My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

The Art of Housewifery


One of the things I used to collect, back before children, back when I could spend hours meandering up and down dusty aisles of used book stores, was housewife manuals. I have a small collection that include books on how to cook, serve, clean, run a household, raise a child, and have sex – all in the way most likely to please your man.

If I was truly anal retentive, and my books were shelved in any particular order, I'd have these books filed under Humor.

I have misplaced the "raising a child" book published probably in the 1930's but I'll find it soon. One of it's best chapters gives instructions on potty training when children are six months old. Yes – six months old. Somehow, with everything else a housewife is supposed to do, she is to fit in picking up on cues from an infant that they are about to do both #1 and #2. At which point, you are to find the chamber pot – post haste – remove the voluminous cloth diaper and outer wrappings, and place the pot under the baby's butt. To catch whatever emerges from that general area. Sounds like fun, no? Is it no wonder they created Mother's Little Helpers, huh?

Here are the titles I currently own (paltry, I know):

"The Art of Cooking and Serving" by Sarah Field Splint (1931).
This is published by Procter & Gamble Co. Most of the recipes include Crisco. Hmmm, do you think maybe there's some propaganda here? Blatant commercialism? Nah – I'm sure the good folks at P&G were simply looking out for the best interests of the average housewife and her family's cholesterol level. Heart disease, schmart disease!

"Married Love: by Dr. Marie C. Stopes. Published by Eugenics Publishing Co. (1918, 1927, 1931).
Again, no evil slant here. I'm sure this completely unbiased as well.

"How to Attain and Practice...The Ideal Sex Life" by Dr. J. Rutgers (1940).
In small print on the title page it reads, "Intended for Circulation among Mature Persons only." But of COURSE! Wouldn't dream of letting this book get into the wrong hands!

"Facts of Love and Marriage for Young People. A Guide To Successful Family Living for the Youth of Today – The Parents of Tomorrow." Compiled and edited by Aron Krich (with the cooperation of the Public Affairs Committee) (1961).
Whatever the PAC is. This book includes a chapter entitled, "Democracy Begins at Home." Could be worth considering. We'll see.

So, shall we begin? Indeed we shall. Our first book, the first one listed above, that was so generously given to us by a multi-national corporation with rumors of satanic undertones in its moon-and-stars logo, gives us this bit of information in its foreward:

"Besides the latest information on nutrition and table service, it contains more than five hundred recipes, all of which were carefully tested before they were permitted a place here [Whew! Thank goodness for their thoroughness! I'd hate to place before my husband a meal not given the green light by the P&G test kitchens.].

"The majority of them call for Crisco – but there are recipes for foods, too, in which no shortening is used, [though the first actual cooking chapter is entitled, "Deep Fat Frying." I'm sure that's a coincidence.] because it is desired that this book shall be a rounded-out cooking guide of the greatest possible value to the average homemaker. [Greatest! Possible! Value! See? They do care!]

"That she may find in it the help and inspiration she needs for her complex task of homemaking is our earnest wish." Could there be a more tortured sentence than that one? I think if I'd used that sentence structure in college, I'd have received a C – at best.

And, so, after those comforting words, we proceed to chapter one: Table Service in the Servantless House.

It begins, and I quote: "Three things a meal must be when you are your own cook and waitress: it must be nourishing, it must be reasonably easy to prepare and it must give your family pleasure in the way it is served."

Really, the entire book is so filled with helpful gems like this one, I wish I could simply scan the whole book for you. But I won't. I'll leave you with these Important Hints. More will be forthcoming, to be sure!

"Since well-bred people avoid display, especially display that is out of keeping with their means, the mistress of the servant-less house does not attempt the formalities of table service observed by the Richest-Family-in-Town." No, indeed it does not! Tacky, that!

"Quite hard and fast is the edict about clean linen and shining silver. Better never to use anything but doilies, and keep them immaculately fresh, than to cover the table for even one meal with a cloth having a single spot on it." Ouch, that hurt! Must. Mends. Ways.

Product placement alert: "Table silver will always be bright if washed in hot suds made with Ivory Soap and dried at once with a soft clean towel."

"More and more it is becoming a custom when one has guests to serve breakfast on a tray either in the bed-room or downstairs—in winter, before an open fire, in summer, on the porch. It gives a guest—usually it is a woman who welcomes this pleasant little courtesy—a bit more freedom about her hour of waking and in the end it is much more convenient for the hostess, permitting her to send her family off about their day's work and to get her own duties well under way." Would that we all had an entire hour of waking, no? Sorry, Miss Guest, I'd love to sit and chat with you but I have to get my duties underway. With Crisco and Ivory products.

And, this one goes to Red, who apparently did not get the Proper Dinner Behavior Memo:

"The family dinner should be the clearing house for the best of the day's experiences of each member of the family. Dinner should be a relaxing meal, an end of the day affair to which each person contributes his most cheerful and amusing 'yarns.' On no account must it be the place where the day's troubles and disappointments are unloaded."

No wonder there's a plethora of depression medications on the market these days.

Have a lovely Crisco weekend, my dears! Do come again soon, won't you?


10:28 a.m. ::
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