Sunday, July 26, 2009

26 July 1955 “Ledgers and Stale Bread”

ledger 50s 1 This image shows a woman using a ledger. This ledger was used in the 1930s-1950s as a cross-reference to the index to the earnings records of Social Security beneficiaries. No computer here, just careful human knowledge.

I have lately become excited about the idea of getting an old ledger book to keep meticulous records of my household. I picture myself in my ‘new’ old kitchen in our antique house come fall, the old book open to a bright new yellow page with all those lines and promise!

This got me thinking about how much technology can help but also hurt us on a personal level. I know when the calculators became available the ‘old-timers’ thought is horrible that people would not have to learn their sums. Certainly there was much scoffing, but now I think upon it there is a kernel of truth in their criticism.

For instance, hubby and I were talking about the silliness of GPS this morning. They are becoming normal and des rigueur in cars and phones. This not only takes ones eyes of the road (though I am sure it is lauded as a way to keep your eyes on the road and not a map) it is just another onion skin layer of the continuing process of dumb-ing us down. Yes, technology is good and does indeed help us, but if we are not careful it can create idiots as well. Reading a map will become as normal as using a dial home phone. Does it, though, indeed help us?

Well, certainly one could argue less trees to make maps, except that the cost of a map must be cheaper to a consumer than a GPS and it will not break. I think it is another example of American Car Company gimmicks. Here are some more electronics to break and need repair in your car. How about a reliable fuel efficient care without computer chips so the average person could, if they choose, fix it themselves. WE are so far removed from the things that serve us on a daily basis we are truly becoming mindless, I feel.

Now, back to the ledger. Those who know me will wonder at MY being excited for such a thing. I have, for most of my life, certainly been more of an “grasshopper” than an “ant”. Yet, another large change in my life from this year and my project is that desire for accountability and responsibility.

A friend of mine just recently told me how mad and upset she was because the “bank screwed her”. In what way, I asked. “Well,”said she, “I had a check that did not get cashed until a month after I wrote it, so I was overdrawn and got a huge fee”. She went on to tell me how unfair it is and how this and that was not her fault. Normally, I would have just accepted her story and moved on, and on the surface I did, for I do not want any personal battles such as this, as I sometimes feel myself alienating myself from my friends because of my new found ideals. I do not want to be the recovered alcoholic who has to go about telling everyone to stop drinking and having fun because look how good it is for me! But, I digress, back to the story. My friend, very much in her heart, believes that all these outside sources were set up to cause her grief and take advantage of her. When the honest truth was that had she merely wrote down the check and balanced her budget based on it having been cashed, she would not have erred. Yet, it would not be conceivable as her fault. I know to some of you this may sound obvious, but I think there are many people out there who live in such a world. This friend said to me, “well I do my banking online” which came to mean, as I asked, that she looks up her balance for that day and goes on that without accounting for checks she has written. So, here again, I see our reliance on technology making us idiots and harmful to ourselves.

I have made many money errors of my own so I would not be the thrower of stones at glass houses, but lately, this year 1955, has made me realize how to distance myself from too much reliance on technology (other than in a very practical helpful way such as now) and to be more accountable for my daily activities down to my change in my purses bottom to the amount of flour I use a day. These need not be seen as OCD or silly, though I know some would think so, but in fact are part of the control over your own life.

I laugh to myself much more nowadays when I hear people claim that a 195o’s housewife is a woman trapped in a cage, mindless and brain washed, suffered to the whims of her master and family. I have come to find out the actual freedom of a homemaker and the ability and power she wields. Perhaps, I am learning, that over all these years none have stood upon soap boxes brandishing their spatulas and calling all those to hear her plea, was because one was content and busy at home. All that a homemaker must have and use to make her career a success is so all encompassing and can be very fulfilling, that who has time to listen to or complain about how they are viewed. Now, of course, I find myself very easily pulled into the quiet confident contentment of the home, but I must, I tell myself, keep the spirit to rally alive. Because, I really feel now more than ever in history, we need to make it more apparent the joy and reality of being a homemaking for upcoming generations. I am finding it more realistic to be a one income family more now than before. I used to think, “Oh, in the old days things were cheaper” well in some cases they were more expensive, but by not being lead into the idea of buying things already made for you cheap they weren’t lured into the need to have two incomes to keep buying all the things that are less expensive!

