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    Book of “household hints” is as seamless as time

    I seem to be drawn to cookbooks from way back. I’m curious about the recipes and their ingredients, and how different foods and dishes were prepared then compared to now.

    I am just as intrigued when I come across those guides whose sole job was to help the little housewife cook, clean and manage her household a little better.

    That’s the type I found at auction recently, aptly titled “Fowler’s Blue Book of Selected Household Helps and Guide to Household Economy” by A.L. Fowler from 1925. It was a thin book with a blue cover – unpretentious in its appearance, utilitarian in its purpose.

    household hints guide

    The cover of the household hints guide by A.L. Fowler in 1925. It appears to have been used quite often in a greasy kitchen.

    After getting sniffly past the Introduction addressed to “Mrs. Housewife, Everywhere,” I found that Fowler’s conversational appeal to her seemed to be written to me more than 90 years later.

    “How many good housekeepers, in their desultory reading, run across little helpful ideas telling how some other housekeeper has found a way of doing something that is familiar to all in a new and more efficient, and labor, time and money saving way.

    “They say to themselves, ‘Now, I will cut that out and save it.’ But the scissors is just out of reach or they are interrupted and lay aside the paper or article; then someone carries it away and the clipping is never done.”

    It’s something I do all the time –  although I don’t clip anymore – and I’m sure others to the same. In fact, there’s a page with an article on my kitchen table about fake error pennies. I want to keep it so I’ll know what to look for in real error pennies at auction.

    household hints guide

    Recipes and an introduction to the household hints guide.

    I do find newspaper clippings from the time when everyone read newspapers, along with notes in books, and recipes tucked in cookbooks and recipe boxes.

    Fowler’s guide is like so many others that have appropriated the term “blue book.” Blue book appears to be a pretty common name for guides across several specialties: the Kelley blue book for cars, the Blue Book for legal citations, state blue books or almanacs/guides, the Ball Blue Book for canning and preserving, a blue book for bicycles, vintage Little Blue Books on a range of topics, even a blue book for the produce industry. There was also a blue book for a red-light district in New Orleans, telling its users where to find prostitutes, along with ads for cures for venereal diseases.

    I came across one of the Little Blue Books several years ago. Published in 1929, it offered tips on how to get a job.

    What’s up with the term? It seems that the 15th century British Parliament used blue velvet-covered books for record-keeping. But the books were presumably around even before then, dating to India, according to Wikipedia. The British Parliamentary Papers in the 19th century were commonly known as the Blue Books because blue paper was used as the cover on some of them.

    household hints guide

    Household hints to make life easier in the kitchen.

    The blue book is pure and simple a guide – to just about everything. Fowler tried to pack as much as he could in the pages of his household book, arranging the tips by rooms in the house and dropping in a few recipes. He warned that he couldn’t vouch for each of the 1,500 tips in the book, but that they derived from “tried and true” methods.

    The owner of this book apparently used it often; its cover was stained with grease and spots.

    Here is a sampling of the suggestions:


    A fine table mat for hot dishes can be made from the top of an old straw hat; the edge should be bound with tape.

    If the cork breaks and fall inside of a bottle, put enough ammonia in the bottle to float the cork and put it away for a few days. The ammonia will either eat or destroy the cork enough to permit its removal.

    To cool a dish of pudding or any hot food quickly, set it in a pan of cold water which has been well salted.

    Onion for seasoning: Plant one or two sprouting onions in a pot of good mold and place on the kitchen window-sill; shoots soon appear which may be removed for flavoring soups, etc., and others soon take their place; the onions continue sprouting for a long time. Chives and parsley can also be grown in this way.

    To keep flies out of the pantry, sponge the windows once or twice a week with a weak solution of carbolic acid and water.

    To pare a pineapple easily, cut it into rings and peel each slice separately.


    Protect the finger rings. When washing the hands, either at home or in a public place, first remove a hairpin from the hair, place all rings on it and replace it firmly in the hair again; then the rings will not be lost or left for someone else to pick up.

    For clogged basins, mix a handful of soda with a handful of common salt and force it down the pipe; leave it for ½ hour, then rinse the pipe thoroughly with boiling water.

    A good deodorizer is a bottle of lemon juice left uncorked in the bathroom.

    household hints guide

    How to stretch butter and other household hints in the kitchen.


    Good and cheap sachet powder for bureau drawers, etc. Mix one-half ounce of lavender flowers with one-half teaspoon of powdered cloves.

    If your alarm rings too loudly slip an elastic band around the bell to diminish the noise.

    To destroy bedbugs, beat together some corrosive sublimate and white of egg; apply it frequently with a feather to both the bed and mattress. Another solution is two ounces of corrosive sublimate dissolved in a pint of water and a pint of alcohol. These solutions are poisonous and must be used carefully.

    For cold beds, put several smooth layers of paper next to the springs before the mattress is put on and cold backs will be unknown.

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