Old Wives’ Tales For Homemakers
This collection is a little different than my regular lists of vintage tips as some are superstitious (though there are practical nuggets here too). It’s hard to say how old any of them are, how they came about or why they were considered worthwhile to know.
Old wives tales were a simple way to impress upon someone the importance of doing (or not doing) a particular thing, in a manner which would be remembered and easily passed on from one generation to the next. Sometimes you have to interpret the hidden nuggets (ie. maybe salt stopping evil in its tracks was code for pest control, or the dire warning of accidentally boiling over the milk was more about taking care of precious food stores).
The stories could be regionally important, culturally significant, spiritually necessary (in the minds of those who repeated them), or vital to the health of the household budget (remember there was a time when the prices of salt and other pantry items were quite dear).
I’m not claiming these should be taken seriously or are vital information, I just find them interesting and in some cases useful to know. I pretty much kept the collection light, avoiding the death warnings and the evil eye or witch fears…though if you’re interested in that, stock up on sage and salt STAT, lol…nothing too dramatic in this bunch. I hope you enjoy them and they pique your interest as they do for me :).
- If a home is in disarray on New Year’s Day, the housewife will struggle with clutter and dissatisfaction throughout the year. If it’s tidy and clean, the home will be easy to manage.
- Laundry should never be done on Sundays for there will surely be a terrible stain, tear or worse in the week ahead.
- Above ground crops (such as tomatoes) should be sown in the wane of the moon; underground crops (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, etc.) at the change of the moon.
- The best day of the year to plant cabbage is on St. Patrick’s day.
- The best time to plant flowers is in the increase of the moon.
- A mild winter lies ahead if onions dug from the garden at harvest time have thin skins.
- Any women who desires to have order in her home must allow sage to flourish in her garden.
- Stir cake from you and you will stir your troubles away.
- A cake baked in the morning will rise, a cake baked in the afternoon will drop.
- To make cake light, it must always be stirred the same way.
- Pastry must be rolled an uneven number of times otherwise it will be tough.
- Every scrap of pastry must be baked or there will be an unwanted expense.
- Cold hands and a warm heart make the best pastry.
- A thunderstorm will addle eggs and sour any milk that’s been left out.
- Before a young girl bakes her first loaf of bread, her hands should be rubbed in sugar so that she may always make good, sweet bread.
- Stir bread away from you for good luck, trouble will come if you stir toward you.
- Evergreens should be taken down on Old Christmas Day (January 6th) or ill-luck will follow.
- A clean pot should be kept in an empty oven, this will ensure there will always be at least a little food to cook in it.
- When making the bed, don’t interrupt your work or you will spend a restless night in it.
- Stabbing needles through yarn balls will bring bad luck to anyone who wears something made from that yarn.
- Rosemary planted by the doorstep will keep evil away…put salt on the doorstep of a new house and no evil can enter.
- If a new bride should quietly take her mother’s dishcloth, she will never be homesick.
Up until the past few generations, people were terrified of evil and more afraid of bad luck than they were of a little dirt (not realizing that pestilence and disease could flourish in an unkempt home), so these little words of wisdom served a purpose…even those that seem ridiculous to us today.
The average person worked HARD back in the day and the last thing anyone wanted to do was worry about which direction the dirt should be swept (according to my collection of tales, it should be swept away from the house rather than towards it or you’re sure to attract doom). Common sense for basic cleanliness? Sure! But the purpose of the tale was to make sure the chore was done with care and attention by a people who commonly lived a hardscrabble life from early morning till late evening…there were no Real Housewives episodes to distract and ease the stress of the day, it was “Go” time from start to finish.
And who knows, maybe these old gals knew a thing or two that we just can’t grasp ;).