The Wash Day Recipe

In the 1930s and 40s, electric-powered clothes washers started arriving in many Ontario homes. Advertisements in local newspapers heralded them as ‘wife-savers.’ They showed pictures of unharried housewives leaning up against their gleaming, white-enameled Westinghouse, or Eaton or Kelvinator washing machine, smiling benevolently, while inside the machine a thirty pound load of dirty laundry was effortlessly swirling its brains out in a sudsy bath of cleaning power. That shiny new electric appliance promised a life of leisure for the modern housewife. Housework would be done in a jiffy, she’d be able to sleep in until noon and still get her washing done without so much as raising a sweat.

Frances Ray of Harriston never forgot the good old, hard days of clothes washing on her Minto farm and she always appreciated the ease of her automatic clothes washer. So when she moved into town from the farm, above her automatic washer in her new home in Harriston hung the following little recipe for washing clothes, as penned by an anonymous Ontario pioneer woman:

1. Build a fire in the backyard to heat a kettle of rainwater.

2. Set tubs so smoke will not blow in your eyes if the wind is pert.

3. Shave a whole cake of lye soap into the boiling water.

4. Sort things. Make three piles: one pile white, one pile coloured, and one pile work britches and rags.

5. Stir some flour into the cold water to smooth and thin down the boiling water.

6. Rub dirty spots on a board, scrub hard, then boil. Rub coloureds, but don’t boil, just rinse and starch.

7. Spread tea towels on the grass to dry.

8. Take the white things out of the kettle with a broomstick handle, then rinse and starch.

9. Hang old rags on the fence to dry.

10. Pour rinse water on the flowerbed.

11. Scrub the porch with the hot soapy water.

12. Turn tubs upside down to drain.

13. Go put on a clean dress, smooth hair with side combs, brew a cup of tea, sit and rest and rock a spell, and count your blessings.

– adapted from Campbell Cork’s contribution to the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)