Monday, December 26, 2005

On keeping husbands at home.

Today, December 26th …

In 1899, when war with the Boers was inevitable, Winifred Heberden stayed on in Kimberley with her surgeon husband. She kept a diary during the four month siege, and on Boxing Day wrote:

The men stood to arms both yesterday and to-day at 3 a.m., expecting 'Christmas Boxes' from the Boers, but everything was quiet at our end of Kimberley … Eggs are now 6/6 a dozen, and so scarce that their price is sure to rise rapidly. Potatoes have vanished, and we have dried beans or crushed mealies with our meat …

She saw more of her husband by staying along for the military ride than most nineteenth century wives, if a little book from Canada is any guide. According to its male author, husbands on their way home from the corporate battlefield were easily waylaid by the gentleman’s club, for “the majority of men (when the pleasures of the table alone are considered) prefer to dine at their club or restaurant rather than at home.”

The title said it all: ‘The little helpmate, or, How to keep husbands at home: a dictionary of useful information not generally known; what dishes are good as well as cheap; the cost, and how it is done by professional cooks; together with several valuable household recipes, including the wonderful carpet shampoo which is alone worth many times the price.’

Luckily Winifred did not need the advice, because a generous supply of eggs was necessary.

Bearnaise Sauce.
“… as it is a favorite of club-men, I think their wives ought to know how to make it. Do not be discouraged if you don't succeed the first or second time, but try again. Put four tablespoonsfuls of chopped shallots into a small saucepan and let them stew for fifteen minutes. Then add two teaspoonsfuls of beef extract and six egg yolks, one a time, stirring all the while over a slow fire until it begins to thicken. Remove the saucepan to still cooler part of the range, and add, a little at a time, half a pound of butter, with occasional drops of water. When all the butter is stirred in , strain through a wire strainer, and add a little cayenne pepper, salt, and finely chopped green parsley.

Presumably nice clean carpet also helped keep the husband at home. If you want the wonderful carpet shampoo recipe, you only have to ask.

Tomorrow: A young woman in possession of a good recipe.

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