Today, I had a long list of things to organise, each of which required a telephone call and then making an appointment of some kind. My heart sank and I realised I would actually prefer to clear out kitchen cupboards as part of my ongoing decluttering, tidying and cleaning mania. It turned out to be not so much tidying as throwing out. All those dead spices (‘use by 20.11.08’)! The baking ingredients part used and now useless (yellowing desiccated coconut, glacé cherries hopelessly glued together)! When recycling day comes around, I shall have trouble carrying out the bottle box. I now have spaces where before there was danger of a landslip of tins and packets every time I opened the cupboard door, but some restocking will be necessary. How lucky for Waitrose.

I was reminded of the famous comment by Mr Colman* (of mustard fame) that he made his fortune out of ‘what people leave on the side of the plate’. Perhaps the fortunes of Schwartz, Whitworth’s and other retailers of cooking ingredients are based on the good intentions of people who actually intend to cook with the things they pluck off the supermarket shelf because ‘you always need them’. Do you think Nigella actually uses every single item in those amazing store cupboards of hers, containing every ingredient necessary to make every possible dish? Perhaps I’m just a bad housekeeper.

*I found three tins of Colman’s mustard powder, all out of date. Moral: if you kept your cupboards tidier, you wouldn’t buy something you already had. Help, I haven't even started on the fridge.

How clever an idea is this? In The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives Lynn Knight, beginning with her Grandma’s button box, describes the clothes worn by members of her own family and all the sewing, altering and mending that went on. From this family story she develops a history of women’s clothes, fashions (not at all the same thing), domestic lives and working conditions. For instance, a linen button, taken from the box, leads to an account of what they were used for, how they were made and what life was like for the women who made them. This is social history anyone can enjoy; it’s as easy to read as a novel. I very much like the way quotations from novels are used to illustrate a point.

For people of a certain age (me), there’s a lot of nostalgia in the sections dealing with the fifties onwards. Cuticura! I can’t even remember what it was (something for nails, I imagine), yet the name leapt off the page at me. Paper nylon petticoats! Coty L’Aimant! I even wore that myself in the sixties. Lynn Knight is very good at describing women’s longing for clothes they can’t have/afford, especially in wartime. She is in no doubt that clothes *matter*.
more )

My poor old piano has moved house, been shoved from room to room and generally mistreated. I've been meaning to get it tuned for simply ages. This morning, I heard a piece on the radio, thought, 'I can play that!', did so, winced, and at last got round to phoning the piano tuner. Amazingly, he said he could come this afternoon so I'm now slightly poorer but have a piano which doesn't hurt the ear.

For years, when [ profile] huskyteer was having lessons, the piano was tuned regularly by a wonderful Glaswegian who always termed himself ‘Jock Cooper, the pianner chuner.’ He was one of those people with a natural ear, who could play absolutely anything. He used an aftershave which hung around the room for days afterwards. One of his favourite stories about his life in music concerned tuning the piano for a Peter Katin concert, ‘and Katin says, ‘Jock Cooper played Chopin and Chopin won.' Ha ha!’ I was sorry when he had to retire. The new man is very nice, though.

Don’t get any ideas about my piano playing: I’m rubbish. But it’s very good for me. A while ago, the last piano factory in England closed down. How sad is that?

A Woman’s Place 1910 – 1975 was part of my recent Persephone trawl. I found it one of the best general books on the subject that I’ve read. Ruth Adam charts the changing attitudes towards women’s work during the twentieth century. Virginia Nicholson’s Singled Out covers some of the same ground; Adam points out that there was already a surplus of women *before* the First World War. Many women, of course, had always worked outside the home: mill girls, agricultural workers, domestic servants and shop assistants. The changes applied to middle and lower middle class women, especially those with professional qualifications which seemed to threaten male bastions. Many people, women as well as men, considered that housekeeping and bringing up children was woman’s highest calling, and the ideal. Two world wars changed that. The new assumption was that homemaking could easily be a part time job while women did war work. This led to further social changes as provision had to be made for looking after children while their mothers worked. For the first time the state became responsible for infant care.

