe off the woodwork of the sink with it.

Old-fashioned Southern housemothers knew not the “water bug” even by name. The native cockroach we have had from time immemorial. They (the aforesaid mothers) used to boil poke weed root in water, and mix the strong decoction with an equal quantity of black molasses. This was spread on bread and laid in the tracks of the nocturnal prowlers. They ate it ravenously and departed to other hunting grounds—if there be a future state for the Blatta tribe.

In our germ-mad generation, it is surprising that in the howl against cold storage foods, so little has been made of the peril to health by unclean refrigerators. The confined air is, of itself, unwholesome, imparting a “close taste” to butter and meats, easily recognized, yet rarely analyzed. The chill of the ice arrests decay, but it does not prevent the growth of mould.

Did you ever look at a section of mould through a microscope? You would see it pretty forest or jungle of divers color. Like non-edible toadstools, it is fair to see, and, like them, it is poisonous to human stomach. If the sink be a faithful witness to the housewifery of owner or caretaker, the refrigerator is a yet more correct reporter. It should be absolutely odorless.

How to Keep Food.

Meats that give forth a goodly smell should be kept in a meat safe in the cellar. Fragrant fruits must never be set in the same compartment with other foods. If milk and butter are kept in the refrigerator, give them a shelf to themselves, and, unless the butter be perfectly fresh, keep it away from the milk.

In summer the shelves should be cleared dally and the contents sorted under the of the mistress. The corners must be scrubbed faithfully with a cloth wrung out in boiling water and baking soda, that nothing may accumulate there. Then the doors must be left open until the shrives are entirely dry. To shut up humidity in the chilled interior is to make a dark cave of it.

It is an excellent plan to lay a lump of dry, clean charcoal upon each shelf, exchanging it for fresh once a week. It absorbs musty smells and tends to keep the refrigerator dry inside.

Charcoal is an invaluable sweetener.

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