Summary and book reviews of Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson

Home Comforts

The Art and Science of Keeping House

By Cheryl Mendelson

Home Comforts
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  • Hardcover: Nov 1999,
    896 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2005,
    896 pages.

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Book Summary

Home Comforts is something new. For the first time in nearly a century, a sole author has written a comprehensive book about housekeeping. This is not a dry how-to manual, nor a collection of odd tips and hints, a cleaning book, a history book, or an arid encyclopedia compiled by a committee or an institute. Home Comforts is a readable explanation for both beginners and experts of all the domestic arts -- choosing fabrics, keeping the piano in tune, caring for books, making a good fire in the fireplace and avoiding chimney fires, ironing and folding, setting up a good reading light, keeping surfaces free of food pathogens, and everything else that modern people might want to do for themselves in their homes. But this reliable and thorough book on the practicalities of housekeeping is also an argument for the importance of private life and the comforts offered by housekeeping.

Cheryl Mendelson is a philosopher, lawyer, sometime professor, and a homemaker, wife, and mother. Home Comforts is based on her domestic education, which she acquired while growing up on a farm in the hills of Greene County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, from her grandmothers, aunts, and mother. Learning from the distinct domestic styles of her native Appalachian relatives and her Italian immigrant relatives, she appreciated early on how important domestic customs are to a sense of comfort and identity in life. She writes out of love and respect for her subject, and hopes to inspire others to develop the affection and respect for home life and housework she was fortunate to have learned.

Mendelson addresses the meanings as well as the methods of housekeeping with a keen sense of the history and values involved. The result is a warm, good-humored, engagingly written book with a message and a point of view, one that is overflowing with useful reflections and information. The clarity, breadth, and depth of the information collected here are unparalleled. You can read Home Comforts for thoughtful entertainment or use its ample index to help you find the answers to practical domestic questions. There is nothing quite like it.

Among this book's unique features:

  • A skeptical discussion of the excessive use of disinfectants in the home.
  • How to iron a dress shirt and how to fold sheets.
  • How to make up a bed with hospital corners.
  • How to do all basic sewing stitches.
  • How to choose proper sizes for sheets, tablecloths, and other household linens.
  • How to set the table for informal and formal meals.
  • Expert recommendations for safe food storage.
  • The most exhaustive and reliable information on fabrics, textile fibers, and their laundering, drying, and other care that exists for nonprofessionals.
  • A thorough explanation of care labels and why and how you should often (carefully) disregard them.
  • Housekeeping guidelines for people with pets or with allergies.
  • What to do about dust mites.
  • How to clean and care for wood, china and crystal, jewelry, ceramic tile, metals, and more.
  • Guides to stain and spot removal.
  • Extensive recommendations for improving home safety.
  • A summary of laws applicable to the home, including privacy, accident liability, contracts, and domestic employees.

Includes 200 Elegant, Clear Drawings

From Chapter Eleven : Cold Comforts

  • Desirable refrigerator and freezer temperatures; relative humidity...
  • What foods should be stored in the refrigerator...
  • Guidelines for refrigerator storage: how to store butter, coffee, spices, oils...
  • Should you leave supermarket wrappings on?...
  • Avoiding refrigerator odors; which foods cause and take odors...
  • How to refrigerate produce; which fruits and vegetables should be placed in bags...
  • When a cool storeroom would be better than a refrigerator...
  • Refrigerating eggs, leftovers, fresh herbs, ROP or MAP foods...
  • How long leftovers will keep...
  • Freezer storage; which foods should not be frozen...Power outages

The refrigerator -- the reason we get to eat fresh foods all year long -- has taken the place of the hearth as a symbol of the comfort of food. The image of a woman's face lit by the fire as she stirs a cheerfully bubbling pot has been replaced by the image of someone's face lit by the refrigerator light as he or she peers ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Witold Rybczynski author of A Clearing in the Distance, Home, and City Life
Cheryl Mendelson knows the secret of transforming a house into a home. This extraordinary book is to be read for its wise counsel, its authoritative advice, and its illuminating insights into the management of the domestic realm. As if that were not enough, it is beautifully written.

Author Blurb Letitia Baldrige author of Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the '90s
I loved Home Comforts! There's a mountain of information in these pages -- everything from how to sort laundry to keeping fabrics from fading and from choosing the right lightbulb to create a special mood to making your own environmentally safe cleaning solutions. Here's a book that makes you want to go home again.

Author Blurb Harold McGee author of On Food and Cooking
In Home Comforts, Cheryl Mendelson has shaped personal experience, thoughtful reflection, and years of dogged investigation into a remarkable guide to modern material life -- to our food and clothing and shelter, how best to choose, use, and care for them, and the nonmaterial satisfactions we take from them. Mendelson opens our eyes to the homes we inhabit yet know so little, to the fascinations of food and fabric, dirt and bugs, air and light. Home Comforts is a unique and absorbing book.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Fox-Genovese author of Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life and Feminism Without Illusions
A treasure trove of invaluable information, a delight to read, a marvel of thoughtful common sense, Home Comforts is all this and more. Recent changes in women's lives and expectations have tended to relegate keeping house to the realm of servant's work -- the epitome of what no self-respecting woman (or man) would choose to do. In this entrancing book, Cheryl Mendelson restores keeping house to its rightful place as the custodian of the peace, order, comfort, and sanity of our lives, simultaneously instructing us in how to do it well and in why doing it matters so much. And in so doing, she helps to restore dignity, value, and craft to the work that creates and sustains the private space that nourishes our humanity.

Reader Reviews
Barbara

Everything You Need to Know About Keeping House
My mother freely admits that she does not like to "keep house." In fact, dusting is anathema to her. She rarely cooks these days. Is it obvious, then, that she didn't teach me how to care for my home? Earlier, in my life, I wasn't that ...   Read More

Steven Davis

the home nazi comes to towne
I have had this book on my shelves for nine years now, and have only cracked it three or four times in situations of truly penetrating boredom. I would not recommend it to anyone. It's full of obsessive arcana, such as, for example, the "right" ...   Read More

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