Household Tips & Tricks for TEOTWAWKI

Sep 19, 2011 by

1900s Kitchen WorkA few interesting excerpts from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cook Book (1914), previously mentioned in an earlier post on caring for your kerosene lamps.

Care of Matches – Keep a stock of matches on a high and dry shelf in a covered earthen jar or tin box with a tight lid where they will be out of the way of children and safe from rats and mice. These animals are fond of phosphorus, and will gnaw match heads if they can, and often set them on fire. Have a covered match safe in each room where they are in frequent use. A match safe fastened to a piece of sandpaper will  be found a great convenience. To hold burnt matches, a wineglass suspended with a bit of ribbon and hung on the gas jet or near the stove will be found useful.

Waste of Gas – Turn down the burner as soon as the food begins to cook. When water bubbles the burner should be turned down. It is a common mistake to suppose that when the water in a dish or vessel reaches the boiling point it will continue to get hotter if the gas is left turned on full. In fact, water turns to steam at the boiling point, 202 degrees F., and does not get any hotter, but merely evaporates more quickly; and there is not only the waste of gas but additional trouble in replacing the water lost by evaporation, as well as the liability of food burning or cooking into a sticky mass on the bottom of the saucepan.

Milk Dishes – Milk pans, pitchers, and tumblers which have contained milk, and dishes in which milk or milk puddings have been cooked, should be first rinsed with cold water. Hot water converts the casein of the milk into a kind of cement or glue which is hard to remove.

To Remove Rust from Ironware – Cover the rusted article with grease, and set it in a hot oven for half an hour. Afterwards wash with soap and water, and the rust will be removed.

To Repair Cracked Articles – If earthenware or china articles begin to crack, put in them a tablespoonful of sugar and half a tumberful of water, and set over a brisk fire. Paint the inside of the vessel, especially the cracks, with the melted sugar. The sirup will enter the cracks and act as a cement. This can be used for pie plates and other earthenware utensils used in cooking.

How to Cool Bedrooms – In summer it is often more important to keep hot air out than to let cool air in. Hence if bedrooms are aired during the early part of the day and the curtains then drawn and shutters closed until night, the bedrooms may be cooler than if they had been open to the outer air all day. Or, when very important to cool a room quickly, wet a large cloth and suspend it over a line where, if possible, a draught will strike it. This will cool the air by evaporation approximately ten degrees according to circumstances. This plan is frequently practiced in hot climates.

Household Discoveries is a very useful book to keep around – when adjusted for modern safety (asbestos-lined oven mitts? I had no idea that asbestos was the best non-conductor of heat in the early 1900s).  There are whole sections devoted to useful topics like how to build a sanitary outhouse (with step-by-step directions), preserving meat, eggs and cheese and how to gather and store ice for summer use.  Some things don’t change with time.


  1. Diane Menthos

    These are some really useful tips. Thanks Sandy! I’m convinced now that I need my own copy of this book. I had no idea rats and rodents liked to eat match heads and set them on fire. I’d hope that modern matches aren’t so volatile, but I don’t really want to be the one to test that. Keep up the good posts!

  2. Dura

    These are very practical. I only recently learned that water doesn’t get any hotter once it has reached boiling. Did you know that it gets steralized even before that and doesn’t actually need to be boiling to be pure enough to drink?

    Useful book. Thanks!

  3. JeanBean

    When I used to visit my grandparents as a kid, they would cool my bedroom with a damp cloth in the window. This was before air conditioning, and even if we had had it, I’m sure they wouldn’t have used it just for a kids room. The damp cloth always did the trick, and it was one of the ways I knew they cared about me. That darn cloth in the window was their way of making sure I was taken care of and comfortable.

  4. Anonymous

    Cool tips – thanks.

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