After each world war, everything changed again and once more women were expected to stay at home. It’s depressing to read how (with a few noble exceptions) Labour Party and Trades Union members were a major obstacle to women’s equality at work. Now, we take equal pay for equal work for granted, but many bitter battles were fought over it. (The only job I would except from equal payment is that of women tennis professionals. With Wimbledon starting tomorrow, we shall see again that women players are far less entertaining than male ones.) I found the first part of the book livelier than the second. When writing about the early years, Ruth Adam quotes extensively from novels of the time; H G Wells, John Galsworthy and George Gissing are just some of the authors referred to. (I was immediately fired up to read Ann Veronica and thought I would be able to get it free for the Kindle. Unfortunately not! Yes, I know it’s on Project Gutenberg but I still haven’t found a simple way to transfer files from there to my Kindle.) I think Ruth Adam was perhaps less comfortable writing about the sixties and seventies (she was born in 1907). The quotations disappear and from being sure about what was right and necessary (votes, equal pay), she finds herself on less safe ground and questions whether the sexual revolution was altogether a good thing for women. The back dustwrapper flap of the Persephone edition tells us that Ruth Adam ‘wrote twelve novels … all of them concerned with social issues.’ No mention of her work for Girl comic.
Girl, Susan and nursing )

Our library currently has a small display representing an olde tyme kitchen. It caught my eye at once because when I was a child we had a kitchen cabinet very similar to this one; ours was pale yellow. They were very useful. You have two cupboards at the top with glazed doors. In the middle, a flap lifts down like a desk top to make a work surface. ISTR ours had an enamel inlay so that you could roll out pastry on it. More storage at the back. Underneath, two drawers and two more cupboards. When I asked permission to take photos, I was told that there’s a bigger exhibition at our local artsy centre, so I must find time to get down there. People love all this stuff now, and seek it out. When I told the librarian that ‘we used to have one’, she replied, ‘so many people have said that!’
I’m expecting some glad cries of recognition.
more pics )
Kitchen Gadgets, from [personal profile] rosathome
"Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you have had but got rid of. And (my suggestion) add any items that you have that aren't on the list":

pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese knives, electric woks, miniature salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers (bains marie), sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, fondue sets, healthy-grills, home smokers, tempura sets, tortilla presses, electric whisks

I don’t seem to be wasting much cupboard space on unused gadgets. This is the result of moving house and having a very small kitchen. I couldn’t do without my Kenwood mixer (over thirty years old), and who doesn’t have a tea strainer? Make real tea, people!

Blotto, Twinks and the Rodents of the Riviera , Simon Brett
Mr Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt
Very Good, Jeeves, P G Wodehouse
Girls of the Swallow Patrol, S E Marten
The Traveller Returns , Patricia Wentworth (Miss Silver)
The Double Image, Helen Macinnes
Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess, Simon Brett
Bones Under the Beach Hut , Simon Brett
Biddy’s Secret, Elsie Jeanette Oxenham
Walking in Pimlico , Ann Featherstone
The Bible: Genesis & Exodus, reading on Kindle
Winter in Wartime , Jan Terlouw. Proof from NetGalley read on Kindle
Kitchen Essays, Agnes Jekyll

Quite a lot of crime this month. The Double Image by Helen Macinnes is a typical cold war thriller set in Paris and the Greek islands. An American academic meets his old professor, an Auschwitz survivor who has been testifying at the Frankfurt trials. The next day the man is dead and John Craig finds himself caught up with the secret services of several countries.

Two Girlsown books, first Girls of the Swallow Patrol by S E Marten, a lucky find at the market. I say lucky but the book was rather a disappointment as it’s short stories, most of them about school rather than Guides. You’d think Biddy’s Secret would be all about Biddy, who is not at all a nice person. I should have known better; it is of course all about Joy and everyone’s fears about how she’ll react to the dreaded secret.

