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Housewife's Rich Cabinet
First Sweep Thy House

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First Sweep Thy House

Keeping the Home Bright and Clean

Richard Brathwaite. The English gentlewoman, drawne out to the full body. London, 1631 (Detail)

Cookery and medicinal recipes. Manuscript, ca. 1675-1750

For keeping their houses clean and bright, housewives concocted mixtures from ingredients athand--in their gardens, meadows, and ponds. Looking after the kitchen garden of herbs was one of a women's many duties. She also looked after the bees, fattened the chickens, milked the cows, and gathered the plants that became the ingredients for her cosmetic, medicinal, and cleaning preparations. Recipes for preserving her produce were particularly valuable. Numerous books give directions for drying or making conserves of herbs, for candying flowers, and for drying fruits, pickling vegetables, preserving eggs, and salting meats. Instructions for discovering "defects" in dried hams and bacon and for "recovering" tainted flesh, oil, cider, and wine occur frequently, indicating that efforts to preserve food were not always successful.


Keeping garments stain-free and bright was a challenging and time-consuming duty. In addition to soap and water, the housewife used other ingredients common to her household: ashes, alum, bread, gum dragon, urine, vinegar, and the whites of eggs. Mother nature provided the bleaching power of the sun. This recipe for whitening cloth from a manuscript cookery book of the late 17th and early 18th century also calls for "blue water," water tinted with indigo to counteract a yellowish tinge in white fabric.



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  Additional Information

To Whiten Cloth:


"In June, which is the best time, lay up flaxen cloth in hot water. Let it lie in the water 2 or 3 days. Then beat it out of that water and rinse it well in cold water. Lay it abroad, but do not water it unless it rain. Then take it in a night and put it in fresh water, and when it hath lain out a week then buck it. So do every week, and if your cloth be fine,you may betwixt your bucks ive it a lather of soap or two. Lay it abroad in the suds without rinsing. When it is white enough, give it a lather of soap and rinse it in blue water. Lay it abroad and as it dries wet it with the blue water. While it be all spent then order it as you please."


From Cookery and medicinal recipes. Manuscript, ca. 1657-1750. 

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