Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb


We handwash our dishes - not once in our married life have we owned a dishwasher, much less the ideal two (or maybe three - for Passover.) And we've become rather better at it lately, so it's on my mind.

We're Spoiled

I'm not talking about those people who have dishwashers, although they do seem to be a norm. I'm talking about more basic things. See, one of the things I collect are antique cookbooks, including two children's ones - Mary Frances and the Kitchen People, which came out around 1912, and Patty Pans, which was published in 1938. Plus I have a 1941 Girl Scout Handbook (and I have two more Girl Scout handbooks en route.

Side note about Mary Frances. Mary Frances is "the dearest, sweetest little girl in the world." She's also the younger child in a middle-class American household just prior to WWI - her family employs both a cook and a maid, and Father works all day. And, being a "nice, womanly little girl", she wants to learn all the skills she will need when she runs her own home. She learns them from the tools themselves (plus the occasional help of an adult or a fairy) in a series of instructional story books - starting with cooking. (First recipe? Toast. Second recipe? Buttered toast. Final recipe? Roast beef.) I own an original copy of the cookbook, and reprints of other books in the series, the latest one being "The Mary Frances Housekeeper" - in which she learns to keep a house from a family of paper dolls. Starting from scratch - there are full plans for building a cardboard house bound in the book. I'm so tempted...

So, what does this have to do with dishwashing? Or being spoiled?

All of these books have directions for handwashing dishes. And they start with "have lots of hot water." Because even as late as 1941, many people did not have hot running water. Many may not have had running water at all. My senior seminar paper was about ads in Life Magazine during WWII, and by the end, utility companies and appliance manufacturers were advertising the new kitchens that would be available when it was all over. All of these "dream kitchens" included hot water heaters. (Yes, utility companies. There was a true competition between having all electric kitchens and all gas ones. Electricity seems to have won, except for gas stoves.)

So preparation for dishwashing started before a single dish was dirtied - there had to be a big kettle of hot water ready and waiting. And then - well. The Girl Scouts had the dishwasher pile the dishes and such on the *kitchen table*, along with one dishpan of hot, sudsy water and one of hot clear water. (And to put hot water and washing powder in any pots before hand.) Patty Pans and Mary Frances has us using the sink, but there is still a pan of suds and one of clear. And there are clear instructions as to the order of dishwashing - glassware, silverware, dishes in increasing order of size, serving pieces and finally the pots and pans.

And if you're going to use a single pan of suds and a single pan of rinse water, it makes sense. You want the hottest, cleanest water to both wash and rinse your glassware, and your silver. But it also means that your dinner plates are going to be rinsed with...well. Ugh. Or you can put the plates and such on a wire rack (this is from the Girl Scouts) and pour more hot water over them. Which would work. But you're going to use a single pan of each because it took forever to heat water, which was why there was always a tea kettle on the stove.

(And the Housekeeping book would have us clean our sinks with a bit of kerosene afterwards. No, thank you.)

So, just having hot running water makes us spoiled. And since I go without it one day a week, I can relate.

Modern Instructions

Just for fun, I googled around finding handwashing instructions. And - other than changes in tools - most people don't use washrags anymore (unless they knit them themselves), dishwashing liquid is easier than powder or bars of soap and there's that hot water, plus many people have double sinks - the instructions don't seem to have really changed. Fill a dishpan or a side of the sink with hot soapy water (one site went with rinse water instead - I guess to save on running water), wash the glassware first and the pots last, and try to use water hot enough to sanitize and dry on its own because dishtowels=icky. Oh, instead of scouring the dishcloth (as per Marilla's instructions in Anne of Green Gables), there's sticking the sponge in the microwave, and no one suggests using kerosene to clean the sink.

And it's not quite the way it's done in my house. We have one single-well sink. It's stainless steel, so we can kasher if we want, but the fact is, it's considered treif. This means we can't fill it with hot soapy water or hot clear rinse water. We can't even let things touch the bottom - we use wire sink racks to prevent that. We could use a dishpan, but they're messy and a pain to drain out, so we choose not to.

How do we (meaning, mostly, Jonathan) do it, then? We start with an empty sink. The things to be washed are placed in it, while waiting for the water to get hot. Any pots are filled with hot soapy water. If there isn't room right away, things to be washed are piled nearby. Then we get the appropriate dish sponge (blue for dairy, red for meat. I don't have any pareve utensils.) and get it wet and soapy. Then -working in no particular order, except the greasiest gets hit first, we soap up the china, silver and glassware. When everything in the sink is soapy, we rinse them off, leaving the plates for last. This lets the soap do the work. And then we move on to the next batch. Meanwhile, if there are a lot of dishes, the other one of us dries and puts away to make sure there's room in the dishdrainer.

One difference between us is that I turn the water off during the soaping phase. Also, if the next meal is going to be the opposite polarity (normally after a meat dinner), I clean out the sink and switch to the other dishdrainer and sink rack.

And. All of this is new.

