Friday, February 03, 2006

Husbandry and Housewifery.

Today, February 3rd …

On this day in 1557 a marvellous little book called “A hundreth good pointes of husbandrie” was published by Thomas Tusser. It was an almanac written in rhyming couplets which recorded the activities of the rural year, and was so popular in its own time that in 1573 was expanded to “Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie, united to as many Good Pointes of Huswifery. The poems have become one of our best sources of information on domestic and agricultural life in Elizabethan England, and many of its aphorisms have entered our daily speech. Every time you say “A fool and his money are soon parted”, “Christmas comes but once a year”, “The stone that is rolling can gather no moss”, you are quoting Tusser.

One of the important responsibilities of the “huswife” was management of the kitchen garden and the proper cooking of its products. Apart from the obvious benefits to household economy, this had the added bonus of maintaining the husband’s affections:

In Marche and in Aprill, from morning to night:
in sowing and setting, good huswives delight.
To have in their gardein or some other plot: t
o trim up their house, and to furnish their pot.

Haue millons [melons] at Michelmas, parseps [parsnips] in lent:

In June, buttred beanes, saveth fish to be spent.
With those and good pottage, inough having than:
thou winnest the heart, of thy laboring man.

Why parsnips in Lent? The parsnip is a native of Europe, and has a longer history as a staple food there than the carrot which was imported sometime in the early middle ages, and the potato which arrived in the 16th Century and which eventually usurped it. Because the parsnip is filling and nourishing, it was particularly welcomed as an alternative to meat in Lent, when the roots were sweet from the frosts of winter.

An old name for parsnips was “pasturnakes”, and they are mentioned as an alternative to turnips in this recipe from Englands earliest cookbook (“The Forme of Cury”, 1395)

Rapes in Potage.
Take rapus [turnips] and make hem clene and waissh hem clene. quare hem [cut them in squares] parboile hem. take hem up. cast hem in a gode broth and seeth hem. mynce Oynonns and cast therto Safronn and salte and messe it forth with powdour douce. the wise [the same way] make of Pasturnakes and skyrwates. [skirrets, another root vegetable.]

On Monday: A theme too far?

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