18th century, authenticity, cleaning, Hannah Glasse, interpretation, living history, maids, Research, women's work
Now, really, would I lye to you?
Some people will tell you I overextend myself, and while those people may be correct, my enthusiasms compel me to do more, try more, travel more, and to that end I found myself preparing for an event by turning my 1962 Ossining kitchen into an experimental laboratory.
I was taken by Hannah Glasse’s receipt for cleaning pewter, copper, and tin in her section for The Scullion, so of course I had to try it. It’s simple enough: boil wood ash with unslaked lime for half an hour, let cool, and pour off the clear liquid. Easy-peasy, until you realize you have forgotten your high school chemistry, the Young Giant is not at home, and google searches for lime turn up too wholesome uses and unsavory quantities.
Happily, a more scientific brain than my own pointed out potash/pearl ash/potassium carbonate, which Amazon can provide in small quantities. Wood ash proved a little more challenging. Happily for me, I am one of those East Coast foodie fools with a backyard grill and a fondness for hardwood charcoal, so an overdue chore later, I had an enamel kettle of ash.
The receipt calls for “a pail” of wood ash to a “half- pail” unslak’d lime, boiled in four pails of soft water. Since “pails” is a general sort of term, I decided to use the quantity of wood ash I scavenged as the approximate measure of a pail, figuring that proportions mattered more than actual grams or liters. I have resigned myself to the fact that this is more art than science. Four pails of soft water included the remains of a few gallons of water stockpiled for hurricane preparedness years ago, bolstered with water from the tap.
Fortunately, art did not turn into science gone wrong. The boiling was rather placid, considering, and dissolved the fine ash and the potash. I filtered the liquid mixture through a screen (ok, the spatter screen for my frying pan) to ensure that when I poured off the clear, it would be as clear as possible.
By the time it had cooled, I had fished out appropriate containers into which I could “pour off the clear.” This recipe, seat-of-the-pants as it is, makes a fair quantity, a mason jar of which I have left with the Drunk Tailor so that he might better clean his officer’s pewter and copper, because, yes! This does work to brighten silver and copper. Tune in next time for details on getting shiny.
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