I am really interested in doing things the old fashioned way. Herbal medicines. Growing my own vegies, making my own jams and pickles – and now ferments too. What I want to do is connect more with my life and to produce, as much as possible, the things that I then consume. At the moment, I am constantly learning new skills and experimenting, trying to get back to my roots – in the good ways. (Just because our great great grandparents might have been prescribing mercury for syphilis doesn’t mean we should do it.)
But there are some old-fashioned things that I think have some real use, especially in our over complicated society. Walk down an aisle at the supermarket and there are literally walls upon walls of different cleaning products – for the floor, for each different surface, for the dishes, for the dishwasher, for the fridge, for the oven. Look, we don’t need all this stuff, the chemicals, the packaging, the sheer overwhelming multitude.
You want to get back to basics? Here’s a challenge for you. Try washing the dishes as your grandmother and great grandmother would have done. Or like Daisy in Downton Abbey, if that floats your boat. Go to the supermarket and find the most basic bar of household or laundry soap that you can. Not the antibacterial kind, not the fancy fragranced kind, just the plainest, simplest one. It’ll probably be made with tallow. This is ok. Try and avoid ones with palm oil if you can. Velvet soap is a good option if you live in Australia.
To hand wash your dishes, scrape them to get rid of as much grease as possible. Then, place your bar of soap in your sink and start filling it with hot water. The soap will bubble a bit but it’s not like detergent. This is ok too. Take the bar of soap out. As you wash up the water will just turn soapy and grey. Don’t be alarmed – your dishes will still be clean. I was actually surprised at how radical and challenging it was for me to let go of my preconceived notion that if there weren’t masses of detergent bubbles then nothing would get clean… But I persisted and now I’m totally used to it.
If you have a double sink for rinsing your dishes (I wish I did) put a slosh of white vinegar in there when you’ve filled it up, just to help things sparkle. It’s not necessary though. I only add the vinegar for rinsing when I’m using the dishwasher.
What? Dishwasher? Ok, yes, I know my great grandma didn’t have a dishwasher because I don’t think they were even invented. (My parents have a dishwasher, but they’ve never used it, go figure). To me, acquiring a dishwasher for the first time a few months ago has been a huge boon, because I cook – A LOT – and am often the only person actually doing the dishes, because if I don’t there’s just no bench space to work on. This becomes truly dispiriting after a while, so to me the dishwasher is an amazing blessing – and guess what I use in it? Finely grated soap – about a tablespoon per load – and vinegar in the rinse compartment. I have never seen dishes so clean – I’m not kidding.
And what’s more – using a single, minimally packaged product for multiple things creates a big, positive follow-on impact for the environment, as well as simplifying my daily life.
Give it a try, even just for one day? Are you a radical non-detergent dishwasher already and you’re just surprised it took me this long to see the light? Do you have any grandmotherly household hints to share that can help us all get back to our roots?