I currently find myself in a position of pecuniary embarrassment. Actually, this is not new territory. But I thought perhaps I’d share some “wisdom of the elders” with you as you lurch into the biggest spend-up of the year. Or not.

Some folks like to go completely over the top with the celebrations and they spend days preparing enormous feasts with complicated recipes and run modern (expensive) appliances for hours.

When I was a mere slip of a girl, about halfway through the last century, modern appliances were limited to the centrifugal washing machine*,

The new-fangled radio

(which most people still called a wireless), the vacuum cleaner and the refrigerator.

Perhaps a telephone.

Few households had all of these luxuries. Some had none of them.

My grandmother had raised nine children without the benefit of any such devices. And she couldn’t see the point in shelling out  “good money for something I never had when I needed it.”

So she continued to cook gargantuan roasts in the wood-fired oven. Her custards were things to dream about. And her bedlinen was laundered in a big wooden tub and dried on a lavender hedge.

I remember the special trifles she made.

“Ordinary” ones had red jelly, but at Christmas she took it up a notch and jellies were red and green.

This was a part of the country where the mercury practically spilled out of thermometers. No problem for Granny! Her butter, cream and milk were kept cool in a big crock partially buried on the shady side of the wash house.

But that was not cool enough or big enough to set jellies.

shall I continue, or would you all like to wait for the next installment?

While you’re thinking about that, here’s something you may already know about. It’s been in several papers and I’ve heard it mentioned on  the telly, so it must be true!Next time you think something’s not worth recycling, remember this:

But to get back to Granny… there was a well in the back yard. Not one of those cute Jack-and-Jill affairs, with roses growing around the walls! Not even as grand as this:

It was simply a deep hole in the ground. Securely covered, of course, so no boisterous grandchildren could fall in and contaminate the water. Of course. And man! that water was cold!

Cold enough to set jellies. Yes, the jelly bowls were lowered on a platform (I think it was an old seed flat) and winched up when set. And if a storm knocked out a transmitter halfway through cooking? Not a problem!

*Apparently, this gem is for sale at a salvage place called Kuhles’. $150  and it’s yours!


  1. Greg’s grandmother had a ringer washer until she went into a home almost 5 years ago. I wish I’d kept her old fridge when they moved her — just for the visuals! BTW I make a mean Christmas trifle and use blackcurrant jam…


  2. Such memories you stir up Di. We had a beautilly made well, just a deep hole in the ground but lined with bricks and with a very sturdy lid. The water was indeed very cold and I can remember Dad drawing water from the well for cold drinks in summer before we had a fridge. Those were the days of the ice chest with the big blocks of ice delivered by the ice man.

    I’ve known for a long time that cephalopods were pretty smart, thus my reason for giving up eating baby octopus & squid. (And how yummy were they?)


  3. OMG – you could be describing my mother-in-law (86 years young)… she raised 10 kids (my man is number 10) no washing machine, no TV, the fridge only turned up in the late 1960s (and the eldest kids had left home by then)

    the family bought her an automatic washing machine a few years ago…. she’s never used it: ‘it takes too long and uses too much water for just one person’s clothes’….

    and don’t get me started on her trifle….. yummmmo! maybe her secret ingredient is the lack of electric appliances?….


    • ronnie…yep! lots of places like that. I remember that we loved the cold sweet well water for cordial (not that over-sugared stuff from the supermarket – this was the home made lemon squash-and-barley, or maybe juiced fruit). But the primary function was for fire-fighting with buckets and sacks! Speaking of which -are you guys OK down there? The tv map looks scary. Again!


  4. andrea…some of the new fridges are made to look “vintage” for people who are going the retro route. And “old look” radios and stereograms now have all the DVD, CD attachments. Some even play vinyl discs!
    Good God! We’ll see a return to poodle skirts and pony tails next!


