MILK. LEMONADE. Oh yes, you heard me.

Who knew that two such innocent little words could summon so much horror together? And yet, here we are. This is another happy creation from the circus of horrors that is the 1929 Selfridge’s Household Encyclopaedia.


1915: “Most packers still regard sizing machines for lemons with suspicion”                            Credit: Internet Archive Book Images*

Yes, we all know the saying: when life gives you lemons… demand milk as well. And sherry, because sherry makes everything better. Especially if you’ve just decided to drink milk and lemon juice, you cretin.



Pour ½ pint boiling water over 1 tablespoonful of sugar, then add ½ gill [that is, 1/8th of a pint, or 8 tablespoons) each of sherry and lemon juice. Stir well until the sugar dissolves, adding ¾ pint cold milk. Again stir until the milk curdles. Strain through a cloth or jelly bag [I used a piece of kitchen paper; a J-cloth would also work].



The alluring mix, pre-straining

I was quite amazed at how well filtered the finished drink was – and how pleasant it tasted too! The flavour is just a sweet lemon-sherry concoction, a bit like the background to a Christmas trifle, with a note of dairy sourness behind. It’s probably a flavour that grows on you, but nowhere near as repellent as I was expecting.

And so, to the surprising outcome!


Reader, I drank it


*Credit found at


Witch Doctor Wednesday: Sunburn

DISCLAIMER: These ‘remedies’ are old, untested and possibly (probably) unsafe.

So, the annual five-minute window of sunshine is here, and as always everyone’s involved in a race against time to get a deep and even suntan which will, for the rest of the year, belie the actual climate we live in…

As ever, some of us (not me, for once) greet the task too enthusiastically and end up looking like embarrassed flamingos. Well, back in 1929 this was just as undesirable: so much so that there are actually two treatments for sunburn in my encyclopaedia.




“SUNBURN an old remedy for
Soak 2 drams quince seeds to 4oz cold water for 44 hours. Dissolve half a teaspoonful borax in 1 oz water and stir in 1 oz glycerine after straining. Add 1 teaspoonful eau-de-Cologne and make up to 8 oz with water. Bathe the face with the lotion three times a day if there is any trace of sunburn.”


I don’t really know what to make of this. I don’t know what properties quince seeds have (if any), especially when soaked in water for 44 hours (no more, no less!). Frankly anything dubbed ‘old’ in a publication that was printed 85 years ago smacks of wives’ tales, but at least you’d smell nice with this one.

And so on to the more alarming of the two…


“SUNBURNT SKIN to restore natural colour to.
To restore the natural colour to sunburnt skin, hydrogen peroxide is the quickest remedy. It is an excellent substance for bleaching the skin. It also stimulates the functional activity of the skin glands, thus helping materially in rejuvenating it.
For delicate skin the wash should be diluted with an equal volume of water. To obtain an even better result, it is best to add four or five drops of ammonia to every ounce of the solution. This should be done at the time of use and not before.”


Hydrogen peroxide, that most delicate and soothing of chemicals to put on burnt skin…

I looked up medical uses of this, and it can be used in a very dilute solution as an antiseptic on small wounds, but not on large patches of skin, where it can cause BLISTERS. No pain no gain, right?! Thank God for aftersun!


Perhaps we should just not get burnt in the first place – or at least follow this instruction from 1934:


By G W Romer at Flickr: Creative Commons

By G W Romer at Flickr: Creative Commons

Bonkers Salad

“One cannot help wondering if an English salad is the result of ignorance or the aim of a curiously perverted taste.”
(X Marcel Boulestin, Simple French Cooking for English Homes, 1923)

It’s sunny again, I thought, I’ll go and find a nice salad recipe from 1948’s The Hostess Book. While the advice is often comically dated (you can use “cooked custard, cut into stars” to garnish soup, but be careful of red garnishes, as “[when] allowed to run riot, it can easily be made to look vulgar”), the recipes usually look pretty palatable so it seemed like a good place to start looking.


How wrong I was; Elizabeth Hughes Hallett (the author), clearly decided that salads were the ideal arena in which to display her culinary ingenuity. And so *drumroll please* I give you the uninspiringly named Individual Mixed Salads.

This is the only part of them that is drab, believe me.



