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 ;).

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    • Pattie

    My mother always told us that when the trees show their “underpants”, it was going to rain. I suppose it has something to do with air currents forcing the leaves up so their undersides (underpants) show! We still use it and now my kids say it to their children, as it is fairly accurate.

    Another was…Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!

    • John Broom

    On sage my late father-in-law always said if you plant sage in your garden it will lead to divorce ?????

    • Carmel

    Can anyone tell me the one about not spending money an a certain day
    in January,not sure which day but if you do you will spend all year long?

      • Annette Adams

      Hans Monday first Monday after new years spend money before getting any money you wound spend money all year long

    • gerry

    I love the last one…seems sweet and sentimental. I know I love things like this from my mom and grandma.

    • Donna

    If you move leave your broom behind.
    For Holy Water, go to the creek before sunrise, collect in jars and take them home. Say a prayer (don’t know what the prayer is, grandma never said) The water will clear up and use it on cuts, skin problems.

    • Kelly

    Granny told me that if you sweep your dirt out the door you’re sweeping prosperity with it, to always sweep it up into the dustbin! (That may have something to do with it being tracked back in, though!)

    • Kelly

    My Granny told me that if you have unwanted company, turn your broom upside down and they will leave soon. Seems to work, but maybe it’s my level of friendliness? LOL

    • Tvisha Tantry

    Its interesting to note the Old Wives Tales. Enjoyed reading them. Do continue posting such interesting articles. Thanx once again for the good post.

    • Valerie

    Thank you for sharing! I don’t hear nor read any Wives Tales any more. I rarely believed them, but I guess I miss hearing them!

    • Adrienne

    Cold hands & a warm heart make the best pastry. True! When making pie crust , using cold hands doesn’t melt the shortening, making for a flakier crust. 😉

    • Darla

    my mom told me when you spill salt throw some salt over your right shoulder or you will have bad luck i still do it to day LOL

    • dearcat from Maine

    These were great. At 76, I have heard a lot of them. I always grew Rosemary by my door and it is true if onions have thin skins it will be a mild winter. If you have a cat it will also tell you about winter. If you cat stops shedding and starts to grow its heavier winter coat early – hard winter. Grow late – easy winter. And as you all know, cats do not lie. Last year my Maine Coon grew hardely any winter coat – this year he started in Sept. to stop shedding and has already grown quite a coat. It will be a hard winter.

    • Tina

    Don’t buy a broom in May, or you will sweep your family away

    • Liz

    My mother always told me that if there is enough blue in the sky to make a pir of pants for a bear, then it won’t rain. It works most of the time. You will have to decide on the size of the bear.

    • Pattyann

    I always sweep a big pile in the middle of the house. Guess I’m doomed… But I don’t leave it there to bring germs or what not, I dustbuster it up. I’m guessing they didn’t think of that when the were talking about which way to sweep!

      • niks4

      You should sweep away from the house is common sense. Most house’s only had one door so they would sweep to and out the door. Easer than sweeping into a dust pan then throwing it out.

    • Crystal

    I’m still pondering the pastry being rolled an uneven amount of times to keep from being tough. Pastry as far as I know can’t count. Can someone explain how the pastry knows?

      • dearcat from Maine

      Flour is very smart. High IQ level. To all – my ha ha for the day.

    • Bhavna

    Thanks for the info. Interesting!

    • Jazz

    Good one… i really enjoyed it

    • Daisy

    I love this! Thank you!

    • gladys

    Very interesting…

    • Annette

    Loved this, would like more,some of these I remember my Grandmother telling me, most I have not heard , but intend on trying. Thank You will be looking forward to more.

    • judy

    really interesting to read and actually going to try some of them!

    • kely


    • Vicky (The Crafty Rocker)

    Enjoyed reading the “Old Wives Tales”. Some I had heard before, some I had not, but all in all they were quite interesting. Keep up the good work. Love it all.

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