Wednesday, November 25, 2009

OT: To continue lessons in Tenement Housekeeping

All right, now that our tenement housekeeping student is hot and wet and very cranky, let's move on. Remember in our last lesson, the tenement student was instructed to scrape, pile, and wash the dishes from the breakfast she prepared after blacking the stove and lighting the fire.

Now what the hell is "Sapolio?" It sounds like a horrid disease, something that tenement dwellers would get if they didn't scour their knives. And we will find that kerosene is considered the all-purpose substance to put in practically everything, from laundry to supper dishes. Well, maybe not food, but still, kerosene appears all the time in the tenement housekeeping lecture series.

Having to be told to empty, rinse and dry the dishpans seems a bit redundant, but I suppose if it has never been mentioned or practiced, tenement dwellers would never think of it.

Moving on:

Yikes. Imagine all the tubs, trays, and towels necessary to accomplish these simple morning tasks. And another thing. You may have noticed that the hot water used for all this washing came from the kettle that is on the stove. It is not assumed that the tenement has piped hot water. It must have been a real luxury to have hot water actually come out of a tap. "Cold water flat" and all that. We have one of the old tin hot water kettles that were kept on the stove all the time back in the day. It's huge, probably holds two or three gallons, far more than anyone would need for tea or coffee. And we sometimes use it for humidifying the air when the weather is particularly cold and dry in New Mexico.

And as you're working away, sweat pouring down your face, strands of hair covering your eyes, you have to remember to use a skewer or matchstick to clean out the seams of your pots and pans. What? Have you ever seen a pot or a pan with a seam? Could something be more annoying? Unhealthy? Lethal?

But we have learned many things. To review:

Think about it. The Housekeeper is to make sure that there are "no cooking dishes left on the stove unwashed." The stove in this tenement, we have already established, is always on during the daytime -- that is to say, there is a coal fire burning in the firebox all day long, and well into the night. You can't really turn it off unless the coal burns out completely. So... if you leave anything on the stove, it's going to burn, guaranteed. And that kettle of water will boil dry. And of course the whole tenement is heated to incandescence. So, yes, I think it would be almost automatic to make sure that nothing was on the stove you didn't want to be there, and that you kept an eagle eye on anything that was on the stove. Which is why you will be instructed to cook your cereal in a double boiler. Because you can't really control the temperature of the stove, and if you tried to cook your oatmeal or porridge or mush in a seamed pan placed directly on the stove top, it would certainly stick and burn and make a mess, which would only make you crankier.

Life was not easy in those days, and it's not even nine o'clock in the morning.

So. Let's move on:

Now I'm really pissed off. We just went through this whole deal to black the stove, light and tend the fire, make cocoa for breakfast, clean up, wash everything, and now we have to start all over and make some cereal. You could get down a box of Post Toasties -- which wasn't around, but still -- but this lesson is about cooking cereal. No easy task.

Look at the times required:

An hour and a half for hominy, two hours or more for corn meal. WHAT? OUTRAGEOUS!!!!

Especially after you've gone through all that previously just for some cocoa.

Apparently the extraordinary cooking times have to do with the manner of cooking as much as with the recalcitrance of the cereals themselves:

And think about this. You're in a tenement. You've got a hot stove going, and you're going to cook your breakfast cereal half an hour, forty minutes, up to several hours, which means you've got to start this whole process hours and hours before breakfast is served. What time do you get up to begin? 3am?

And what dishes did you use in preparing to cook the cereal? Do they really need to be scraped, piled, and rinsed?

I don't know about you, but by this point I dread the lesson on washing the kitchen table.

More Sapolio?

To be continued....

1 comment:

  1. Sapolio was a kind of soap. Google it. It was actually pretty popular at one time. Seems it was so popular that their owners thought they could stop advertising, and after that, sales dropped and they went bust.