Kitchen Essays is absolutely delightful. Few of us, I think, would be called on to provide luncheon for a winter shooting party or for friends Christmas shopping in town, but the occasions are enjoyable to read about. Writing in 1922, Agnes Jekyll harks back to a bygone time of plenty but doesn’t repine; rather she tries to persuade her readers (of The Times) that hospitality is still possible, if means be straitened. I don’t think I’ll be trying any recipes; far too many unspeakable animal parts involved for me. The book still provides interesting social history and is wittily written. Isn’t it nice when Persephone titles can be found in SHBSs?
Since the second-hand bookshop closed, the best place in town to look for older books is the museum shop. The book I bought there yesterday isn’t very old and I paid too much for it but it brought back so many memories I couldn’t resist. Some of the images leapt off the page at me, I knew them so well. That’s because, way back when even quite poor families had newspapers and magazines delivered, my weekly treat was Girl comic. I’m very displeased with the publishers, though, for making fun of my old friend. Here’s how they sell it: ‘Mother Tells You How’ might appear to be an over-the-top ‘50s spoof, but is in fact a wholly genuine period piece. There is no irony here, and it’s the well-intended, earnest instruction that provides such high comedy in our very different times.’

Mother Tells You How to make a bed/lay a table/keep cool may seem ridiculous but the compilers overlook certain factors. The target audience for the comic may have been teenage girls but as with most comics the readership was actually younger and most readers would have been ten or eleven, as I was when I read Girl. There’s also an aspirational aspect to all these hints; most of the girl readers would not have come from nice middle class homes like Judy’s (see below) and could only dream of having her bedroom and her clothes. ‘our very different times’ have also changed since 2007 when this book was printed. In a recession ‘make do and mend’ makes sense and when more and more people are crafting, hints on knitting, crochet and patchwork don’t seem funny at all.
more about Judy )

Wednesday already and I haven’t had a chance to boast about last Saturday’s market finds. Apart from a couple of books, I got this great haul of Stitchcraft magazines from the 1930s and 40s. There are some more, without covers and a few copies of a magazine completely new to me: Modern Living. These date from the 1950s and were published by the North Thames Gas Board. The joys of gas cookers and gas fires ('just plug into the gas point' Yikes!) feature largely. All these magazines were obviously part of a house clearance. I could also have had old dressmaking patterns (useless to me) and a strange machine for making buttonholes. It would be quicker for me to do a buttonhole by hand than to work out how to use it.

Stitchcraft was owned by Patons & Baldwins, so naturally it features knitting patterns using P & B yarns and embroidery using their threads. I’m most interested in the knitting, of course. It’s noticeable that the editorial always emphasises the easiness of the pattern; not at all like The Knitter today, setting out to be challenging. Another interesting feature is that only one size is offered for each pattern and no measurements are given. If you were the ‘wrong’ size, you’d just have to adjust it yourself, I suppose. Plus, just about everything is knitted in 3 ply.

message from Lord Woolton

I’m really enjoying reading these mags, not least for the advertisements. Health products feature heavily (Ovaltine recommended as a health food) as do beauty products and discreet references to ‘feminine hygiene’. My favourites are probably the ads for Rowntrees Fruit Gums: ‘Try them between cigarettes!’ and ‘Good between smokes.’; these merry slogans above a drawing of a bulging-cheeked schoolboy. Sadly, I’ll have to sell some of these as I simply don’t have anywhere to store them as well as those I’ve already got but meanwhile I’ll have a lovely time admiring the fashions of yesteryear and wartime thriftiness.

waste not…1941

I posted last week about how pleased I was to have acquired the third book in a trilogy. It was the last in a series of books by Freda C Bond, about the Lancaster family. Here’s the first, The End House. I spotted it years ago in a second hand bookshop. I knew nothing about the author but it took my fancy and I was right, I liked it a lot. Mrs Lancaster has been widowed while only in her forties and with six children to bring up. The family has to leave a large house in the country, move to a much smaller one in a town and give up the cars, maids and gardener. ‘Poor’ is a relative term for them, as is usual with books of this type. Faithful Bridget goes with them to cook and clean, there’s no trouble affording paint and curtains for the new house and those children still at private schools stay there, if not for long. Nevertheless, there are problems ahead.