1 teacup of sliced marshmallows
1 slice of tinned pineapple
1/2 teacup of white grapes
1/2 teacup of orange
1/2 teacup of chopped walnuts

For decoration:

A few thin strips of pimento
A few half grapes
A little finely chopped parsley

For dishing:

Cups of half oranges



Cut the oranges in halves and remove the meat. Put this into a basin and add the marshmallows cut in thin strips, the pineapple cut in small cubes, the grapes skinned*, seeded, and cut in halves, and the walnuts chopped roughly. Season, then turn the mixture into the prepared orange cups, cover with salad dressing, and garnish each top with the strips of red pimento and half grapes; then sprinkle with finely chopped parsley. Place on a fresh lettuce leaf and serve on a glass plate.



A tasteful amount of red?


* As a side note, my granny used to tell me how she was expected to peel all fruit, including grapes, with a knife and fork at the dinner table, and I never fully believed her. I suppose it’s hat-eating time.


I more or less assumed that this was just a fruit salad placed with the other salads in the chapter until I got to the seasoning and salad dressing part of this madness. Marshmallows? And salad dressing? As you can see, I couldn’t bear to despoil this with  layer of salad cream, but I did try dipping the individual bits in. This is not one of those quirky pairings that somehow work; it is pure blind lunacy in an orange shell. It’s utterly batty and I’d love to serve it at a dinner party one day with a straight face and see what happened.

Knobs and Knockers

Settle down please, I’ll have none of that.

This is a sensible guide to cleaning your brass door furniture (a ludicrously brilliant term).



“When cleaning brass knobs or door-knockers, protect the paint by a piece of cupboard, out of which a hole has been cut just large enough to allow the brass edges to clear. For a brass door-knob slit the cardboard at the side, allowing the knob to pass through, and slip back firmly around the knob. You can then polish the brass without soiling the surrounding paint.”

As much of a rarity as brass door miscellanies are these days, this actually sounds like quite a handy tip; apparently Brasso can soften paint, especially if you scrub too hard, or (presumably) with repeated use. I’m sure Kim and Aggie would be proud.


This led me on to wondering about the history of door knockers.


According to an article from 1918 on Alberti’s Window, Greek slaves were originally chained to the front door by (you guessed it) a big ring, to which an iron rod was attached for rapping on the door. Isn’t it frustrating when there’s a visitor and your pesky door-slave has run off (again) or cry in a corner or whatever? If only there were a solution…

And so, of course, people kept the iron ring/ rapper affair even after there were no slaves attached, because actually it’s quite handy if you want to be heard.  Of course, as ever, if you had the money you got a big and ornate one as a status symbol. This also gave the blacksmith his chance to shine, as he hardly ever got to do fancy stuff. Since relatively few people could afford one it’s likely that your door-knocker would be custom-made, giving you an opportunity to link it to a coat of arms, motto or some other feature that could serve as both heirloom and public reinforcement of family superiority down the ages.

Doors have always been heavily associated with symbolism: think of Christmas wreaths and carrying a bride in for the first time. For obvious reasons thresholds are places you want to guard, and the Romans often put over the door an image of Priapus, the well-endowed god of fertility and good fortune who was said to ward off the evil eye. I have even found unsubstantiated rumours of Priapic door-knockers in Pompeii, which must be something to (be)hold!

Witch-Doctor Wednesday: No More Mr Lice Guy

When I was 9, my mum discovered I had nits the day before I started my new school. I have horrific memories of running around trying to find a chemist that was still open late in the afternoon. I was half-convinced that the foul-smelling treatment wouldn’t work and all the children would notice and I’d become ‘that nit girl’ for the next 9 years. Clearly, I had it easy.



Bearing in mind that nits like to live near the scalp, here’s 1929’s slightly more drastic response:

In bad cases, especially in children, the hair should be cut off and burnt, the head washed in warm soft soap and water. If this does not remove the crusts [of sores, from scratching], olive oil should be applied at night and the head washed again the following morning, and white precipitate or sulphur ointment rubbed gently into the scalp. Paraffin oil will kill the lice, but many accidents have occurred through the oil catching fire.

It goes on to note that for lesser cases a 1:4 solution of vinegar to water can be used to wash the hair, but what a choice. You can either look like those Protestant martyrs at the beginning of Elizabeth or risk turning into a human torch. Which, as it turns out, is what happens to those martyrs anyway… (450 years: too soon?)

Clearly headlice were a scourge, and being so hard to shift you needed to be sure they weren’t going to spread. Although at least if you did have to go down the hair-cutting route, by the 1920s you’d be able to use Gillette’s new top-of-the-range safety razor. Even if you were a baby, apparently.



