Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mrs Pinkham’s Answer

At some point long years ago, I left my mother’s house with a small, spiral bound book dug from a bookshelf with more dust than books. Not sure why I took it, or why it was given—given or taken I can’t recall, but despite the passing years, over which I discarded or gave away piles of books, this one flimsy little collection of spiral bound pages has remained with me. A 1980 reissue of a 1976 publication from Warner/B. Lansky Books, it’s called Mary Ellen’s Best of helpful hints, and thirty years later is still listed and available on Amazon. Makes me wonder if Mary Ellen is still earning money from her wee 125 page book that was expanded in 1994 into a super edition.

Mrs Pinkham’s (Mary Ellen) book is a collection of homemaker’s lore containing a remedy, solution or preventive measures for every possible conundrum the wife or homemaker requires to weather the rocky straits of care and maintenance in and around the home. Trouble removing bathtub decals? Mary Ellen has the answer. Sticky zippers, scorched pans, wilted vegetables, soggy mashed potatoes or sluggish curtain rods—Mary Ellen, the queen of all things domestic has an answer.

I suppose the latest 1994 expanded edition of the book has updates that apply to problems more relevant to modern domestic dilemmas, but my older copy often dwells on things and problems rarely encountered in homes today. Dull diaper pins? Moth damage? Mending broken lipstick? Quick baked potatoes? Still, it makes for interesting reading, seeing some of the semi-calamities that described home life in 1976. I have chosen eight ‘remedies’ from Mary Ellen’s compendium of domestic lore that still have a ring of usefulness. Just maybe the answer you’ve been looking for all your life will be in the list.

• Bread—A rib of celery in your bread bag will keep the bread fresh longer.

• Cottage cheese—Store the carton upside down. It will keep twice as long.

• ‘Berry’ good treatment—Dip a toothbrush in a mashed strawberry and brush vigorously to remove yellowing and stains.

• Opposites attract—The next time red wine spills on your carpet, remove the spot with white wine.

• Sticky drawers—Drawers will slide more easily if you rub candle wax or soap on the runners.

• Watering—For houseplants allow tap water to stand for a day to rid it of chlorine. This will help stop the leaves from browning at the tips.

• Watering 2—The water you boiled eggs in is filled with minerals good for your plants when cooled. The same is true of melted snow at room temperature.

• News clippings—Dissolve a milk of magnesium tablet in a quart of club soda overnight. Pour it into a pan large enough to hold the flattened clipping. Soak it for one hour, remove and pat dry. Do not move the clipping until it is completely dry. Estimated life: 200 years.

Kept reading, hoping that I might find verification from Mrs Pinkham that carrot sticks between the toes will cure an ingrown toenail, but she doesn't mention this purported cure.


  1. Some of those old remedies are still good because I still do some of that. Didn't know about storing cottage cheese, but did know that red wine on carpet can be removed using white wine. However, there is a product out now called "Wine Away" and it is sold in wine shops and it will totally rid your white carpet of reminders of red wine spilled on it. Now....brushing your teeth with berry juice will surely remove the yellow but might leave them red stained from the berry or black if one uses blackberry. Fun blog today. Beverly

  2. Maybe the old Tom and Huck trick of walking near a cemetery at midnight with a dead cat will cure those ingrown toenails.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America