Frugal Memories


A hearty home made meal from scratch just like the old days
complete with lace tablecloth.


Despite a lifetime of consumerism, I was brought up by frugal parents and a two Nan's (grandmother's) who raised 9 children and 4 children respectively smack-bang in the middle of the depression. Many of their frugal ways are resurfacing in my memory, nearly as if they have been laying dormant until needed.

So, just for fun, I thought I would make a small list of some of the frugal things I remember them doing.  I'm pretty sure you all might remember some similar things too.


Yorkshire puddings made from scratch


Frugal Memories

  •   During drought time I remember my mother disconnecting the drain under the kitchen sink and placing a bucket there to catch the water for the garden or the toilet.
  •   The Singer sewing machine (1940's?) with the wooden box and the knee operated electric motor and my mother expertly giving the pulley a spin to help the motor start. I remember sitting under the big kitchen table with material scraps everywhere, tracing paper patterns, tailor's chalk, pins and cotton all around and playing with the big L-shaped hem ruler. Lots of sewing got done from what I can remember in the early days of my childhood. My mother could draft patterns from scratch as she learned to do this at night school after work as a teenager.
  •   I distinctly remember my Nan discussing with my mother about cutting bed sheets down the middle and turning the edges to the middle and resewing them up to extend the life of sheets.
  •   Wet tea leaves from the teapot being sprinkled on the floors before sweeping.

My Nan made my auntie Mona's bridal gown, the bridesmaid's dresses
and the two flower girl's dresses from post war
parachute silk she bought from the army disposal store.
My mother is the flower girl on the far left.

  •   The button basket - buttons got removed from old clothing and placed in a beautiful wicker lap basket about the size of a big bowl.  I learned all my colours as a little chap from playing with that button basket too.
  •   Grandmother on Father's side was an avid knitter. Socks, with all those little knitting needles for the heels. I am pretty sure she knitted socks during the war for the soldiers.  I also remember her knitting a purple wool skirt using a set of metal knitting needles with a wire connecting the back of them so she could knit in a continuous circle (I think).
  •   There were always big veggie gardens every single year.  I can also remember my sister being 'pulled' away from her exam studies to help plant potatoes (there's a story right there of course!).
  •   Bees. Smoking puffers. Veils. The overwhelming smell of bees wax and traces of honey everywhere.

Pan gravy from scratch. I can remember this being made
as far back as my memory goes.

  •   My father butchering cows, pigs, hens and sheep (all of which I had named and become 'friends' with!).  My job was to help vacuum pack, label and freeze all the meat. It always took me a fortnight to even want to eat meat again after butchering time as the smell of raw flesh, blood and sawed up bone and marrow would permeate my sense of smell.
  •   Milking - we had some lovely Jersey cows across the years of my childhood. Cream rising to the top. Butter making. Cottage cheese. Yoghurt.
  •   The hen house which father built from scraps.  It had a small hay loft above it too where summer grasses where mowed and bailed. The hens had a massive run too and I used to sit on the log in the middle of the run and just enjoy being surrounded by these simple creatures. Eggs. Lots of eggs.
  •   Picking up cow pats with a shovel and the wheelbarrow to be made into liquid fertiliser. Father made this 'brew' up in an old 44 gallon drum that he'd got from his job at the wharves and he painted it with tar pitch on the inside to stop it from rusting - liquid manure will rust metal really fast.
  •   Fixing washing machines. My uncle owned a washing machine repair shop in the Blue Mountains of NSW and my father would of course always fix up our old Malley's washing machine when it broke down. Bearings were replaced, timers reconditioned, spin belts replaced. In fact after he retired he used to recondition old washing machines for extra income (and fun too I think - he was a tinkerer).
  •   My mother has a 'President' model fridge that she bought new in the late 1950's.  It was still going strong well into the late 1990's. I remember helping to defrost it once a month - everything out and the all the doors open and the fan blowing on it and towels on the floor.   This was years before auto-defrost was available. It had a blue interior with beautiful gold anodized shelves and label badges. Mother would wipe it down with warm water and vanilla essence after defrosting. It also had a strange little drawer directly under the freezer compartment labelled "Linen".
  •   Winding the kitchen clock.
  •   We had a Hoover vacuum cleaner which also was bought around the same time as the fridge in the late 50's - still going strong for 30+ years. It was a gold and silver Hoover with all metal attachments and a sturdy hose - nothing like today's plastic rubbish. I can never remember this having to be repaired.