The book was published in 1943 but is set in 1937/8, so no war yet. There are four girls: June, the artistic, selfish one who doesn’t pull her weight at home; Alison the domesticated home-lover; Rosemary, sporty and fun but not obviously talented; nice, practical Susan, who loves gardening. For light relief there are the much younger twin boys Nicky and Dick and later in the story, a Siamese cat. How the family copes with changed circumstances and the older girls find jobs makes for an interesting story, with a camping holiday as part of a travelling theatre run by their cousins thrown in. I love to have original dustwrappers on these old books. The back of this one features the latest Lone Pine books by Malcolm Saville. Hardly the same market, I’d have thought, as The End House is definitely a book for older girls, like Jam Tomorrow or Gwendoline Courtney’s books. more Lancasters )

June Books

Jul. 3rd, 2009 08:03 am
Rather a dull month for me.
Practically Perfect, Katie Fforde A sloppily written disappointment. I stayed in the Cotswolds for
Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, M C Beaton. These books are silly but entertaining. I read this one in about an hour and it made me laugh. Then I turned to
Dodo, an omnibus by E F Benson. Alas, confirmed Tillingite that I am, I found the character of Dodo so tarsome that I just couldn’t read the long, wordy book. So I reached out for another Donna Leon, 10p-from-the-library purchase,
Suffer the Little Children
Popular Music, Mikael Niemi
Prunella Plays the Game, Irene Mossop
Charm’s Last Chance, Irene Mossop
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, M C Beaton
The Girl of his Dreams, Donna Leon*L
Said to be more thoughtful and darker than Leon’s other books. Slower, certainly. After the first chapter I was thinking ‘That’s enough about Brunetti, get on with the murders already’ but nothing happens until p.109! You can only get away with this if you write brilliantly; Leon’s writing is fine for a crime series but hardly deathless prose.
By Gwendoline Courtney, all re-reads
Sally’s Family
The Girls of Friar’s Rise
At School with the Stanhopes
The Farm on the Downs
Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre

Lorna at Wynyards, Elinor Brent-Dyer
Stepsisters for Lorna, EBD
Jam Tomorrow, Monica Redlich

About Kathleen O’Farrell )

I’ve been rereading Jam Tomorrow by Monica Redlich. It was first published in 1937 and the copy shown here is the Puffin edition of 1947; it’s ‘Warmly recommended for girls of 10-14.’ The central character is sixteen year old Jean Bascombe and the story opens with her return train journey from school, spotting all the familiar landmarks, welcomed by her brothers, delighted to be home for the summer holidays. Home is an old rectory in a village being encroached on by road, rail and town. Jean takes home for granted but it’s far from normal. Her widowed father is one of those (to my mind) supremely selfish, vague clergymen who spend most of their time in the study and seem happy as long as meals are on the table at regular hours. The live-in help, instead of being a hardworking, motherly type, is lazy and rude. The children are on bad terms with most of their neighbours, who consider them wild and mad. Money is an ever present worry, in spite of the maid, gardener, car and school fees, as the modern reader will note rather tartly. Read more... )

When I got married and two ex-students’ book collections merged there were a few duplicates. These included the giant 1968 paperback edition of Lord of the Rings,
The Penguin Modern Poets The Mersey Sound
and Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katharine Whitehorn. This gives an idea of just how zeitgeist-y the book was. It’s amusing, practical, memorable; I still remember ‘the potato shaped space’ which needed to be filled. Now I see that Virago have reissued it. Does anyone, even a student, live in a bedsitter these days, with a tiny Belling cooker ? Isn’t it all shared houses and studios? Whitehorn’s book is a piece of a social history which will show a new generation how their parents lived.

