Friday, January 05, 2007

The Hired Help.

Today, January 5th …

I don’t know what you intend to provide your servants for dinner today, but if you are unsure, I have a couple of menus for today that might give you inspiration.

A day in the life of a servant has probably often been nasty, brutish, and far too damn long, but somehow life Below Stairs has never sounded as bad as life Out In The Fields, has it? Those indoors don’t have the vagaries of the weather to deal with for starters, and there is easy access to the kitchen. A young, growing houseboy could probably sneak a quick snack in between blacking boots and annoying the housemaids, which would be impossible for a young, growing farmhand in between pasture and pig-pen.

In reality, ease of life and availability of snacks would depend on how closely the household was managed, and how tight and incorruptible was the chain of command between Master and Mistress, steward and housekeeper, and the lower orders of staff - and of course how kindly disposed to their inferiors were their Lord and Ladyship.

Managing a large estate in the early nineteenth century was no trivial occupation. The household would have been largely self-sufficient, with fruit, vegetables, dairy, grain, and most meat coming from the estate itself. Such was the household of the Marquis of Tweedale in the East Lothian district of Scotland. The Household Book of Yester House recorded not just the accounts, but tracked the source of the victuals (where this was not from the estate) and the number and class of persons fed each day (family, servants, visitors, and visitors’ servants).

On this day in 1817 the Marquis’ family sat down to dinner to:

Breast of Veal
Sur loine of Beef
Mutton Cuttelettes
1 phaisant
1 Hare

The servants of the household had for their dinner: boiled mutton and roast beef.

Moving along nearly half a century to 1869, urbanisation and industrial growth meant that there was a burgeoning middle class who wanted and needed servants but had little ancestral knowledge to draw on as to the proper way to manage their staff. A large number of household manuals were produced to assist the Young Mistress in this and other intimidating and mysterious requirements of running a household, and many provided suggested menus for every day in the year.

The January 5th suggestion for dinner from “Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare: or Young Housewife’s Daily Assistant” (1869) was:

Onion Soup.
Roast Loin of Mutton (5 lbs), lobster cutlets, laver, potatoes, currant jelly.
Apple Fritters, cheese, celery, &c.

For the ‘Kitchen’, the dinner was: Beef-steak Pie (1 ¾ lbs), potatoes. No pudding mentioned. Next day they had Pie, Cold for dinner - and rice pudding.

Here is the Apple Fritters recipe from the same book. Please be kind to your servants this evening, they will be fatigued from the batter beating.

Apple Fritters.
Make a batter* as directed for pancakes in the preceding receipt. Pare two or three large (cooking) apples; cut them into seven or eight slices the third of an inch thick; scoop out the core neatly, making a round hole in the centre of each slice; lay them in a stewpan, with three ounces of sifted loaf sugar, the strained juice of a lemon, and the grated rind, and simmer (uncovered) for ten minutes; place them on a plate; pour the syrup over, and let them stand to imbibe the sugar for two hours or longer; wipe each piece; dip it into the batter, and fry in butter or oil till of a golden colour; drain on a sieve before the fire, sift sugar over, and serve on a neatly folded napkin. Must be sent to table quickly, and very hot.

*Batter: Beat three fresh eggs, and stir into three tablespoonfuls of dried flour till in a smooth paste; add three-quarters of a pint of new milk; beat with a wooden spoon for a quarter of an hour; stand the batter in a cool place for two hours or longer; beat again for ten minutes …..

Monday’s Story …

Cocoa in the Country.

A Previous Story for this Day …

We found out a little about the hamburger on this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

In the Days of good Queen Elizabeth, when mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's Food; our Cookery was plain and simple as our Manners; it was not then a Science or Mistery, and required no conjuration to please the Palates of our greatest Men. But we have of late Years refined ourselves out of that simple Taste, and conformed our Palates to Meats and Drinks dressed after the French Fashion: The natural Taste of Fish or Flesh is become nauseous to our fashionable Stomach; we abhor that any thing should appear at our Tables in its native Properties; all the Earth, from both the Poles, the most distant and different Climates, must be ransacked for Spices, Pickles, and Sauces, not to relish, but to disguise our Food. Robert Campbell; 1747, author of "The London Tradesman"


Scott at Real Epicurean said...

I'm always astounded how one person can create so much interesting material, day in day out.

Congratulations on such a great site!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Scott; thanks for those nice words. I dont think I'll ever run out of actual material - I've been a long time collecting it. As long as the writing of it remains fun, I'll keep posting.