Toby the dog is plumb-tuckered-out form all this blogging.
Hmm - he's blending with the carpet, or is it the other way around?!

  •   Leftovers.  There were always leftovers for a meal the next day. Bubble and squeak.
  •   Lunches wrapped in wax paper. I see wax paper is coming back in as trendy alternative to plastic recently. Gosh.
  •   Secondhand furniture - painted or polished.  My mother knew how to French polish and her entire bedroom suite (also bought in the late 1950's) she stripped and French polished. I visited mother last weekend in QLD and that very bedroom suite is still being used. It is late Art Deco styling with Bakelite and mirrored chrome handles (very swish). As mother would say "it's still serviceable dear" - and that would be that.
  •   Woolen jumpers drying flat in the shade.
  •   Invisible patching.  I remember watching in awe as my Nan used to darn tears or rips in good clothes invisibly.  I've never seen it done since and that was over 40 years ago.

So, just some random frugal memories folks.

Take care and stay nice.

Mr HM.

Comments

  1. I live in the US, so the only thing unfamiliar is bubble and squeak. I have a Royal vacuum cleaner, metal, that I bought in the mid 1980's that was about $600. It has never needed a repair. My friends bought cheap ones every year. My mother and father lived as children during the Great Depression and passed along many frugal ways to me.

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    1. Hi Linda. Bubble and squeak is left over meat and vegetable from the previous night's dinner chopped up and added to mashed potato and made into patties then fried. Add some gravy or sauce and it's very yummy.
      I am fascinated at just how many frugal skills I have and remember (even if I do not use them all) and I think we are in a unique generation who still retains this knowledge and can remember those who used it daily. I've a feeling it will stand us in extremely good stead in the future.

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  2. What a wonderful post, the dresses in the photo are gorgeous, very beautiful ladies. Frugal ways of life for us where learnt very late in life, but at least we can pass them on to our son now, and he is doing very well, he has definitely took some of it on board. I personally would have loved to live in a different era.

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    1. Yes, I feel I was born out of season too - never mind. I'm glad your son is embracing some of the concepts you have taught him as it will put him streets ahead of his peers.

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  3. Phil, I remember those things too. Vacuum cleaners, fridges etc. were made to last not like today's rubbish. The wedding dresses made in those days were so beautiful. My mum's is similar to the one you posted.

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    1. I guess planned obsolescence is just normal now. Even paying more for a better product does no guarantee longer life these days - its hard to discern between paying more for quality or paying more for 'trend'.

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  4. My mum would unpick a hand knitted jumper and reuse the wool, making a smaller sized item. I do remember sheets being cut and the outer edges sewn back together. My mum could make loose covers for any chair or sofa, she taught me well, I now I adore to sew and knit. I made both my daughters wedding dresses.

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    1. That is a wonderful legacy to have made both dresses Marlene. I doubt many people would repurpose a knitted garment these days - that is nearly a lost art.

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  5. My parents did most of the things that you have mentioned and Bubble and Squeak was just mashed potato mixed with mashed cabbage or any other green vegetable, meat wasn't included. My Mum used to wrap the blades of garden shears in the butter wrapping paper to stop the blades from going rusty when stored. She also made rag rugs from old clothes and coats and unpicked old handknitted jumpers to reuse the wool. My Dad had a heavy shoe last and would resole shoes when needed. I'm sure there were more, but these are the things which first came to mind.

    Joan (Devon)

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    1. Hello Joan - great to hear from you. You remind me of my mother using butter wrappers too, but for baking paper. I can just see all those things you have mentioned in my minds eye. Most people would not know a shoe last even if they saw it these days.