Management Changes

The deal has always been that I cook and Jonathan wash dishes. But, well, I *like* cooking, and dishwashing isn't that much fun. Also, most of the dinners I make - which is the main meal we eat together - are either meat or pareve, and so I rarely changed the kitchen. Even when we started eating breakfast daily, we used disposables. Thus, there was no need to change the kitchen and no need to do dishes very often. It had gotten to the point that the sink would be emptied only if we ran out of plates or silverware, or I needed a certain pot to cook with, or if I really wanted to make a dairy dinner, or it was Thursday and there was the cleaning lady.

And washing that many dishes at a shot? Painful for Jonathan's back, and filled the dishdrainer to bursting (dry and put away? Me? Hah!). I was very skilled in balancing a colandar among the debris when I wanted to drain some pasta. Yeah, not good at all.

So,what changed? We spent Passover with my inlaws. And they're methodical. My father-in-law washes the dishes right after the meal, with my mother-in-law making certain he only has the table stuff and an unavoidable minimum of other utensils to wash. As soon as they're dry, they get put away and, if necessary, the kitchen is changed over.

And I was determined to be helpful this time around (it's been years and I'm aware that they accomodate a lot with us.) so I washed and dried a lot of dishes (less than usual - my mother-in-law paid her cleaning lady to come in and wash dishes for the seder nights. She also helped to serve the soup and such. It made things much easier. She had to leave before everything was done the second night, which ran late, but there was very little to finish up. I started and my nephew did the rest.) I also,for the first time, observed Jonathan's dishwashing technique and I thought it was very efficient. (Normally, I run off to watch tv or go on the computer.) And, you know, it was nice to dry while he washed. We chatted.

And I decided that we'd try this when we got home. And so far, so good. It's been *nice*, and it's made for a number of little changes that add up to, well, things being a bit better.

1. We no longer use disposables every day. Right after Passover, Jonathan bought four little Corelle cereal bowls, and we use them for our cereal. Which means we set the table for breakfast now with our nice dairy spoons and even napkins. On dairy placemants instead of newspaper over the meat ones.

2. When I cook, I clean as we go. Since *my* decision means more work for* Jonathan*, it just seems fair that I not leave anything but, well, table stuff and any unavoidable pots and pans. Which means that it's not odd for me to serve dinner from a kitchen that barely looks cooked in. It's much more pleasant. I'm even cleaning the counters more.

3. The sink is clean. It's even - dare I say it? Shiny. Because even if the sink is treif, I still don't want particles of the preceding meal hanging around if I'm changing things. I'm cleaning other things, too. Because, well. They're there and might as well.

4. Cleaning lady no longer spends an extra hour just cleaning dishes.

5. I'm making more dairy meals. It's no longer a chore. So I'm actually using my dairy equipment.

And then there is the extra together time after dinner when he washes and I dry and put away. That's nice, too.

The only problem is Shabbat. We have our own hot water heater, so we can't use our running hot water - if we lived in a large multi-family apartment house with at least some non-Jewish tenants, as my in-laws do, and shared the hot water system, that wouldn't be a problem, but it is here. If we use up the hot water, more will come into the heater, the heater would turn on and the cold water will be cooked. If a hot water heater is shared, there's no telling who used it up (and it may well be large enough that it would refill before then), so hot water would be permitted. I do keep a thermal pot filled with hot water to help make coffee and tea, and we can use it on Shabbat, but it only holds so much. The other factor is sponges - can't use them on Shabbat, either -can't wring. There's also the rule about not preparing on one day for the next. (Friday night and Saturday day are considered one day.)

So, on Friday night and Saturday morning, we have to wash our dishes with cold water (and some judicial use of hot water for soaking) using nylon pads that don't absorb much water and can't really be squeezed. At first, when we tried this experiment, Jonathan just suffered with the cold water, warming his hands in a cup of hot when necessary, and doing the extra soaping and scrubbing necessary, plus the extra drying when dishes don't dry themselves.

Now, I use rubber gloves and they make all the difference - they insulate nicely against the cold. I can't find ones to fit Jonathan or he'd be using them. I know they exist. I still think I should make a sanitizing spray or something, though.

Breakfast takes seconds to wash up from, so he does that. The only problem is lunch. And we've pretty much decided that it's the only meal that's going to wait for cleaning so it can be done after Shabbat. It's bothersome, but hot water makes a difference. (And I do those, too, just because I'm home, he's not and I'm waiting for the computer to boot.)

  • Yuletide Rec

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  • Yuletide Rec

    Shavua tov! I received one of the best stories ever for Yuletide and I want everyone to read it. :) Esther and the Egg

  • Oh, dear

    I am alive. I am well. I am cooking at work. I'm just not feeling the blog right now. I'm active on twitter and in Adam Lambert fandom, and I'm…

  • Also

    I've been needing new bras for awhile, and I know I've changed shape, so I went to a lingerie shop and got measured. I'm down two band sizes.…