A few days ago I came across what actually was a useful list of things to do with lemons and oranges; in The Happy Housewife, a collection of Ruth Drew’s writing and broadcasts, published posthumously, I came across three pages of her hints and suggestions. I don’t know when she wrote about oranges and lemons, during and after the war I guess, and some of her suggestions must have been quite revolutionary for her readers, although commonplace now – orange with fish? really? How original! they might have thought, lemon juice in salad dressing? Sounds wonderful! Here are some more of her tips; some might sound quaint, some obsolete, some I might try myself!

  • to crisp a lettuce, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the rinsing water
  • when choosing a lemon at the greengrocer’s, go for one with a smooth-textured skin. Beware of one which feels spongy. Look out for decay at the stem end.
  • when bottling rhubarb, improve its flavour by adding 1 sliced blood orange to each bottle
  • a few drops of lemon juice added to one table jelly helps it set quickly
  • a tip for sandwich makers. Work a few drops of lemon juice into the butter before spreading. This helps to prevent the sandwiches from drying out. And it adds a little something to their flavour.
  • leather shoes can be given a tonic rub with the pithy side of a used lemon. Afterwards polish in the same way.
  • To whiten yellow piano keys, cove with a paste made of powdered whitening and lemon juice. leave for a few minutes. Then wash with a soft cloth well wrung out of warm water. (Beware of letting water dribble down between the keys.) Finish by polishing with a little sweet oil rubbed on with a soft duster.
  • Don’t throw squeezed lemons away until you’ve rubbed the skin on your hands. Some people keep a cut lemon by the sink for a quick after-washing-up beauty treatment to the hands.
  • When making flaky and puff pastry add a squeeze of lemon juice while you’re making your dough.
  • When boiling rice for a curry, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the water. This helps to keep the grains separate.
  • To treat iron mould stains, cover the mark with slat. Then squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the salt. Leave for ½ hour. Rinse in warm water with a dash of household ammonia. Finish with a rinse in clear water.

When Ruth was writing very few people had even heard of bought lemon juice; if you wanted lemon juice you bought a lemon. perhaps the most famous brand here in the UK is Jif, and it was sold in a lemon shaped plastic container, which was a great novelty. It was developed by a man named Edward Hack in the 1950’s; there had been a lemon juice product, Realemon from the 1940’s, but the brilliant idea of having a plastic lemon, with dimpled skin and a little green paper leaf, was genius! I not sure I remember the marketing slogan, ‘Real lemon juice in a Jif’, but it and the plastic bottle not only ensured sales across the country, but a huge regeneration in the Sicilian lemon trade!

Ruth would have seen the beginnings of the Jif promotion, but she describes using real lemons. As with everything in those days, nothing was wasted; not only was the juice used but the outside skin and the white pith, and no doubt the empty lemon shells went onto the compost heap!

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