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  6. That was a trip down memory lane! I live in the US and remember a lot of that. My mom had a button box - it was a tin that you would get chocolates in during the holidays that she repurposed into a button box. I still have it. I remember some of the buttons from my childhood. My husband's family had an Electrolux vacuum cleaner which they got in the early 50s and we are still using it today -- not a thing wrong with it. I still make gravy the old-fashioned way. I remember my mom and grandmothers darning socks using a darning egg. We had washing machines growing up but one of my grandmothers used a tub and scrub board to wash her clothes. She was in her late 60s when she finally allowed my dad to buy her a washing machine. She still dried her clothes on the line. We did that too.
    Leftovers were a big thing in our family. I still find a use for every bit of food in this house -- bread crumbs from leftover bread, soups with leftover meat.....

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    1. Hello Mary. I still sun dry my clothes whenever possible too - they smell and feel so nice having been out in the sun. It is amazing you are still using that electrolux - goodness me! Thanks for sharing you list - so interesting.

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  7. Wow Phil, I loved this post. Thanks for the trip down memory lane :)

    My grandmother did that with the sheets, she even gave me some when I was first starting out on my own. They lasted for years and were flannelette that I recall. Also made fitted sheets from flat ones once they became the in thing.

    Oh how the world has changed, and in my opinion not for the good. It is such a throwaway society these days, and most things are made cheaply overseas for us instead of making things in our own country.

    I asked mum what they used to use instead of cling-wrap etc and she said wax paper, so I am glad to hear that we are able to buy it again.

    Mum has memoirs that my grandma jotted down just before going almost blind. I must read through them and share one day soon.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend,

    xTania

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    1. The girls and I were only chatted the other night about things made cheaply overseas - in effect we are outsourcing slavery.

      Re wax paper - I actually just use baking paper as it does the job just as well for sandwiches and the like.

      Those memoirs of your Grandma are going to hold some interesting things - I only regret having not asked more questions of my Grandmothers before they passed.

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  8. Good memories. People now would think they were being deprived if they had to do without.

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    1. So true Cheryl. Mrs HM and I were only talking today and asked each other if we were strange not wanting all the updated things consumerism offers - we just put it down to contentment. We see others with so much new stuff and zero contentment. I know what I would prefer.

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  9. I remember so many of those things being done around our home here in Canada. I didn't grow up on a farm but we did live in a rural area, no farm animals, but almost all the other things. As to the "linen" label in your mum's fridge, I can remember that my mom used to sprinkle the freshly dried laundry and put it in a bag in the fridge the day before she ironed. I guess it gave the same effect as our steam irons do now. There was even a specially-made sprinkler and bag for this task.

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    1. Thank you Marie - I think you have solved the puzzle about the linen drawer in the fridge. That makes so much sense now.

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  10. I love this post. I remember my grandmother doing similar things and my mom is still very frugal. One difference is that my grand parents' home didn't have electricity until early eighties. So there were no electric appliances. I still remember my grandfather lighting Petromax lamps every evening.
    I learned to be frugal from a very young age because that's what I saw in my family.

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    1. You know Nil, some of our best evenings are when the power goes out and we light the 4 beautiful kerosene lamps I have and we talk, light the potbelly fire, talk some more. There is something to be said for a little less electricity.

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  11. Sure does bring back memories, my mum made her wedding dress, two of her sisters I think, mine and one of my daughters all very different of course. I always remember my mum 'dampening' down clean laundry with a glass bottle with a rubber lid with holes in it and then wrap up the articles separately, I don't remember anything going into the fridge before being ironed . I also remember chokos growing out of the compost heap and not liking them much.

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    1. Hi opshop, good to hear from you. Chokos... oh my goodness - my Nan used to make choko and apple pie. She maintained that if you put a slice of choko between each slice of apple in the pie, then the choko would absorb the apple flavour and mimic the apple. I supposed it was true as her apple pies were delicious.

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  12. Loved reading these memories Phil, and share many of them. My father's shed was full of old vegimite jars filled with nails and screws etc...and the jars were kept on shelves made of scrap wood - no fancy matching kit from Bunnings! My father tiled all the floors, built the kitchen cabinets, concreted the driveway and did all our electricals and plumbing. This is a bit strange to me as it's not like we couldn't afford to pay tradesmen - I think being in Europe during the war probably had an impact. Plants were tied up in the garden with my mother's old nylon stockings and by the time I left home cloth nappies were still in service for washing the floor.

