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The Real Housewives of 1837

TV audiences are enamoured with housewives these days – of getting a peek into the real, everyday lives of the rich (and now famous) in Beverly Hills, Orange County, and Vancouver. The stars of these reality shows are typically wealthy, botoxed beauties, zipping around in stylish cars and shopping in upscale boutiques. But did you wonder how the upper class lived a hundred or so years ago? It’s a shame TV cameras can’t jump back in time to allow a peek into the real lives of our great great grandparents, but I recently came across the next best thing – a copy of Housewifery 1837, a how-to book for 19th century home keepers published by Sheetz Tavern and Gun Shop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. In it, a wealth of simple recipes, health and cleaning tips; while technological advances and modern conveniences have rendered much of it outdated, it’s surprising how much is still good advice today. These snippets of household advice provide an interesting look at the way housewives of two centuries ago lived. (Minus the spa treatments and relationship drama.)


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  • How to Make Cheap Cake for Tea 1 of 11
    How to Make Cheap Cake for Tea
    Two cups sugar, two cups sweet milk, one large spoonful of melted butter, three cups of flour, three teaspoons of baking powder, spice to taste. (I stirred the ingredients together in this order as I might bake a cake, and baked the batter in two 9" pans at 350F for 30 minutes. They were pretty good!)
  • Good Health 2 of 11
    Good Health
    Is but a proper mixture of pure air wholesome food physical amusements mental recreations moral pleasures sparkling water habits of industry cleanliness and sweet naps. (And no punctuation?)
  • How to Make Strawberry Ice Cream 3 of 11
    How to Make Strawberry Ice Cream
    Wash a pint of berries, strain the juice into a pint of cream, sweeten to taste and freeze it or flavour with the syrup. (It really still is that easy! Today's ice cream machines make it faster to freeze, of course!)
  • A Cure for Watery Potatoes 4 of 11
    A Cure for Watery Potatoes
    Put in a pot a piece of lime the size of a hens' egg and however watery the potatoes may have been when the water is poured off, the potatoes will be perfectly dry and mealy.
  • How to Make Cream Pies 5 of 11
    How to Make Cream Pies
    Beat two eggs well in a coffee cup of sugar and one of sour cream; stir until thoroughly mixed. Add one teaspoon of lemon or vanilla. The quantity given will make two pies - bake with two crusts. (I think with today's pie plates this would only make one - but the sour cream-sugar-egg custard sounds delicious!)
  • Hints to Housekeepers 6 of 11
    Hints to Housekeepers
    Wash your tin trays with cold suds; polish with a little flour and rub with a dry cloth. Save your suds for garden plants when sandy.
  • How to Make Currant Tea Cakes 7 of 11
    How to Make Currant Tea Cakes
    Rub fine four ounces of butter into eight ounces of flour; mix eight ounces of currants and six of sugar, two yolks and one white of eggs, roll the paste the thickness of a cracker and cut with a wine glass. You may beat the other egg white and wash over them and either dust sugar or not as you like.
  • How to Avoid Nightmares 8 of 11
    How to Avoid Nightmares
    Great attention is to be paid to regularity and choice of diet. Intemperance of every kind is hurtful, but nothing is more productive of this disease than drinking bad wine. Of eatables those which are most prejudicial are all fat and greasy meats and pastry. These ought to be avoided, or eaten with caution. The same may be said of salt meats, for which dyspeptic patients have frequently a remarkable predilection, but which are not on that account the less unsuitable.
  • How to Make Pickled Cherries 9 of 11
    How to Make Pickled Cherries
    Two pounds of sugar to each quart of vinegar, boiled with a few sticks of cinnamon and whole cloves. When cold put in the cherries and cover them closely. (Sounds much like today's pickling method!)
  • Advice on Digestion 10 of 11
    Advice on Digestion
    Moderate exercise contributes in a superior degree to promote the digestion of food and prevent flatulence; those, however, who are necessarily confined to a sedentary occupation, should particularly avoid applying themselves to study or bodily labor immediately after eating. If a strong propensity to sleep should occur after dinner, it will be certainly bettor to indulge it a little, as the process of digestion frequently goes on much better during sleep than when awake.
  • How to Prepare Ham 11 of 11
    How to Prepare Ham
    A ham, if not too old, put in soak for an hour, taken out and baked in a moderately heated oven cuts fuller of graver, and of a fitter flavor, than a boiled one.

All tips adapted/excerpted from Housewifery 1837 except #8, 10 & 11, which come from The Household Cyclopedia of General Information, published in 1881.

Top image: La préparation pour le bal, 1833 (York Art Gallery)
This work is in the public domain, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license via Wikimedia Commons.

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