Boy, back in the old days people really knew how to improvise.

Boy, back in the old days people really knew how to improvise.


And here I’m thinking my Aunt Julia was a genius for using colored markers to cover the bald places on her needlepointed seats!


Here I’m thinking my sister Nan was shrewd for stapling her little girl’s elementary school costumes together!


I know I have certainly thought it was brilliant of ME to paint the bulbs pink when the lighting around here began seeming a mite harsh on This Old Face.


But folks in the past have me beat by a mile, as I remember every time I reach for that 120-year-old home management manual I keep on my kitchen shelf.


Sure, Table, Home and Health names SOME things you had to go out and buy before you could begin improvising. The kitchen of the 1890s, for example, was going to need among other things “ stove, a coal shovel, a meat cleaver, a clock, a kitchen table and two kitchen chairs.”


This table-and-two-chairs reference has me looking back to the time we first came to this house and found that a kitchen table and two kitchen chairs were about the only things that distinguished that room from all the other rooms.


There were no counter tops, in other words; not a single surface to set things down on.


Also, no cabinets.


Come to think of it, this kitchen might be what introduced me to the concept of improvising in the first place: We bought a small metal cabinet at Sears, jammed all our dishes and pots onto its two shelves, stuffed all our utensils into its one drawer and used its tiny Formica top as our sole work area.


So wasn’t I glad a few months after our move when the two women who raised me gave me this fat old book, given to their mother as young bride in the late 1800s.


Since that happy day I have never felt alone on the great journey of homemaking.


Say I’m out of butter and it’s time to make the doughnuts?


I now know I can just scare up some chicken fat, melt it down and add salt.


Say I have no chicken fat?


That’s fine, too. I can just use suet, and if you don’t know what suet is, it’s what your thighs appear to be made of when you’re trying on bathing suits in the department store dressing room.


Or say I cut myself with my meat cleaver. With this dandy book by my side I now know all I need do is take a handful of flour and some cobwebs, apply that mix to the wound and - presto! - the bleeding will stop.


And no, I’m not making any of this up. I am at the book constantly. It inspires me to make do with what I have.


Last month, as a final example, I wanted pink peppermint stick ice cream to serve to some dinner guests but out of respect for people’s diets I wanted the kind made with Splenda.


I couldn’t find it anywhere.


So I squeezed a few drops of red food coloring and a few drops of peppermint extract into some sugar-free vanilla and there I had it, a low-calorie dessert as pretty and pink as a Barbie prom dress.


And sure, maybe I did use a tad too much of the peppermint extract, whose label says that it’s 89 percent alcohol, but those dinner guests practically tipped up their sherbet glasses and licked them clean. And really what does a cook from any era want but a tableful of eaters as eager as that?


You should come on over. Dinner’s at six


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net or care of Ravenscroft Press PO Box 270, Winchester MA 01890. Read her daily and leave comments on her blog Exit Only at www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com.