Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Possibly the only household tip that will ever be in this blog

On my way home today, I stopped to pick up a few things at the Asian grocery store--more Desi Natural Dahi, for one, and some tamarind paste and lemons. One might think that I was going to make some tasty sauce out of the tamarind and lemons, and it is possible that at some point, I will do this. But there is a reason that the container of tamarind paste sits under the sink, with the cleaning supplies, rather than on the pantry shelves--tamarind is excellent for cleaning brass.

I am in possession of brass that needs polishing mostly due to the generosity of my friend Abby. She's an India friend who does her research in the state of Gujerat. In Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujerat, there is a huge flea market, the chor bazaar (literally thieves' market) every week, and at the chor bazaar, there is a lot of old brass for sale. During the year that I lived in Jaipur and Abby was in Ahmedabad, she got me several round brass containers, which are officially chapati tins but which I use to hold spices, and a little brass tea kettle which is one of the most used things in my kitchen, given how much tea I drink.

The problem with brass, of course, is that it gets tarnished easily. My teapot, especially, gets dull and brown over the course of a couple of months. (In the photo, it's about one month post-cleaning, and a somewhat haphazard cleaning at that.) Early on, I asked Abby about cleaning it, and she asked a friend of hers who worked in a crafts museum, and the friend said tamarind and lemon but gave no specific instructions.

So, over the years, I developed my own system that is messy, admittedly, but it's cheap and it works. (The large container of tamarind paste cost $2.99, and the smaller one is $1.79. I never have to get more than 1 or 2 small containers in a year, so I'm expecting this big one to last at least that long, even if I also use the tamarind for cooking.) At some point, for comparison sake, I bought a thing of brass cleaner, but it didn't get the brass any cleaner than the tamarind and lemon do, and it was much smellier.

The system goes as follows:
  • Smear brass container generously with tamarind paste. This will be sticky and messy both. I usually do it over the sink. You can use a paper towel or your fingers. Tamarind paste, thankfully, washes off easily. Let sit for several minutes.
  • Cut a lemon in half and rub the lemon all over the container. (I often use lemons for this that I've zested and then forgotten to juice--it's a good way to get rid of naked aging lemons, I've found. They can have some purpose before they get tossed.)
  • Alas, the tarnish will not magically disappear after this. You will need to employ a green scrubby, some warm water and some arm strength.
The process takes awhile. I usually rub more lemon over it and then scrub with the scrubby and then rinse and repeat. (One thing I read said to put salt on the lemon, which I'm going to try next time.) It's one of those meditative cleaning tasks--I find it especially useful if I'm stressed out about something and need a useful activity to keep me occupied for a little while. It's also satisfying in that concrete, visible way--the brass used to be tarnished, and now it's not. And you can admire the gleam for awhile while contemplating what yummy thing you might make with the rest of tamarind paste and the lemons.

I can probably predict that this will be the only entry in my blog under "household cleaning tips," but I figure that if I'm only going to have one, it might as well be a good one. And this one is. Test it out on your tarnished brass and report back.


Lisa said...

I don't own any brass, but I do have tamarind paste. I feel prepared, anyway.

Ron S. Doyle said...

I love this! I've been making this for years but didn't know there was a recipie/history behind it--I thought I invented it. Glad to be wrong! ;-)

Aparna Nair said...

Thank you so much. There was this antique brass lock (in an old home) that a locksmith asked 750$ to change and it was practically black with lot of grease. I just tried this and my front lock looks like new.