I would love that new generations could be made to see the joy and happiness in homemaking. This is the time when many minority groups are being given their voice and being shown as proud individuals, certainly then the time is ripe to proclaim the joy and pride of the homemaker. To gain a certainly respectability to it, though those of old did not cry for such a thing, I feel if we do not now try for it then we may lose many wonderful future homemakers. Do you not agree? Though we can find ourselves, we homemakers, easily lulled into quiet contentment, we do need to make it more apparent to others the joy there in and that they too can do what it is we do. That they do not have to be suffered to the lie of consumerism and the need of two incomes.

We do not make a lot of money. We may be land rich in our two properties, but we have to pay taxes upkeep etc on them. We are very hardworking money saving middle class. There are many out there who most likely make much more than do we who feel the need to have two incomes.

I know I had a comment a while back from someone who with her spouse makes a six figure a year income and wondered if she could leave her job to become a stay at home mother. I was really shocked, for surely someone with such income could quite easily do so. But, I do not know their personal spending habits. Things like going to Starbucks, eating out twice a week, shopping for clothes, buying packaged ready made more expensive foods, these all add up but do not HAVE to be the masters of our lived. We have one income, my husbands and it is not grand by any means. In fact he took a pay cut when he left his job in the city after our move back here to the Cape. You simply adjust and find that many of the things that you ‘need’ to do like go out and eat and shop and spend, you don’t need to do. However, if they are important to you, then by all means keep going in the same vein. But, I really feel there are many people out there in their 20s-40s who spend in a way that hinders them from the freedom of a one income household. The joy and ease of a life that has one person handle the money/housework/food while the other provides the actual capital to pay and buy is such a smoother running engine than two incomes.

Now, if you earn enough with two to have other things done for you and you can still save, by all means. There was a time when my hubby worked and I owned a shop and we had a housekeeper who came in. I even toyed with the idea of hiring someone to cook once or twice a week for the week. If you can afford it at the time, but honestly, even then, had I had the knowledge and skills now, I would have done more of my own and saved more money.

It is all relative how we live. If you need to buy clothes, eat out often, go to bars, and generally spend a lot a week, then the frugality of homemaking may seem like a prison to you. However, if you are of the temperament that enjoys time alone, likes to be creative and use and grow new talents then you may be wasting yourself in that office or career. If you have a spouse who wouldn’t mind keeping the job, you may find his increasing happiness and yours when there is a clean house, clean close hot meals around. When the time together is easy as it depends upon only one persons work schedule. There is a lot of joy in such a set up for both parties even the one working. When one is allowed to just focus on work the stress of the office seems less, that is what we have found at least. Of course, everyone is different.

All of this from thinking about my future ledger book! Honestly, with my friend I just felt, here she is trapped by her own inability to see her own responsibility. She is truly a prisoner of the world in which we live. No accountability may seem easy, but it robs us of our control and dignity and really the joy of MAKING our lives rather than just LIVING it.

betty paige I love betty paige and I am glad we celebrate her free spirit and look as a value of beuaty we would like to recreate, but I think we should also celebrate, in our womanhood, the homemaker.homemaker Certainly, we all love and enjoy the beauty of those in show business or high society and in the pages of glamour magazines, but not all of us will or really want to be them. So, perhaps if we also talk about and celebrate those women who really made up the history of womankind, we can turn others on to their legacy. While it may feel nice to look pretty and movie star like for others to admire us, we must also try to cultivate those things that make us feel strong and proud of ourselves and your size, height, age, hair color doesn’t matter when you are judging yourself upon your skills and ability to learn and grow. Sometimes I feel we women sell ourselves short. I really feel today in the modern world women are doing a disservice to their own history by trying to forget and discount the true value and power the homemaker has always had. Only, she never stood up for herself, because maybe she was having such a good time she never thought to. Only those that felt trapped and sad, the noisy wheel, felt the need to shout and rail against the ‘tyranny of the home’. So, as we go along enjoy and quietly reveling in our homemaking, lets help new generations realize their true woman’s history and to celebrate their skills and mind as much as their fashion and glamour.

In my way I have begun to think how much I would love to take this year and with more research make a book about  that very fact. The honest to goodness woman’s history. It seems the very topic of the strong women which make up our pasts don’t get as much attention as those that were in the spotlight. I have really begun to consider this, only I wonder who would read it? What do any of you think. Do you feel there is a place needed in the world for such a book? Would it be helpful and hopeful?

Now, to the practical side. I have mentioned before that I found an old book that had been in my family from 1908. It is entitles “House Hold Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook Book.” Certainly old fashioned for a 1955 wife like myself, but it would have been what my fictional mother would have grew up with as a young child in the 1900’s and my fictional grandmother would have used it as sure as I would my 1950s versions of homemaking manuals.

