First published in 1945, the Homecraft book is an assortment of advice across a myriad of subjects for the post-war woman, wife and mother. It offers bite-sized snippets of advice on the subjects of house, health, beauty and dress. Over 60,000 copies were sold which I presume shows the emphasis at the time on the need to be thrifty but also the expectations of women to be efficient housekeepers. Ann Hathaway was the nom-de-plume of Clare Lloyd, wife of successful Dublin publisher Victor Lloyd. She was a socialite in Dublin at the time as well as being a font of advice for modern housewives of the time.
Having included some tips for perfect farm wives in my own book, I have a little experience of including the few I used for years but also of testing some and finding that some worked and some didn’t, I’ve a lot of admiration for Ann Hathaway if she tested all of the tips included in her book!
Every reader will find their own favourites and here’s a selection of the gems I loved:
A nice recycling tip: “If you have any odd bits of lino, cut out nice round or oblong dish mata; puton a coat of lino paint and bind the edges with coloured beads and you have a most serviceable dish mat.” p21
Waste not, want not: “Don’t throw away the water in which eggs are boiled. It can be very useful. Steep the eggspoons in it and the stains which the eggs leave can soon be cleaned off. Or have you weeds in your garden? Well, the water in which eggs have been boiled is a most effective weed-killer.” p43-44. This is one I must try!
“In selecting a turkey see that the legs are smooth and black, the spurs short, breast full and neck long. The feet should be supple.” p63 When I read this first, I wondered if the turkey was still alive and the housewife was choosing it before slaughter but of course, birds for sale in butchers then would have heads and feet still on the bird and maybe some feathers too. It really is an eye-opener into how sanitised the selling of meat has become in that people would find that distasteful now. I remember my mum buying a turkey once and then realising that it wasn’t cleaned out, she got her mum to do it as she hated cleaning them out. My gran had a poultry business for years so killing, plucking and cleaning out birds was second nature to her. Personally, I think seeing birds with feet and heads again might make us all reflect more on ensuring we buy meat that has had a good life.
I have a section in my book on how perfect farm wives are sometimes judged on their ability to dry clothes outside. Hathaway also has a section with various tips on drying clothes. My favourite is “In rainy weather it is a good scheme to peg all very small white articles to a long strip of white cloth and peg the cloth to the line. Should rain come, it is a matter of seconds to remove the strip of cloth and the articles with it.” p74
“On ironing day try standing on a soft, thick rug and note if it will prevent the feet becoming tired as they would otherwise be.” p75 – Note the term ‘ironing day’ which emphasises the hours spent on ironing. When you think back to it, Monday was wash day and Tuesday ironing day.
“Housewife’s Apron: …. Make garments from a strong and durable material. See that it is wide enough to wrap well round the waist towards the back. Machine on to it about six strong pockets. The two upper pockets should be wide and deep enough to hold a good supply of pegs on wash-day. A lower row of four smaller pockets will carry work-gloves, polishing cloh, polish, or a notebook and a pencil. One of the smaller pockets should be lined with mackintosh or thin rubber, so that soap or a damp cloth could be slipped into it. Bind pockets and aprong edges with a strong cotton banding in a contrasting colour.” p76 Goodness, this sounds more like a tool belt than an apron. It’s obviously for the town wife too, not a mention of using the apron to carry fresh eggs from hens!
“If you are too thin, drink a pint of creamy milk every day, and that look of not having enough flesh to cover your bones decently will soon disappear; what is more, the ragged nerves and exhaustion that usually accompanies underweight will also vanish. If you want to drink it, but fear for your figure, mix a glass of buttermilk with a glass of milk to lessen the proportion of fat.” p 101 Compare that to the concern nowadays about young girls not getting enough calcium and iron in their diet.
There’s lot of beauty tips too from how to use buttermilk to get rid of freckles and how your red lipstick and red nail varnish should be exactly the same shade. I wonder if many purchasers of the book in 1945 followed the tips to the gospel or if they took them with a pinch of salt.
The Homecraft Book is retailing at €10 so it’s a great little stocking filler and good fun could be had over Christmas by reading out the tips to each other. The retro cover is great too. It could be a trip down memory lane for your mother-in-law too and a great conversation piece over dinner with the in-laws.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife too as a Christmas gift! But there’s also a chance to win a copy of it for my last giveaway for the 12th Day of Christmas – share a household or farming tip in the comments or on this Facebook update or via Twitter. I’ll be drawing the winners of all twelve giveaways tomorrow so don’t delay!
Update: Winner is Ken Foster