    My mother mended everything, all baking was done from scratch and I never ever remember food being thrown out. Our bin was lined with newspaper, as mine is today too.

    Madeleine

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    1. Oh I have things in jars in my shed too except I am not 1/2 as handy as your father. Thank you for sharing your memories Madeleine, they are wonderful.

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  13. You've brought back some wonderful memories.
    My mother made most of our clothes when we were growing up, and I still remember her and my Gran's button jars.

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    1. So many folks just knew how to back then. I think I miss the sound of industry as well - now it is just shopping and zero personal creativity.

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  14. Such a great list! I think I might utilise that sheet trick again. A couple of the newest sheets I have more recently bought weren't even cut straight - grrr ... We had an anodised tin bowl with a clip lid for dripping in the first fridge I remember as a child. The bowl's content was our own Magic Pudding - cut & come again! Mum says I taught myself to write by copying the badges of that fridge. It had a freezer nook that was about the size of an ice cream tub, with the metal ice trays taking up most of the space, but Defrost Day was always a big procedure.

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    1. Oh, the dripping tin - I had forgotten all about that until you said!

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    2. My mum always sees to muddled sheets and a friends mum top to bottomed them as well. You should hav seem my mums darning. A, t was done with a speed that was indecent and n the back of her hand. She had no time for darning mushrooms, b, you could have framed it, it was so beautiful.

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  15. I remember my husband's grandmother cooking the best pork chops. We agree that we cannot cook it like her. No idea why but maybe it is simply the memory or the mystique. Maybe it was a better raised animal. Whichever, her kitchen was simple compared to the McKitchens now, she had an outdoor laundry and didn't see the need to change. Her daughter, my late MIL, used to be frustrated with her mother not wanting to alter her ways, lol.

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    1. How true Brigie - my grandmother cooked delicious food with ease and no fancy ingredients. Compare that with the complicated recipe I see these days which simply do not delight me. Not all 'progress' is good.

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  16. Some great stuff there Phil...though maybe not the butchering part ;)

    Thanks for sharing those memories with us!

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    1. I guess investigating the past for abiding truths and methods is of real interest to me. Even old-fashioned dividend investing falls squarely into this category.

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  17. I have a button tin, my boys love it.

    Pork today is a much, much leaner meat then it used to be. The pigs have been selectivity bread to grow faster, and they don't develop the same flavor. Pork fat is a beautiful fat that melts and adds moisture and flavor to the meat. Modern day pork is very different. If you can get your hands on some heritage, free range pork you will be able to reproduce the lovely pork chops your grand mother used to make Brigie. I remember my parents old hoover. :)

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    1. Yep, that's what we figured. For us, you just don't have that pork taste and smell anymore. Shame.

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    2. And to think of the bad rap that fat has had over the last 40 years when in fact it seems like it was sugar that was the evil culprit all along! Grandma knew best.

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  18. I didn't spend a lot of time with my grandparents, but I do remember the daily winding up of the grandfather clock in their living room. It had a cuckoo bird, as well. I remember when I would sleep over, I could hear it ticking down the hall, and sounding like thunder (to me, at the time). The first time I saw a chicken was actually at my grandmother's house too. Fun times!

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  19. In the mid 50s, unable to afford a real Christmas tree, my mother cut down a small dead plum tree, leafless and well shaped. Painted silver and decorated with ornaments it looked so "sophisticated" Mum told us
    We made ornaments from fishing weights wrapped in scraps of silver or gold paper (scrounged from cigarette boxes and chocolate wrappers left lying around town), made streamers with loops of strips of coloured paper, and angels from plaster of paris.
    The neighbours and friends came in to admire this new stylish tree, and even some people we didnt know!!
    That tree lasted for years.
    Thanks to all for the memories, so many familiar and a few newies as well.

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  20. You had me smiling as I read. So many frugal memories I also share. I find many things are making their way back into my life again. Feels like coming home. Pam in Norway

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