There is an interesting chapter entitled “Stale Bread”. Upon reading it I again find that as I travel further back in time the ideals and practices are all there for one to live a less wasteful and more ‘green’ life.  Here is the opening paragraph:

A careful housewife plans to keep in stock the smallest amount possible of stale bread, and of that stock not a morsel is consigned to the garbage pail. There is economy in adopting the English fashion of bread cutting, placing the loaf on a wooden trencher with a keen knife, and cutting at the table each slice as it is required.

The idea of cutting only as needing. Certainly, not as easy as ‘sliced bread’ but here another example of something being made easier for us turning into something that becomes wasteful and in the end more costly to us and the world.  It goes on:

Look carefully to the stale-bread remains of each day. Keep a wire basket, set in a tin pan in the pantry, to recieve all scraps left on plates, toast crusts,  or morsels from the bread jar. Never put them in a covered pail or jar; they will mold.

There are then following many recipes to use stale bread. No waste.

I am always amazed, as I go on with this project, how much I waste. Now, whenever I am done with a jar or tin foil I stop and think, maybe I should wash it for preserves and fold it up to use again, just because I can buy it for a dollar at the store, I can save a dollar if I reuse it! Simple, I know, but honestly, these thoughts were not there a year ago. Then I come across things like this with stale bread. I usually give our old bread to the chickens and it ends up back in our food with their eggs, but there are some wonderful recipes in here. I wonder, too, if the fictional me would have sampled them from my mother who would have grown up with it and would I still use some of the knowledge now? I don’t know but the real me which is also the fictional me thinks I may start trying.

There is one interesting bit in this chapter about basically a form of breakfast ceral. 1900 cornflakes Now, I know that cornflakes and other things are now available in 1908 for the housewife, but being new they would certianly not just discount what they had been doing and say, “Okay from here on out its only cornflakes for you”. For example they mention this interesting item that I had not heard of called ‘rusk’.

If there are children in the family who like “Rusk”, the old-fashioned New England name for browned crumbs sprinkled into cold milk, reserve the coarser crumbs for this purpose. Sift through a fine sieve, and the crumbs, no larger than cornmeal, may be put away to be used for crumbing purposes. Save the rusk the same way, keeping it always uncovered. If the air is not allowed free circulation into the can the crumbs will spoil. When the rusk is used, heat it slightly in the oven. After croquettes have been crumbed, scrape together all the find crumbs left on the board and sift, returning what is dry to the can.

Somehow this makes me sadkids at mcdonalds

and this happy    kid eating breakfast 30s

You may have seen in an old post I made chicken croquettes and they were so wonderful, and here it is telling you when you ‘crumb’ anything, from fried chicken to what have you, save the crumbs. Simple and yet the concept of keeping an open container of such leftovers has never occurred to me. Of course a year ago I had never made a croquette in my life.

There is another mention of a sort of  ‘cereal’ called “White-Bread Brewis” here is the recipe:

Heat a pint of milk in a double boiler. Stir into it enough bits of stale wheat bread to absorb all the nil,. Season with a little butter and salt. IT should not be pasty or sloppy, but should be a light, dry porridge. It is a favorite with children, especially if served on a small, pretty saucer and dotted with bits of bright jelly. Serve hot.

I have not tried this, but want to. It might make another good dish to introduce to my morning breakfasts. Can you imagine it made from homemade bread with a dollop of homemade jam on it all piping hot? YUM!

Here is a recipe I would like to try:

Bread Croquettes

2 cupfuls stale bread crumbs,

1 cupful hot milk

Grated rind 1 lemon

1/2 cupful currants

1/2 teaspoonful cinnamon,

Yolks 2 eggs

Boil the bread crumbs for two minutes in the hot milk. Add teh lemon, currants, cinnamon, and remove from the fire.Beat in the yolks of the eggs. Cool, form into croquettes, crumb, and fry in hot fat.

Doesn’t it sound good and what a good low cost meal and also good for vegetarians (as long as they eat eggs).

I am going to be sharing more of this book in the future. There is even a chapter entitled, “Cereal Left-Overs”. So, I suppose “waste not want not” should definitely be stitched into the mind of the homemaker. I think these skills would have been called upon by my fictional mother in the depression when I was young to help stretch the food budget and therefore would be very alive in my mind and kitchen, don’t you?

Until later, then, happy homemaking.

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