I am sorry to find that there is not even one copy of the book in the house now. This is probably the result of a purge I had a few years ago of cookery books I no longer actually cooked from. Rummaging fruitlessly in the cupboard I did find something very different: Domestic and Economical Cookery Recipes With Special Hints On Gas Cooking by Miss Lillie Richmond It was published to promote the use of Richmond Cookers, which could be ‘Hired Out By Most Gas Companies’. ‘1892’ has been written on the fep., so I assume that it was my great grandmother’s.

What makes it interesting is that she, my grandmother, my great aunt and my own mother have added recipes and household hints. They seem to have been keen on pickles and on ways of using marrows and pumpkins. ‘Very Good Elderberry Wine’ sounds nice. How to treat a child for shock? If over two years, give four teaspoons of brandy in a little water; under two years, only two teaspoons. If no brandy available give warm milk and in all cases keep child warm with blankets and hot water bottles. How about this, ‘For the Hair’. Mix a tumbler of gin with 3 or 4 onions for 24 hours. Add (something I can’t read) of sulphur and a quart of water and shake well for two days. Rub in two or three times a week. What a waste of gin! Make your own black-out by mixing half a pound of veg black (whatever that was) with half a pint of turps and about two spoonfuls of paint. ‘Stretch material and paint’. Recession? We don’t know we’re born.

‘A Richmond I Want and a Richmond I’ll Have!’
‘Read the opinions of Lecturesses on our Stoves’
To listen to today
The Radio 4 Classic Serial. Starting today, a dramatisation of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. I'm half way through a sporadic re-read of the whole series; perhaps the broadcast will get me started again. Corin Redgrave narrates as the older Nicholas. The Radio Times has a photo of him looking spookily like his father playing Barnes Wallis in The Dambusters.

To read
I had a very disappointing time yesterday. First, no books at the market. Next I went to a village church boot sale which is usually very good and has a book sale in the church. Nothing again but I was pleased for them that the early morning rain gave way to sun. Obviously someone's prayers were answered. Lucky, then, that I got all these

at the Citizens' Advice sale on Friday. I don't know why I keep buying all these Katie Ffordes, as I'm not very impressed with the one I'm currently reading. Probably it's because they cost 50p each and I won't mind giving them away again. The book that is gripping me is on the top of the pile: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. Hurrah, it's one of those books you don't want to put down. Definitely more on this later.

Domestic (boring)
Decided the cooker was in a disgusting state and must be cleaned. While I was doing it, a panel light at the back of the cooker, a light which hasn't worked for years, suddenly came on and wouldn't go off again. I tried switching off the power source briefly but the only result was that of course I had to reset the ovens. Now the wretched light is flashing constantly in a very distressing (to me) manner. I guess I'll just have to wait for the bulb to go.
Update. This evening I concluded sadly that I would never eat again because I couldn't stand being in the kitchen with that awful flashing light. I gave the panel a thump; the light went off and stayed off. A lesson in how to treat recalcitrant inanimate objects.
To knit
I have three projects on needles at the moment. Surely I could finish one of them today?
When I was a child, my aunt took Woman’s Weekly, (mostly for the knitting), then passed it on to my mother. I would while away a wet afternoon in the holidays curled up with a heap of them, reading the advice given out by ‘Mrs Marryatt’ (later she called herself ‘Mary’) and my favourite, Looking at Life with The-man-who-sees. So I was pleased to pick up some ancient issues yesterday and renew my acquaintance with them. By the way, the model on the left in this photo is now better known as Mrs Michael Howard. Read more... )
For Christmas, I was given the Persephone Books edition of Kay Smallshaw’s How to Run your Home without Help, first published in post-war, rationed Britain in 1949. No, it wasn’t a subtle hint that an educated person could write their name in the dust on the piano. I asked for it because I am interested in these old housekeeping books. Read more... )



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