Monday, April 7, 2008


TOO MANY COOKS. A Home Economics class in Guagua emphasizes the importance of culinary arts in maintaining the perfect Kapampangan household. Under the watchful eye of their teacher, young girls learn the rudiments of cooking using coal-powered ornos or ovens. Circa mid-1920s.

In my elementary days, one of our first-week assignments was to bring pakiling (or isis) leaves to class. Pakiling leaves, when dry, have the texture of sandpaper, and it was our task to clean and smoothen the surfaces of our wooden desks using these leaves and sudsy water, making “isis” until the wood was rid of pencil scrawls. Handling these bristly leaves was definitely tough on our delicate hands and I simply detested this back-to-school ritual. Thank heavens, I didn’t have to scrounge around for these rare pakiling leaves—an old tree grew at the back of our house which provided me with these cleaning staples—the same reliable pakiling leaves that mothers of yore had used in cleaning wooden floors, banggeras and pasamanos.

Back in our Spanish colonial days, running a household efficiently was a challenge, what with the bahay na bato’s numerous rooms to clean, gardens to maintain, and loads of laundry to be done. The home arts of the era also included needlework, confectionary and music. Cooking entailed various kitchen tasks including daily marketing. Hence, the moneyed doña of the house often hired individual lavanderas, cocheros and cocineras to assist her in running the affairs of the house with the least of efforts. Household helps were paid anywhere from 3 to 5 pesos a month, while specialized Chinese cooks commanded more, getting as much as P20 monthly. Stay-in muchachos provided all-around help—from housecleaning and gardening to whisking flies off the dining table during mealtimes.

Normally, the first task of the day was daily marketing which was personally handled by the lady of the house who kept a tight pamalengke budget of 50 centavos to 2 pesos (early 1900s rate), ably assisted by a muchacha. Back in the kitchen, the doña orchestrated the sorting, cleaning, chopping, dicing and cooking of ingredients for the noonday meal. The kawas, tacho and other cooking implements were kept in tip-top shape with found cleaning materials like sand and ash. Fragile crystal was handwashed with bath soap and the first rice washing. A 1930s cookbook even had a special section on domestic arts—Kabaluan King Pamibale-bale (Household Knowledge). It featured tips on cleaning household items like silverware, with the ingenious use of chalk: “Kailangan ingatan mayap ding kasangkapang pilak. Iti ing gamitan yu: 4 a tasang tisa, pabukalan king ½ litrong danum. Parimlan at dinan 1 onzang ammonia. Basan ing kapirasung basan at iti ing ikuskus kaibat kuskusan yung mamuza o bulak” (One needs to care for silver well. These are what you will use: 4 cups chalk, boiled in 1/2 liter water. Cool and add 1 oz. ammonia. Wet a piece of rag to wipe the silver clean, then wipe off with cotton).

Housecleaning, on the other hand, was done at all hours of the day. To bring out the shine of wooden floors, a mix of melted candle wax, kerosene and achuete (for coloring) was boiled to serve as floor wax. After application, the floors were buffed with old burlap (langgotse) bags often with kids joining in the cleaning. Children were made to sit on the rags band dragged around the room! The bamboo slatted floors of humbler nipa homes were shined with banana leaves. Other cleaning aids included the ubiquitous plumero (feather duster), palis tingting and bunut made from coconuts.

Pieces of furniture were also polished with coconut oil while mirrors were cleaned with starch paste which was then wiped off with wet rags after application. Katol was advertised as early as 1928, so dealing with mosquitos was no problem. Bedbugs or suldot were another thing. To kill them, boiling water from a kettle was poured into the crevices of beds and sulihiya covered-seats. Iron grills were sure to be rust-free when cleaned with coconut oil and kerosene mixture.

Laundry was done in a wooden batya, using the speckled blue and white sabun intsik to rid clothes of dirt and grime. Other stain removing aids before the advent of modern day deodorants included kamias, kalamunding and sunlight. Tina, a blueing agent, brought out the whiteness of clothes, while gogo, local commercial starch, was used to stiffen butterfly sleeves and barongs. After drying, clothes were ironed on a dulang or pakabayo, using a plantsa korona, an open circular flat iron (sometimes made of brass) loaded with live embers. Care must be taken in applying the iron as sparks from the live coals can sometimes escape and burn holes on fabrics! To ensure that the plantsa glided smoothly, it was made to run on banana leaves every now and then.

The American regime offered a glimpse of hope for homemakers, as modern concepts in the areas of sanitation, scientific inventions and culinary arts were advanced and applied. It was only a matter of years before the Kapampangan household—as was true for every home in the Philippines--was magically transformed into a modern showcase of efficiency and design.
( 13 December 2003)

No comments: