The Fireless Cooker, 1909

The fireless cooker. It was invented in the 1800s but reached the height of its popularity in the early 1900s. I came across the concept awhile ago and it had me curious. Basically, it’s the original slow cooker, a non-electric way to cook meals while conserving fuel.

There are many different versions of this cooker, also known as a haybox. The simplest homemade cookers were made using boxes with hay or sawdust as the insulation and eventually were manufactured and become more sophisticated, but kept to the same general idea. The basic concept is very simple. Food is brought to boiling, then the pot is insulated and the residual heat finishes cooking the dish.

Besides being a fuel-saving appliance, the fireless cooker keeps a kitchen from getting too hot, perfect for summer cooking. It also contains the cooking odors that can turn you off. after awhile. And if that isn’t enough, a fireless cooker solves the “servant problem” and free up the cook or housewife’s time. According to a book written in 1909 on the fireless cooking, “When cooking no longer ties one to the kitchen, is no longer a labour that monopolizes one’s time, dishevels one’s person, and exasperates the temper, the cook may go. We shall save her wages, her food, her room, and her waste, and have more to spend in ways that bring a more satisfactory return.” Really, what can’t this handy dandy little gadget do?!?

I think it’s still a useful cooking method. I have an electric pressure cooker that I use all the time, but if I’m not in a hurry, why not save the electricity or gas and use a (mostly) fuel-free method?

 

I’ve used this method several times to cook beans. After I soak them overnight and bring them to a boil, I tuck wool blankets and heavy quilts around the pot. Hours later, the pot will still be hot to the touch. It can take anywhere from 8-12 hours to cook the beans, but you don’t have to worry that the water will boil away and burn the beans or that they’ll overcook. It’s really handy if you leave the house for the day or want to cook overnight.

getting tucked in!
soft, cooked beans

I’ve also used the method for cooking beets so the skins slip off easily. Instead of boiling them for half an hour and making the kitchen hotter and steaming up the windows, I bring them to a boil before I go to bed at night. In the morning they are perfectly soft and no longer too hot to handle.

You may not need to conserve fuel or use alternative cooking methods, but it never hurts to have another skill if an emergency ever happens.

Blackberry Jam Pie, 1931

Old cookbooks are just packed with pie recipes! I found this particular recipe in my old Searchlight, a Depression-era cookbook. I’ll be working my way through all the interesting recipes for the rest of my life.

Mastering the pie crust skill isn’t easy. But once you can turn them out reliably, they’re a quick, cheap dessert. And they make an even better breakfast.

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It just so happened that I had some slightly over-cooked (extra thick) homemade blackberry jam in my pantry.  But I’ve made this recipe many times with different jams and they’ve all been delicious. I love the sour cream mixed with the fruit.

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Blackberry Jam Pie
Servings
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Ingredients
Servings
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Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Beat egg yolks until thick. Add cream, butter, and jam. Combine 1/2 c. sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add to first mixture. Mix thoroughly. Pour into pastry-lined pie pan. Bake in hot oven (425 degrees) about 25 minutes. Cover with meringue made of egg whites and 3 T. sugar. Brown in slow oven (325 degrees) 20 minutes.

The Housewife’s Weekly Schedule

It’s been a tradition among housewives to keep a general work schedule for the home. Chances are good that you’ve read about the classic housekeeping schedule that went like this:

Monday-washing (laundry)

Tuesday-ironing

Wednesday-mending

Thursday-marketing/churning/brewing

Friday-cleaning

Saturday-baking

Sunday-rest

It’s incredible to think of how many women used that same basic housework schedule for centuries, even into the last few decades.  Rumor has it the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on a Monday and after consulting Ye Olde Housework Charte, the women did the laundry. What a relief they didn’t arrive on a Tuesday. They’d have had to spend the day ironing their stinky clothes before grocery shopping on Thursday. It wouldn’t have made a good impression on the new neighbors.

As much as I enjoy history and incorporating long-ago traditions into my modern life, even I don’t hesitate to admit that this schedule is woefully out of date. I can wash a week’s worth of family laundry, hang it all on the outdoor clothesline, fold, and put it away, all within half a day. And I’d be hard-pressed (haha!) to spend more than 30 minutes a month ironing, much less one day a week.

Like any system, a housework schedule has to work for the individual housewife to be useful at all. No system works for everybody. So, inspired by 400+ years of well-scheduled housewives, I came up with my own weekly plan. Of course I have to do some cooking and cleaning every day, but I try to give extra emphasis to one category per day. These are my 5 weekly categories:

Kitchen-batch cooking, baking, and occasional jobs like yogurt, kombucha, etc.

Cleaning-re-organizing, deep-cleaning, decluttering

Office/Errand-paperwork, bills, filing, grocery shopping, library, post office, etc.

Soap-making inventory, packaging, managing online stuff (my tiny business, which gives me my “pin money”)

Free/Flex-visits, outings, home projects, overflow work

I originally assigned one category every day, like the traditional schedule. I gave that up by the second week, when I was invited to go on a shopping “date” with someone the same day I’d scheduled for cleaning. Having a variable schedule works well for me: it gives structure to my week without forcing me to be rigid about it. At the beginning of each week I have a basic idea of how I plan to schedule my week, but I can change it on short notice. On days when I have an appointment scheduled, I try to pile on the rest of my errands for the week while I’m out, or I may reschedule my cleaning day if I learn company will be visiting.

And there will always be those times, like every September (ahem), when I abandon my schedule entirely because every day is either a kitchen day as I finish harvesting my garden or a flex day as we finish up projects and fit in fun stuff during the last few summer-ish weeks. It’s easy to resume the schedule when things slow down a bit, even mid-week. By that time, I’m always glad to be back on a steadier rhythm.

Do you have a weekly housekeeping plan? How do you manage your schedule?

 

I can see the world- 1907

From my farm I can see most of the world; and if I wait here long enough all people pass this way. -1907

This is one of my most favorite quotes. While it wasn’t specifically written from a housewife’s perspective, I think it’s especially fitting.

I haven’t always been a housewife. I spent many years working different jobs and going to school before I got married and settled into a career running our home. Back before my life was centered around the home, I always felt a restlessness on the rare day that I spent at home. even when I had a lot to do. I felt like I could go stir-crazy looking at the same four walls. I know I haven’t been the only one. I’ve heard it from mothers on maternity leave….”What do you DO all day?  I’d go crazy staying at home; I have to be out and around.”

However, in seasons where my outside commitments have been minimal I find myself liking to be home to the point that I’m not anxious to leave. I’m not a recluse or a hermit, but I’m definitely a homebody. From what I’ve noticed, it takes everyone a while to break from the “on-the-go” mentality and to slow down enough to enjoy being at home. But now if someone offered to do all my errands I would be perfectly content to stay in my home and yard and leave just on the weekends to go to church and visit family. It seems that the more I’m gone from home, the more unorganized our home life becomes. You’d think the house would stay cleaner the fewer people were home making messes and eating and changing clothes, but it’s not the case. And instead of getting bored, I have the opposite experience. The more I’m at home the more I find to do.

From my home I can’t see most of the world but I can see most of my world. That’s enough for me. (I’m sure that was the author’s point.) I think sometimes we make our sphere too big. It gets overwhelming and becomes too much for us to manage. I don’t believe we miss as much as we may think we do at times, which is why it’s called the fear of missing out and not simply “missing out.” The stuff that’s important and the people that matter will find us.