  5. Yep, I know what you mean about pecuniary embarrassment. This year we’re giving each other “things for the house” again, so dearest husband has been given 3 toilets via an auction, darling daughter will be getting wall paper for her bedroom, and everything else is IOU’s for fruit trees in our long-dreamed-of orchard (when we’ve worked out where to put it). I wish you a Merry Christmas full of the creativity nurtured by lack of cash! Sara x


    • sara…Ah yes! That creativity…I keep hearing about that”forced by necessity” brilliance. A bit like the good things turned out by artists who were turned on?


  6. Lavender hedge drying…gosh.

    Well, in 2009, in winter, if I have dinner part, and life overflows this tiny apartment I use the terrace as a fridge extension. It’s not too unusual to see an entire leg of lamb on bed of potaoes resting out there while bedlam reigns inside.


    • marie…yes! An upstairs neighbour in London had a tiny balcony, but it was enough to keep the wine chilled, in a laundry bucket, with ice cubes!


  7. Laundry drying on a lavender hedge…now that sounds lovely, and imagine the money I could save on the all-natural lavender scented laundry soap and drier sheets I’m addicted to!


    • m…lovely to see you “out and about.” I may have mislead people with Granny’s “lavender hedge.” It was really 2 or 3 enormous bushes and I expect Granny dried the linen first then aired it on the bushes. Well, when I tried this , the wet laundry stained! But the smell was certainly wonderful


  8. Marie’s comment brings me back to my first apartment in Providence, which had a fridge when I agreed to rent but when I moved in I discovered it didn’t work. I didn’t have much food in those days anyway, but until the landlord found me a working one I set my milk out on the windowsill.


  9. I’ve just finished Ferenc Mate’s A Reasonable Life – intelligent, funny and right on the money (how you don’t need to waste it and what a disease it can be), I think you’d love it.

    Brava to your grandmother too.


  10. Such an appropriate story – the need to live simply but even apart from that ( and who needs to be reminded of the debarcle we are in at the moment) I love Christmas stories …..and your grandmother sounds wonderful.


  11. I can remember my mother using a manual mangle, let alone my granny after whom I take in the culinary skills department (granny I mean). Neither of us ever managed to set a jelly! But then neither of us had a well.

    Lovely, lovely, clever little octopi – I could watch that over and over, and ideed am . . .

    Merry Christmas Di to you and yours XXX


  12. jane…welcome! yes, there are always lessons to be learned. (Can I come down and learn some from you?)

    ziggi…welcome back!oh, heck – you’re worth another !
    I thought you might like that little film about the octopus. Did I ever tell you about the university one, called Occy? email me if you want a brief story.


  13. Di, this is priceless–my grandmother was just like this about so many things. There’s a beauty in doing things this “old-fashioned” way, I think. And I actually lived in a house in VA once where I did a lot of those things myself! When my son was small, I had no stove–I used a wood stove for everything, and learned how to cook and even bake in it! It kept us warm, and I baked our breads, chopped the wood myself…Ms Wilderness. (If you knew me, you’d be amazed I did this!) Your photos are lovely, and wonderful for this time of year. Thanks for visiting my blog and letting me know you were there. I’m touched. Happiest of holidays to you! sue


  14. sue…many turns of the wheel since those days! I’m sure you don’t want your “old life” back, but isn’t it nice to recall sometimes? Happy Christmas to you and yours.


  15. Thanks, now I really feel like a youngster 🙂 I just recently were reminded of the humble times when I didn’t have an electric hand mixer and had to beat my egg whites, and pound my favorite (marble) cake by hand. But of course I always had things like a washing machine, telephones, and hot and cold running water – though for my years as a student I shared with 10 others in case of the telephone and hot water, and went to use a public washing machine.

    Even my grandmother seems to have had always washing machines, at least her electric mangle has brought it to some fame in the family – must of been one of the first that were available on the marked and a hell of a machine that she put in the cellar. And I can hardly imagine that she had this, but not some sort of a washing machine.

    The photos you picket are great. I especially like the telephone!

    Happy Christmas, and see you again next year!


  16. buechertiger…yes, you probably ARE the youngest on this page!:-) And Granny had a
    phone just like that, but hers was manual – you cranked a handle and an exchange operator connected you.
    Happy Christmas to you, too.


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