Years ago, l lived in Portugal. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a period that would influence my life forever. At that time, Portugal was an unsophisticated product of the old world, where culture, religion and politics were equally tainted by charlatans and fools. Yet I viewed life there as far richer and more sophisticated than my upbringing in the American west. I fell in love with the country, the language, and most especially with the Portuguese people. Memories of my time there are gently etched in my heart and mind.
Portugal has been considered a Third World country in the recent past, and many Portuguese citizens still struggle to gain an economic foothold. As a result, they’ve developed habits that are very conservative- as in not wasteful- and I quickly learned to appreciate and live by such practices.
One I still do to this day is to wash dishes using very little water. First, I sort “like with like” so the whole process is a bit organized. Then instead of filling a sink with hot, soapy water, I wet a rag or scrub brush, douse it with dish detergent, and scrub up the utensils, cups, and plates that need washing. When enough have been washed, I turn on the water to rinse, and then turn it off again. If a pot needs an extra soaking, I put it at the bottom of the sink while I wash and rinse the other items, allowing it to fill with water. Then I set it aside and let the water do the hard work of loosening the stuck-on bits. When it’s time to tackle the pot, I have a tiny, amazing tool- a small scraper made of bamboo- that takes off the food bits without damaging the surface of the pan.
Some people may think this isn’t a good way to do the washing up, that the dishes can’t possibly get clean and sanitized without a lot of hot soapy water. But I attest, I’m a clean-freak when it comes to dishes, and I do get mine clean.
That said, I’ve heard that new, energy efficient dishwashers are very water conservative, and that fully loaded, using a dishwasher is better than washing by hand. But energy is required to run the machine, versus my own power to was dishes Portuguese style. I’d have to check the facts to see which method is actually better. However, I figure I’ve conserved thousands of gallons of water over the years, washing up Portuguese style, and I feel good about every drop.