If there was a book to recommend to fellow homemaking homesteaders it would be ‘Household Discoveries and  Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook.’  I have the 1906 edition.  It is a huge, comprehensive book containing around 1000 pages.  Even if you find the methods  in the book a bit outdated,  it is a great read from an historical point of view.

I want to quote from one section which I found extremely interesting.  For many DIY folks out there, it may be a viable option.  I am seriously  toying with this idea.

There is a section on how to wash dishes properly.  There are many useful tidbits like sprinkling a little lye on greasy dishes which will turn into soap when mixed with the grease and help clean the dishes better.  We do have a lot of lye for making biodiesel, so this is an interesting concept to me.  Must be very careful, of course.  Then there is the suggestion to wash pans and dishes that held fish with some powdered charcoal added to the water.  Useful for removing cabbage odors, too.

But what struck me as particularly  interesting was the description of a dishwasher of the day. particularly helpful for large families. Here is that description:

[…] These machines are simple in construction, are easily cleaned, and, if given proper attention, will last many years They are constructed with an iron galvanized cylinder, which is to be half-filled with water containing any good washing compound and brought to a boil.  The dishes are put in a cylindrical  basket or tray, the plates and platters placed on edge and held by brackets. Sauces, cups. and side dishes are placed besides them, the basket is lowered into he cylinder, revolved two or three times by means of a crank, reversed, and the dishes are cleansed.  The tray is then taken out, and, if the dishes are scalded with boiling water, very little wiping is required. […]

Hmmm…. this really does sound doable as I recalled the story about our outbuilding in New Zealand which had a “fireplace” with a humongous copper pot set in it for boiling water for bathing or such.  What if a similar type of fireplace could be constructed on the homestead?  The possibilities for its benefits are growing in my mind.  For use as a dishwasher, it could be done by tweaking the information a little.  We already have a large hand-cranked salad spinner for our produce business.  We not only have a hand -cranked washing machine, but also numerous hand-cranked kitchen gadgets.

Hey, in New Zealand, we even had a hand-cranked Morris van.  Oh, oh.  My mind is starting to wonder … again… what if…

I  certainly would like to try this one day.  How about you?  What sort of “human powered” gadgets have you incorporated on your homestead?

:: Resources ::

Alternatives to Electrical Tools & Appliances

Institute for Appropriate Technologies



  1. Gigi says:

    I read several reviews of ‘Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook.’ It was a lot of fun! I will consider purchasing the book.

    I remember reading a snippet of Laura Ingalls Wilder in which she spoke of “the good old days.” Assuming I have remembered correctly, she mentioned that her parents and grandparents worked from dawn until dark. Leisure time was rare. She did not want to go back to all that constant work.

    While I appreciate, and use, inventions that have made our lives healthier and more convenient, I am not fully immersed in the 21st century living. Sometimes human powered mechanical machines are just as efficient as energy powered equipment. Other times, I prefer the energy driven article. In general, I am not particularly fond of computerized gadgets, save, of course, the computer (that is, unfortunately, a necessity), and a basic cell phone.

    My treadle sewing machine works just as well as my mechanical sewing machine. I also get a lot of use from my serger as well. I inherited a computerized machine. While it has its good points, I much prefer a mechanical. I use the machine that will fit my needs the best. I recycle and re-purpose fabric. The only paper I buy is TP.

  2. Joyness Sparkles says:

    This is a great post! Thank you so much for mentioning this book! 🙂

    On our quest for simplicity, we have gotten rid of the microwave and all of our electric gadgets save for the blender. As we live in an apartment complex, we do have a stove/oven and fridge as well as a dishwasher, but I never use the dishwasher as I can get the dishes much cleaner.

    Thank you again, this is excellent information! 🙂

  3. cara says:

    For heating water with less fuel consider a rocket mass heater with a boiler around one half of the rocket tank and piped to your water heater or the exhaust run through an insulated water tank instead of the rock filled bench seat.

  4. Stacy says:

    Hmmm…. I could see this working well for a commercial use. We currently have 13 people in our household – 5 adult, 8 children. It seems to me the filling with water, hand cranking, draining, scalding with hot water, etc… would still be more work than simply washing from a dishpan. Although I have to admit, it would probably seem mighty useful for those times when the dishes didn’t get done the night before and more have been added. As a side note, I have started using the porcelain dish pans like the one in the picture. I don’t know how I’ve done anything useful in the household work without them in the past!! I recommend them to every household – especially a back-to-basics homesteading household.

  5. Merna Chance says:

    Sprouting jars, antique coffee grinder for spices, drying fruit on wooden trays atop the tin roof shed.

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