Handy hints for home

A new book from the ICA offers a wealth of tips and old wisdom on everything from stainremoval and blocked sinks to finding your contact lenses, writes Helen O’Callaghan.

YOUR sink is blocked, your car stinks, you’ve lost your contact lenses and your daughter’s birthday cake is stuck to the plate. Could any one person have the answer to all these conundrums?

Probably not, but Ireland’s largest woman’s organisation, the 11,000-strong Irish Country Women’s Association, is bound to. Or at least their book of Home and Family, due out this autumn, promises to.

Over the past few months, ladies from Ireland’s 560 ICA guilds have been gathering tips for house and home, old tricks for cleaning, mending, cooking and washing — many of them passed down through generations — and sending them to their national office in Ballsbridge for inclusion in the book.

The idea for such a tome was sparked by the success of The ICA Cookbook, which sold out within weeks of hitting the shelves for the Christmas market last year. Old words of wisdom, remedies and cures should also sell well.

Ena Howell, national PRO of the ICA, says it was very common when she was growing up in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, for women to gather around the kitchen table and trade tips. “These women had nothing, so they had to be very frugal and, as a result, they shared all their tips — that was their generosity.”

Recalling some of these tips, Howell says: “You’d put the handle of a fork in your mouth when you were peeling onions to stop you crying. I learned this at home and my mother-in-law, Mary, who lives in Offaly had it too. After peeling onions, she’d rub salt into her hands to remove the smell.”

National ICA president Liz Wall, who recalls seeing a notebook from 1933 full of hints and tips, says these cherished how-to-dos are very old and will soon pass out of our awareness if something isn’t done to collect them. She and colleagues at national office have been enjoying getting the tips in everyday from members countrywide. “We’re all saying, ‘Oh! I must try that’.”!

The handy hints promise solutions to a whole range of household and personal conundrums. How to find those contact lenses? Turn off the light, turn on a flashlight and the light from this will reflect off the lenses. Your car smells? Place a sheet of fabric softener under the seat.

Unblock your sink by pouring down a cupful of washing soda followed by two to three kettlefuls of boiling water. And never place a freshly-baked cake on a plate without sprinkling a layer of icing sugar on the plate to prevent cake sticking. Nor should you clean your windows on a sunny day because it will leave streaks on them. And if you want to catch a mouse, do it with peanut butter rather than cheese or chocolate.

A nugget of wisdom passed on by Wall herself concerns smelly runners. As a mum of two sons, she’s well acquainted with the problem. And, as the owner of two cats, she found the perfect solution. “Put clean cat litter into two socks, one in each shoe and leave overnight. The cat litter neutralises the odour. I’ve been using that for 10 years.”

Which prompts another shoe-related hint. “If you go outside in the snow and your feet are warm, your shoes will melt the snow and you’ll slip. Keep a pair of cold shoes in the porch, and you’re less likely to fall.”

Many of the hints tackle stain removal. The inside of your teapot’s looking a little murky? Leave denture cleaning tablets in overnight. Your kettle’s got more lime scale than a builder’s kettle? “Put two to three teaspoons of citric acid (available from chemists) in the electric kettle. Fill it with water and bring to the boil. Empty it and rinse well. This also works for steam irons,” says Wexford ICA Federation secretary Mary Fitzgerald.

And if you scorch an item while ironing, rub a raw onion into the scorched area, leave for three hours and then wash.

Some tips have no other purpose than to make life a little sweeter — like peeling a banana from the bottom up instead of the top down so the stringy bit comes off. “And if you put marshmallows into the bottom of a child’s ice-cream cone, it stops the cone from dripping, so it doesn’t draw flies and wasps and hands don’t get sticky,!” says Howell.

* The Irish Countrywomen Association’s Book of Home and Family will be published by Gill & Macmillan in October

Top tips for fresh eggs, fruit flies and dirty dogs

* Distinguish a fresh egg from a stale one by putting the egg into a saucepan of cold, salted water. The fresh egg will sink, the stale one will rise.

* Has your paintbrush gone hard? Heat vinegar to boiling point, place the paintbrush in it and simmer for 15 minutes. Wash in warm, sudsy water.

* For smoke stains on your stone fireplace, spray on oven cleaner. Leave to work for a while and wipe off. Always use in an inconspicuous place first to avoid damaging the stone work.

* If your dog or cat has an accident, spray the area with white vinegar before you clean. This gets rid of unpleasant odour.

* To keep fruit flies away from fruit, pour a mixture of cider vinegar and washing up liquid in a glass and place near the fruit. They’ll go straight to that and forget about the fruit.

* To better preserve bananas, separate them out from the bunch.

* If you’ve got hiccups or stomach upset, boil leaves of the fennel plant and drink in small quantities.


The long-tailed tit’s nest is an architectural marvel.Richard Collins: Altruism of the long-tailed tits or not

The flight that brought us home to Ireland after our seven months sojourn in the Canary Islands (half our stay intended, half not) was the most comfortable I’ve experienced in years. With a large plane almost entirely to yourself, you could again pretend you were somebody.Damien Enright: Wonderful to see the green, green grass of home

IRISH folklore is replete with stories of priests praying for fine weather to help farmers save their crops in wet summers. However, the opposite could soon be happening when divine powers may have to be invoked to provide rain. And not just for farmers.Donal Hickey: Praying for rain — in Ireland

Geography is often the defining factor for the destiny of an island. Those islands that lie close to the shore have often been snapped up by interests on the mainland and their morphology changed to something completely different.The Islands of Ireland: Tarbert morphed onto the mainland

More From The Irish Examiner