Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Couple of Family Recipes Specific to the Wood Cookstove: Laundry Soap and Boiled Potatoes

Back in 2010, one of my distant cousins on my mom's side of the family decided to put together a cookbook of the recipes from my Great-Grandma Ruth's family.  Grandma Ruth was the second of nine children, and she came from a family who knew their way around a kitchen.

The cookbook was a grand idea, and I find myself going to it for several family recipes.  While I was searching for the recipe for Aunt Tod's Lemon Filling to spread between the layers of a sponge cake I baked yesterday in the Margin Gem, I ran across a couple of treasures that I'd like to document here.  Both of these recipes have specific instructions for how to use the wood cookstove to accomplish the desired result, and they both come with stories that give today's reader some insight into what life used to be like in rural southwest Iowa in the first half of the twentieth century.

The first recipe is for laundry soap and comes from a book that my Great-Great Aunt "Tod" had.  It reads as follows:

4 pounds grease or cracklings

1 can lye

2 quarts water

Mix.  Let stand on back of stove, preferably the reservoir, from one morning until the next.  Stir in a tea kettle of hot water or until the consistency of honey.  Pour into a mold.  Let cool and cut into bars.

Aunt Tod's daughter remembers her mother making homemade soap in a big iron cooking pot over a fire outdoors.  That would have been as late as the 1940s or early 50s.

The second recipe comes with the following story written by my grandpa's first cousin:

"A three-ring recipe book was given to Mom for a shower gift by friends of hers.  Guests were to write recipes in it, and it was presented to her.  I have the book now, and I often read this page and laugh over it.  I wonder if the shower guests did too.  Date was June 19, 1930."

I can just see a group of farmwives in their best cotton summer dresses and with their bobbed hair done in waves gathering together to celebrate Aunt Martha's upcoming wedding.  A delicious homemade cake waited to be cut and placed on the hostess's best china while the women laughed at jokes about a bride's lumpy potatoes or her not knowing how to boil water.

The following is what was handwritten on the page, complete with the errors still present:

Boiled potatoes

        will serve nine

     Go to your potatoe [sic] patch or basement and get thirty five large potatoes and wash in water.

     Now get a basket of cobs and kerosene over a few of them, before you put them in the range.  put in the kitchen range.  Get a match and light the fire.  First being sure that your drafts are open, as the fire may go out if they are closed.  Now go to the pump or windmill and get a bucket of water.  Fill the teakettle and put over the fire.  Close the drafts.

     Next peel your potatoes, being sure to get all the eyes, unless Art [her fiancĂ©] likes eye soup for dinner. Wash the peeled potatoes and pour off water.  By this time it will be eleven-fifteen.  It is now time to pour the water which has reached the boiling stage, on the potatoes.  Salt to taste but don't burn your tongue.  Remove from fire when done.  They will be sure to please the hungry better half.

Notice the mention of the ever-present teakettle in both of these recipes. These bits of history are reminders of the hard work that filled the "good old days."  Speaking of that, Nancy and I are headed out to the wood splitter, so I'll sign off for this afternoon!