Simple Washday Casserole

In the mid-fifties, in small town Manitoba, Monday was washday. Town council understood this and on Washday Mondays the use of burning barrels was strictly forbidden. Most of the ladies in town were hanging out white shirts, sheets, and personal items; black smoke would ruin their efforts.

At my house, the washing machine was wheeled into position, right after morning tea. It was much taller than me. I admired it, as only a preschooler could, and I respected the rules and warnings about the many injuries that could befall a child during the wash process.

My mother would start by filling the belly of the tub, one pail of water at a time. She filled the pail from the wide-mouthed pump that seemed to be smiling at me as it dribbled water. Although in 1955 our family didn’t have running water, we were living electrically. Once the tub was full enough, Mom would plug in a heating rod and clamp it to the edge of the washtub, to keep the cord out of the water. I was warned to avoid the hanging cord. It took long enough to heat the water that my mother had time to collect and sort every item she planned to wash. 

In time, the water was warm, the gyrator was turned on, the soap agitated into bubbles, and the clothing was added. Once the load was swishing away, my mom would prepare a few items for the Washday Casserole. This was comfort food, at its best.

Before long, the wash was clean and ready to be wrung out. The wringer would reduce a huge bed sheet to an almost dry ribbon of cloth. Wringers had safety catches, to quickly pry the two rotating rollers apart, if someone’s hand was accidently drawn into the mechanically powered wringer. Everyone knew someone who had crushed a finger, broken an arm, or caught their neck scarf in those tight rollers. The wringer took the clothes to the other side, where they fell into a tub of rinse water. Then the clothes travelled back through the ringer, were manually caught, and placed in a basket to be taken to the clothesline.    

Everywhere you went on Mondays you could find a line of linens and clothes flapping in the wind, while whitening in the sunlight. You might notice who had the whitest wash or the finest lingerie. In winter, the fabric shapes flapped until they froze solid. It was funny when a sleeve froze upward in a friendly wave, or pants froze with one leg bent in a dance. The frozen sheets were like plywood slabs, sometimes almost impossible to manoeuver through the door. I haven’t found the words to describe the smell of damp, clean, windblown sheets draped over a clothes horse to thaw, but the kitchen smelled clean for days afterward.

I will guide you to a YouTube video to watch a demonstration of the wringer washer, but first I must share my mother's four ingredient recipe for Washday Casserole, and my own adaptation, which is packed with nutrition. Both recipes are ridiculously easy and delicious. My beet version is company worthy and I have even been known to eat leftovers, cold.

Vintage Washday Casserole Recipe

This was my mother’s quick supper for busy days. See my revised version below.

Pre-heat oven to 350°F

Prepare a 2 liter oven-proof casserole with lid by oiling lightly

Place a layer of potatoes, thinly sliced, in the casserole. Top with half an onion, sliced. 

Sprinkle ¼ to ⅓ of a cup of uncooked long-grain rice in a layer

Add another layer of sliced potatoes

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste

Pour milk over the vegetables, to almost cover

Layer with uncooked breakfast sausages (I used Turkey sausages; Mom used pork)

Place the lid on the casserole and bake for 1 to 1½ hours, while you work at someting else.

To serve this fairly bland looking, though delicious, dish include a colourful salad or pickles. Admittedly, it looks better when you add a colourful side. On washdays, we happily ate it plain. 

I made this dish recently and the milk boiled over into my oven. Perhaps I needed a bigger casserole.   

Or you can try my Busy Day Beet Casserole.

Busy Day Beet and Sausage Casserole

Peel and slice four raw beets and one onion. I occasionally add a couple of carrots. 

Cover a layer of beets with a layer of sliced onions and brush with oil (sprinkle scantly with a few grains of sugar).

Cover with 1/3 cup of raw, long-grain rice; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Add a second layer of beets and onions, again brushing the vegetables with oil and a pinch of sugar.

Pour turkey stock or other stock over the vegetables to almost cover.

Place a layer of turkey breakfast sausages over the top.

Put the lid on top and bake the casserole for 1 to 1½ hours.

The rice will turn pink, the sausages will brown, and the beets will be tender. 

I often freeze this casserole in small single serving containers. It reheats well and I have even enjoyed the leftovers, cold.  

Do take time to watch this YouTube video. Please note that the home in the video has running water.

For a photo history of earlier washers click HERE. 

For actual footage from the 1940s click HERE

After you watch these videos, raise a glass to the front-loading high-efficiency clothes washers of today, and say thank-you to our mothers and grandmothers for keeping us clean, the more difficult way.

By the way, I have a 1949 Eaton's catalogue listing these washers for $150.00. 

THis machine is neglected but filled with memories!

It was a novelty for us in the summer of 1992 at Cochin. 

Comments (5)

  • sakina madini April 13, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    It's interesting those videos, photos and the secrets of washday.
    It's new thing for me.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Diane RIMMER April 11, 2017 at 03:15 pm

    I too was reminded of Monday washdays and the old wringer machine. I loved the frozen slacks or long johns that would come off the winter clothesline and stand crisply in the kitchen until they were pliable enough to place on the clothes rack to dry further. Seemed like so much fun but that was then. Lol

  • Verla Schmirler April 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for reminding me of a part of my childhood I haven't thought about in years! Although my mother did not keep such a rigid schedule as to always wash on Mondays (she said to have done so would have driven her crazy), the wringer washer faithfully served our family until I was well into my teenage years. In my mind's ear, I can still hear the comforting sound of its agitator chugging in our basement. Today, I still use a small, wooden "clothes horse" for those small items I prefer to air dry.

  • Sylvia Chave April 11, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Maureen, you always tell the best stories and conjure up the best memories. Mondays were washday for us too and I loved when I could put the clothes through the wringer. Loved that machine!

  • The Boy April 11, 2017 at 10:31 am

    There was nothing like the sound of laundry flapping in the wind too. Lots more fun than a dryer! It had personality.

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