Pioneer Potluck: How To Set Up Housekeeping In 1883

Growing up in Northern Colorado.


I find the following article very interesting and remember some of the hints were some of my Grandma’s everyday ritual.  Some my Mom’s too! Mom and Grandma wore aprons and quickly took them off if someone knocked at the door.  Mom went barefoot in the house and left a pair of shoes beside the door to put on “just in case” someone came to the door.  We started the fire in the cook stove with corn cobs then added coal.  Grandma cooked with “coal oil” kerosene.  Old tooth brushes clean lots of things. Grandpa had them in his tool shed.  Grandma kept them under her sink.  She cleaned eggs to sell with a toothbrush.   I do not know about seeding raisins — modern technology took care of that in my day! 

How To Set Up Housekeeping In 1883

  • Every wife should have plain white aprons to reach to the bottom of her dress ready to put on when going to the table or to tie quickly over the other if called to the door.
  • If your clothes catch on fire, do not run about but lie down and roll.
    Keep an old toothbrush or broad paintbrush for cleaning out windowsills.
  • Every wife should have a certain weekly allowance to use for market and she should learn to do it herself. (I guess that means harnessing the team of horses and hooking up the wagon.)
  • Do housekeeping on a cash basis. If you cannot pay for the article do not get it!
  • Never throw tin cans in an alley or street if you live in town.
  • Old bleached muslin is of no use except for carpet rags or to use to dust, clean and wash floor.
  • Make preparations for breakfast in the evening before.  Give special attention to your matchbox, kindling box and replenish coal if you are using. (How about corncobs?)
  • Seed raisins before storing them.
  • Burn all eggs shells, coffee grounds and sweepings and such.  If you keep chickens, cook all your vegetable paring and feed them to chickens.
  • Never set butter or lard beside coal oil.

Utensils for the Kitchen

  • Can opener, apple corer, bread pans, clock, wire strainer, flour sieve, biscuit cutter a breadbox.
  • Other unique items include: Ash bucket, coal tongs, coal hod, candlesticks, glass funnel, glass rolling pin (fill with cold or ice water for rolling), lantern, meat saw, mousetrap, moveable sink, wash keeler (keeler must be a stomper of some kind to clean clothes in the water), starch box, three-cornered cupboard, blue enameled cook stove, big round oak table with chairs, egg basket.

Items that were Cooked and Baked in the 1880’s

  • Puffets for Tea (muffins)
  • Parker House Rolls
  • Graham Gems
  • Oatmeal Cookies
  • Grandma’s Sugar Cookies
  • Manhattan Muffins
  • Potato Biscuits
  • Creamed Cod Fish
  • Cod Fish Balls (oooh!)

Marinated Cucumbers

Pare and thinly slice 1 to 2 medium cucumbers
1/2 onion sliced thin
1 tblsp sugar
4 tblsp vinegar
2 tblsp water
1/4 tsp salt     
1/4 tsp black pepper 

Stir sugar, vinegar, water, salt and pepper.

Mix in cucumbers and onion. 

Cover and refrigerate to marinate. 

Stir before serving.

About 4 servings.


Marinated Shrimp

This serves a crowd.

4 pounds shrimp, boiled, heads off and in shells
1 large can black olives drained
8 green onions chopped
4 pkgs fry Italian salad dressing mix
1/2  cup balsamic vinegar 
3 hard boiled egg, peeled
13 oz jar green salad olives
4 ribs celery sliced
10 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup water
2 cups olive oil

Mix salad dressing with balsamic vinegar, water and olive oil. Add all other ingredients except eggs.

Place shrimp and ingredients in large bowl or a container with cover.

Cover, Marinate over night or up to 2 days in refrigerator. 

Strain and serve on lettuce leaves.

Garnish with eggs cut in quarter.

Marinated shrimp taste better prepared in the shells.  Delicious without shells, but served as appetizers. 

If peeling shrimp, add an extra pound.


Marinated Fiddlehead Ferns*

This is the time of year to gather Fiddlehead Ferns.

From Talkeetna, Alaska, comes this great recipe. The ferns grow all over Alaska. There is a “Fern Farm” in Talkeetna!

Gather fiddlehead ferns just as they pop out of the ground and have not unwound themselves into beautiful fern fronds.

3 cups fiddleheads, washed and trimmed
3 cups water
1/2  cup white vinegar 
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil     
2 stalks of celery with leaves, chop fine

Bring to boil add the following tied in a cheesecloth sack.

1 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp fennel seeds
6 whole peppercorns
1 and 1/2  tea. garlic salt 

Add to the boiling water, reduce heat and add the ferns and 1/2 cup onion chopped.

Simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

Drain fern, onion and celery into a colander.

Cover and chill for two hours.

This is a dish you only get in the early spring when the ferns poke the sleepy heads out of the ground.  It takes time to gather, wash and trim, but well worth it!!
*NOTE: Make sure you are gathering ostrich, lady, or sheild fern; Braken and other types of ferns are poisonous raw.

Deep Fried Fiddleheads*

Use the beer batter you use for the deep fried beer battered salmon and halibut. Dunk in your favorite dip.

*NOTE: Make sure you are gathering ostrich, lady, or sheild fern; Braken and other types of ferns are poisonous raw.


Fiddleheads in Wine and Butter*

Gather, clean and wash tender ferns.

Fry 2 strips of bacon, remove and dice.

Stir fry in bacon fat and 2 tblsp butter with 1/4 tsp minced garlic, 2 to 3 minutes until deep green.

Pour in 1 cup of white wine and cover immediately to allow ferns to steam. 

Serve in small dish with butter and salt pepper. 

VARIATIONS: Gather young dandelion greens (do not use from your lawn if you have sprayed for weeds)  Lambs quarter and sourdock greens go well with this fiddlehead dish.

*NOTE: Make sure you are gathering ostrich, lady, or sheild fern; Braken and other types of ferns are poisonous raw.


Homemade Hand Soap

Gather Utensils:  Crock or glass or enamel pan.  Bottom of dish soap plastic bottles. (cut with a sharp knife make a good mold)

Eleven cups of cleaned grease*. Combinations of chicken, turkey, beef, bacon, left over grease from frying.

1 can lye
1/2 cup Borax or Borateen
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup ammonia

Mix in a large crock or enameled pan, stirring to dissolve.

Stir in at least 11 cups of cleaned grease.

Add oils such as rose, pine or lavender, just a few drops. (optional)

Add 2 oz of lanolin

Mix well and cool. 

Pour in forms.** Let set for two to three days. Take out of molds or cure and let cure for up to a month.

* Clean grease by heating and pouring through cheesecloth, or heat all at once in large pan in oven and wait for the particles to settle to the bottom, then strain through cheesecloth.

** Other forms would be aluminum foil pans.


Homemade Laundry Soap

You will need crock or glass or enamel pan.

See Homemade Hand Soap recipe for directions

2 quarts of cold water
1 can lye
1/2 cup Borax or Borateen

Stir to dissolve.

Add 2 quarts of cleaned grease.

Stir 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir often for the next couple days. The more you stir the better the soap.