Have you ever discovered a brilliant kitchen hack and felt like the biggest smarty-pants on earth, only to discover someone else did it years before you were even born? It happens to me all the time. Embracing clever tricks is as human as it gets. It’s humbling, but also worth celebrating, because hacks are living threads that connect us with past generations that can otherwise seem distant and irrelevant.
This is especially true of tips to nip food waste in the bud. Just when I think draining poached eggs on slices of stale bread is new, I realize the famed newspaper columnist Heloise did it first. Her decades-old tips read as a primer to any modern-day person who's credo is reduce, reuse, recycle. The Heloise MO was more about thrift and mindfulness than being green, but the outcome was the same: a safer, happier, less wasteful kitchen.
Who Was Heloise?
Heloise Bowles Cruse launched a column for housewives in 1959 in the Honolulu Advertiser called “The Readers Exchange.” Readers responded with vigor, and in a few years her column went syndicated as “Hints from Heloise.” The original Heloise’s daughter carries the column on to this day.
My own introduction to Heloise was through two yellowed paperback books my mom had: “Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints,” and “Heloise’s Kitchen Hints.” They sold thousands of copies and remained in print for years. I came across these books as a tween. My sixth grade classmates preferred pulpy tomes like “Flowers in the Attic,” but it was Heloise who compelled me.
She popped freshly washed greens in a clean pillowcase and dried them by using the spin cycle of her washing machine. She stored parsley in a jar of water like a flower bouquet to keep it fresh (our own Elise Bauer does this, too). She encouraged readers to grab their husband’s hammers to tenderize steak: “By golly there is no use in buying an extra gadget in your drawer if you can get along without it.”
Heloise was not an austerity queen. She championed small improvements. “Some of us buy small size eggs because they are cheaper. In this case, I found that if I used two eggs instead of one, the pancakes were absolutely lush!” She made a double batch of pancakes, froze the extra batch, and reheated them in the toaster as needed.
How, exactly, did that prevent food waste? It’s about time management as much as it is emotional fulfillment. “Never do ‘chores’ when you are not in the mood,” she advised. “Wait till you want to do them because of what it can or will mean to someone else.” Having pancakes on deck in the freezer for when you want them is better than dumping excess batter in the trash on a day when you can’t even.
My Favorite Food Waste Takeaways from “Heloise’s Kitchen Hints”
My copy of “Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints” was once my mom’s. It was a gift to her from my great-aunt Elta, who inscribed it June 1968. In essence, I learned from Heloise secondhand, because I saw my mom put those tips into action by making croutons out of stale bread and rice pudding from leftover rice. It’s a mindset you grow into.
- Leftover coffee: “Never throw away leftover coffee. When it’s cool put it in an ice cube tray and make coffee ice cubes out of it. When you have your afternoon snack, use these ice cubes instead of plain ice when making iced coffee.”
- Save your energy: “Don’t waste energy by doing one thing at a time when you can kill two birds with one stone.”
- Spent lemon halves: “Don’t throw away lemon halves after the juice has been extracted. They may be dipped in salt and rubbed on the bottom of your copper-bottomed pots until they gleam like new.
- Leftover shortening: “To get the last bit of shortening out of the can, fill it with boiling water and then let it cool. The shortening will float to the top and harden for easy removal.”
- Use up your celery: Celery was a biggie with Heloise. She cut off the leaves, added them fresh to salads, and dehydrated the other ones in a low oven to use later as dried herbs.
- Freeze Everything: An ongoing habit Heloise developed was managing leftovers by freezing them every day after dinner–“everything from creamed potatoes, gravy, vegetables of all types, rice, roast, steak, and broth from ham or chicken”–and accumulating it in a large plastic container kept in the freezer. When it got full, she bought soup bones and turned it into a stew enriched with canned tomatoes. Lest that sound hideous, think about what often goes into soup: potatoes or rice, meat, vegetables, and broth. “There is no reason to waste food if you own a deep freeze,” she wrote. Indeed.
Heloise Built Her Own Social Media Platform
It wasn’t all Heloise—readers shared tips for publication, too. That was the point. When OG Heloise first began her column, there weren't threads on Facebook, TikTok and Instagram for sharing opinions and insights. Homemakers in 1959 and today spend time cooking, cleaning, and raising kids. Which, if you’ve done it before, you know can be mighty isolating and unglamourous. Even the happiest housewife or caretaker can feel cut off from the rest of the world. To mid-century readers facing the drudgery of hard work that was chronically undervalued by society, Heloise wasn’t just a dispenser of advice. She was a friend and advocate.
My favorite Heloise hint isn’t even a hint. It’s a pep talk. “A pat on the back is what you need and I put that on this page: consider yourself patted, but good,” Heloise wrote at the close of “Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints.” “Mrs. Homemaker, I think you are the most wonderful person on earth! You are the very backbone of family life.”
There’s this idea that people raised during the Great Depression loathed waste because of the trauma and fear from coming of age during a time of hardship and shortage. But maybe there’s another piece to that equation. The mere principle of waste runs anathema to a fulfilled life. To value the work and resources that go into making a thing is, in turn, to value what you do. It’s reciprocal. Heloise taught me that frugality is an ethos worth the effort. And that never goes out of style.