Credit: Miami University Libraries –
Digital Collections*


* Link to original source:

Snowdrop Cakes

I spent Monday morning trapped inside waiting for the BT man and gazing outside at the glorious spring day. It was one of those crisp and crystal clear days where the sky and the grass look almost painfully bright and all you want to do is go for a walk.

As you can imagine, looking out at all this from a flat in the middle of London was a little infuriating; luckily, The Hostess Guide had just the recipe to cheer me up. This incredible publication is something of a handbook for the post-war social climber: The Hyacinth Bucket of 1948 would definitely have had a copy – and used it to throw successful cocktail parties to help her husband secure that promotion. Or to work out what to have for dinner on the maid’s night off (what on earth is this hot metal box with doors on in the kitchen??)

Nonetheless, the Hostess came up trumps this time with Snowdrop Cakes. I couldn’t see any actual snowdrops outside, but I’m sure they’re around somewhere. In the meantime, these are lovely light airy buns which are quick to make, use store-cupboard ingredients, and could probably look quite pretty if you’ve got more artistic flair than me. Or a piping bag.

EDIT: after a confusing conversation with a friend, I should add that this recipe doesn’t involve any actual snowdrops.




1 1/2 oz plain flour

2 oz sugar

1/2 oz butter (melted)

2 eggs

A few drops of vanilla

Pinch of baking powder


Whisk the sugar with one whole egg and the yolk of the other until light and frothy [I used an electric whisk for about half a minute]. Sieve the flour and baking powder and fold in very lightly, also the melted butter. Add the flavouring, then two-thirds fill eight small paper cases with the mixture, put into a moderate oven [I set it to 180 degrees C] and bake about 10 minutes. Whisk the remaining white until stiff, and add to it two teaspoons of castor sugar. Just before the cakes are quite ready put a teaspoonful of this meringue roughly on each and bake lightly until the meringue is set [at this point I turned the oven down to 150 degrees and left it for around 15 mins more].


Mixed flower messages going on here…

VERDICT: These were delicious – the sponge rose well, although next time I’d leave it a little longer before adding the meringue as they sank slightly. The meringue sets in a squidgy, sticky way which initially surprised me, but I came to rather like it. In fact, it’s quite like the centre of a Tunnock’s marshmallow teacake. Come to think of it, if you poured a layer of chocolate over the top and let it set, I think you’d have the Cake That Dreams Are Made Of.

Shell Shock – 1920s Prawn Curry

Curry has become such a comforting and familiar style of food that it’s quite hard to imagine a time when it was an exotic novelty. And indeed, with this sort of recipe as a starting point it’s surprising that anyone persevered enough to help it become such a favourite.

I suppose this must have been a pretty expensive dish in 1929; perhaps something to impress guests with, what with ingredients like curry powder, lemon and rice, which I imagine can’t have been very commonplace.

So here we go – and I should mention that I’m going to fiddle around with these old recipes if necessary to make them more palatable, exciting or healthy, because after all, I’m the one who’s got to eat the stuff!



I hope you’ve got your hot fire ready. Recipe makes enough for two.

First for the sauce (detailed elsewhere in the book so I’ll just copy it out here).


knob of butter

1 sour apple [I used a normal eating apple and it was a bit sweet; I’d go with a small Bramley next time]

1 small onion or a couple of shallots

1/2 oz [1 tbsp] plain flour

1/2 oz [1 tbsp] curry powder

1/2 pint stock

1 dessertspoon chutney

lemon juice

pinch of sugar and salt



Chop the apple and shallot finely, melt the butter and fry them a pale brown, add the flour and curry powder and cook well, stirring occasionally; stir in the stock smoothly and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, skimming off the fat as it rises; strain and add the chutney, lemon juice and seasonings.


Here’s where I went off-piste. In the interest of not contracting scurvy (although I suppose the lemon juice has that in hand) and making this a little more tasty, I lightly fried a diced red pepper with the prawns and steamed some green beans while cooking the rice. The sauce isn’t very hot so if you like a bit of a kick (and this tasted quite odd without it) I’d whack a large pinch of chilli flakes in with the pepper.

Strain the sauce into the frying pan, add the beans, serve over rice and Bob’s your uncle.


VERDICT: After the lemon’s added this is actually not that bad. Lemon juice is very much the magic ingredient here.

… Just don’t go calling it a curry and it’s quite tasty.