housewifery


Most everyone I know has their Christmas decorations festively strewn about their homes. Trees are up and properly adorned and the real keeners have wrapped gifts underneath.

Me? Well, I have discussed this before, my disinclination to housewifery. Decor, holiday or otherwise, definitely falls under the heading “drudgery” and I really have to work myself up to it.

This year, I am nowhere close to the loin girding necessary to clean up the spaces needed for holiday phoofery.

The problem, as I see it, is that most people look at the packed boxes of lights, ornaments and other sparkly things and they can see it on the tree, walls, shelves and every other nook and cranny. Happily they dig in. Carefully they create the festive setting. And it’s weeks later when the holidays have passed that they look around and realize that it all must be taken down and packed away again for another year.

I look at packed boxes and think “Christ, I am just going to have to repack this in a few weeks”.

I’ve been threatening my family for a couple of weeks now with “we’re going to gather around a string of lights, take presents out of plastic sacks and eat pizza” for Christmas. The teen is pretty horrified by the prospect but not so much that she is offering up her services as a decorator and so far, my husband’s protestations have been weak and unconvincing.

Christmases past, I have hinted at simply running away for the holidays but even that requires effort that I am not certain the holidays warrant anymore.

It’s not that I don’t love holidays.

The music is jolly and there is eggnog.

The teen is off from school so there are no lunches to pack or chauffeuring to do.

We sleep in. Binge on Netflix or wile away the hours with new books and gaming.

It’s not all bleak with obligation and work but what there is of that has become … un-fun.

The past few years have witnessed a steady decline in decorations and baking. Minimalist has become my middle name and not just during the holidays.

Today, I need to start excavating the living room. Reclaim the spaces devastated by never-ending reno projects and recent episodes of influenza. My preference is leaning toward stuffing garbage bags and just taking things to the dump but that’s probably overreacting. Right?

Making Christmas is not something I’ve spent much of my life doing. Until I moved to Canada, I packed up myself, and later myself and child, and drove to my parent’s. They made Christmas. My mom still does. But now it’s on me and I seriously can’t wait until circumstances allow me to offload this on one of my own kids, who aren’t exactly stepping up and volunteering at this point. And I don’t blame them.


Recipes

Recipes (Photo credit: pirate johnny)

My mother brought me my grandmother’s cookbook. It’s one of those parish cookbooks where the women contributed their best recipes and household hints and sold it as a fundraiser. Paper cover and plastic ring binding, and complied by the St. Andrew’s Altar-Sodality of Tennyson, Wisconsin in 1946.

The first section is titled “Household Hints”. Gems.

Cut very fresh bread with a heated sharp knife.

When rendering lard put a little hot water and a little soda in the kettle before putting in the lard. It renders faster.

Large potatoes will take much less time to bake if left to stand in hot water for 15 minutes before putting in oven.

A discarded pocketbook makes a dandy first aid kit for the car or barn.

An inexpensive but most amusing rattle for a baby is crumpled newspaper sewed in a gauze bag.

The bloody water left over from washing fresh meat is very good for house plants (no salty water).

Throughout the book, Grandma made notes here and there. Sometimes dating them as she tinkered with each recipe. One such was updated in 1966, ’67 and finally in 1975. Most were corrections about the amount of this or that to use or to change the baking temperature. One cookie recipe has the warning “no good” in the margin.

Ice cream, pickles and soap – these women could make anything. In the section on sandwiches, they explain how to make the peanut butter itself before giving directions for preparing the sandwich.

One of the household hints involved thickening gravy. “Remove it from the fire before adding the thickening.”

“Remove from the fire?” I said to Mom.

“Oh yes, we were still using a wood burning stove then,” she said. “My mom used to bake bread three days out of the week and she always managed to keep that wood burning oven at an even temperature.”

It’s the dedication I love,

“… is dedicated to the housewife, the greatest contributor to the happy home. The recipes have been given by ladies from a thoroughly American Community, founded by our German ancestors, a hundred years ago. Our mothers, our grandmothers and great grandmothers, have all enjoyed the reputation of being good cooks and bakers. In this book we give to you the treasures they have bequeathed to us.”

Obviously there was still more than a little anti-German sentiment following the war, but I love the pride they take in their skill sets. Sure, at the time, housewifery was the female path, but they see themselves as important and what they contribute as worthy of sharing. It’s a legacy that’s been passed on to them and now passes through them to others. Very cool.

Dee decided we’d take a stab at the chocolate angel food. Helluva lot of eggs need to sacrifice their whites for this recipe, and there were a few too many bakers today, but chocolate is good regardless of how the cake turns out. And it was more than a bit flat. Whipping egg whites is an art. I can’t imagine how my grandmother whipped eggs by hand. These women must have had forearms like steel bands. I gave up and used the mixer.

Tomorrow, date pinwheels. A Christmas treat that when I mentioned it not long ago to Rob, his reaction was,

“And you haven’t made these ever because?”

Because I didn’t have the recipe and couldn’t remember all the ins and outs that Mom used. It’s one of those that requires making and refrigerating things in advance. It also calls for “shortening”, which leads to “rolling” at some point – this I remember from my childhood when Mom would give my sister or I a baking chore every Saturday morning. Things that needed to be rolled were never my favorite, and I suspect they weren’t favorites of mom’s either because at some point, we only had pie whenever DNOS or I made one.

1946 is a long time ago. The hundred years of cooking is closing in on 170 fairly quickly. I am glad I have the book. It would have been a shame for those ladies of St. Andrew’s to have put so much love into a book that wasn’t still being used.