We rarely go out and aren’t involved in many activities off the homestead. Nevertheless, it seems like I am constantly having to adjust our schedules and methods due to internal pressures, projects, natural changes and new ideas. I am in the thick of a series of changes yet again and one of them relates to baking and electricity usage.
The more we ratchet back to doing things the “old way,” the more I see the wisdom of the old rhythm of assigning homekeeping tasks to specific days of the week. According to this blog post, homemakers lived by this rhythm for over a hundred years and some still do. I never felt a need to do this before because with a clothes washer, for instance, you can throw a load in any old time and it just doesn’t matter. If you aren’t concerned with the extra energy required to turn the oven on and off whenever the mood strikes (and you are using an electric oven in the first place), then you can bake at any time. If you have plenty of gas and live within a reasonable driving distance from town, you can jump in the car and go shop or whatever at any time. Modern “conveniences” and a “gee there are plenty of resources available to me to use how I like” lifestyle does not require the discipline/rhythm of accomplishing tasks in a predetermined order and on well chosen days. You can easily do little bits of this and that at varying times and days with no noticeable repercussions. That is probably part of what it generally means to be “modern.”
Washing laundry by hand and baking a lot, at times in an outdoor wood fired earth oven, is teaching me the necessity of adapting to an older rhythm in order to successfully adapt to older methods. There is only so often you want to drag out all of the buckets and other equipment and get all set up and get wet and all sorts of things to do the laundry. Getting through as much of it as possible at one time is really starting to make sense to me. There are only so many times we can afford to go to town (both in terms of time and gas) so having a careful list and itinerary for the trips we do make helps us be more effective.There is only so often you can reasonably light up a baking fire so you might as well do as much baking at once as you can while you have that precious fire going.
Even if you have an electric oven, how much electricity you use is still a consideration and will be increasingly a consideration for more and more people, I imagine. Oklahoma Prairie Mom, on her blog Life of a Prairie Mom, commented on this recently in her post Our Electric Bill. About baking she says this:
The electric stove is in use only a twice a day. The greatest usage though is when I am baking. To help save energy, I plan my baking so that I am doing it only twice a week, on Monday & Thursday. On those days, I bake enough bread, cookies, and anything else that we will need until the next baking day. This also includes any orders that I have for baking bread or cookies for others. By limiting the number of days that I bake, I am not heating up the oven nearly as often.
“Oh, that is a good idea,” I thought when I read that. “I am going to go back to trying that sort of schedule again.” I have been wondering about ways to cut our utility bill lately. It isn’t easy because we don’t have many uses left to cut! But I can at least do this. Lately I have slipped back into baking bread on an as-needed basis. I decided to make another attempt to go back to the old way of baking a lot at a time once or twice a week.
So last Friday I baked a lot. One of my daughters helped me some of the time which was fun. All in all, we made four corn breads (we bake them in cast iron skillets), 10 loaves of whole wheat bread, one large loaf of Irish Soda bread and finished off with an unexpected batch of Homemade Herbal Marshmallows. It took more than half the day to make all of that. It was a good feeling to freeze 7 loaves of bread, and two rounds of corn bread and still have fresh Irish Soda bread for dinner with our mashed potatoes and greens. All in all, a productive day. I don’t know how much electricity it saved, but it surely opens up my schedule to do other things. It also frees me up tomorrow to do some cooking ahead for Sunday.
Oh, the Homemade Herbal Marshmallows were a first hands-on herbal project for The Lionsgate School Herbal Education Program. (Doesn’t that sound official? Maybe I will come up with a more catchy name for it some day.) I will devote an entire post to that interesting and instantly consumed project very soon.
Meanwhile I need to figure out exactly what our need is for baked goods. Maybe one day a week, I will focus primarily on loaf breads while on the other day I bake pizza crusts, sandwich buns, crackers and other wheaten goodies. Our days are so jam packed and I get so tired that I really need to have our freezer full of possibilities. Baking ahead will give me some breathing room as well as save on electricity.
The old rhythm of organizing time and tasks was as follows, by the way:
Monday: Wash Day
Tuesday: Ironing Day
Wednesday: Sewing Day
Thursday: Market Day
Friday: Cleaning Day
Saturday: Baking Day
Sunday: Day of Rest
With a few variations (some folks had a gardening day instead of a separate ironing day, or the days were not quite in this order), this is the way everyone kept house for more than a hundred years. It was such a common scheme that day-of-the-week dishtowels emblazoned with that day’s chore were everywhere. (You can still get Aunt Martha iron-on embroidery or paint transfers with this scheme–I collect them, in fact.)
There was logic behind this. Laundry was far and away the heaviest task a housewife faced, requiring a great deal of strength and fortitude to hand-wring clothes and carry big baskets of wet laundry to the clothesline from the basement washtubs. Monday was the day to do it, when you were still fresh and rested from Sunday. Tuesday’s ironing followed Monday’s wash. Mending and sewing on Wednesday made sense when you’d just been through the clothes and noticed what needed a button or a patch. And so on.
Or for the Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush variation, go here.
I will have to work at this and figure out (again) my own old rhythm. Having one type of chore listed for each day is a great way to make sure you get your 15 minutes of a neglected task in a week … like mending and sewing for instance. I am rather dramatically behind on mending and really want to start back up sewing again. I don’t actually require an ironing day (!), and already have my cleaning day on Saturday so that the house is especially nice for Sunday. We sweep every day and often many times a day so I wouldn’t waste a day in honor of just sweeping as in the Mulberry Bush song. I have long done the laundry in tune with the weather so I am not sure how to assign that to a particular day. I have tried and tried to make Sunday more of a day of rest for myself and I still need improvement in this area. Well, I guess I am going to have to work on all of this a bit. The point is for me to consolidate types of tasks that have heretofore been scattered all across the week in order to save on motion, time, and money/energy use.
One more comment about old rhythms - I started cooking in a Nourishing Traditions/slow food sort of way years and years ago. I noticed even back then that cooking in that very careful way completely changed my rhythm in the kitchen. Having to soak foods, peel the skins off of almonds, cook beans for hours and hours and so on causes you to slow down and really feel what you are doing and think about it far ahead. It gives you much more contact with the food and, therefore, much more time to pray over the food. It is my experience that these old rhythms of food preparation add nutrient density not only in terms of needed chemical changes for ease of assimilation but even more importantly, in terms of opportunity for our thoughtful, prayerful care as homemakers and heartcenters of our families to permeate our daily cooking for our loved ones.
Perhaps the weekly old rhythm will make that happen for mending too? I will have to make up my weekly schedule and live by it for a while and see.
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,