Monday, February 11, 2008

The Other Mrs. Child.

February 11

Lydia Maria Child (née Francis) was born on this day in 1802. She was a teacher, prolific writer, religious scholar, radical abolitionist, early feminist – and a cookbook writer.

Miss Francis learned her household skills from her older sister, with whom she lived after her mother died. These skills stood her in good stead when she married Mr. Child – a lawyer by profession, but with a man so distracted by his own social reforming zeal that he never managed to earn a decent living. After one year of marriage and the honing of her housekeeping and budgeting skills, Lydia Maria wrote a book called The American Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy (1829). It became very popular almost immediately, and provided a source of some income for the Childs as it was reprinted a number of times over the years.

“I have attempted to teach how money can be saved, not how it can be enjoyed. If any persons think some of the maxims too rigidly economical,--let them inquire how the largest fortunes among us have been made. They will find thousands and millions have been accumulated, by a scrupulous attention to sums 'infinitely more minute than sixty cents.'

The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments, of time, as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever be the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning, or saving money.”

She then gave a lot of “odd scraps for the economical”, from which I give you a selection:

Look frequently to the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs, which should have been in the grease-pot.

Look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.

See that the beef and pork are always under brine; and that the brine is sweet and clean.

See that the vegetables are neither sprouting, nor decaying; if they are so, remove them to a drier place and spread them.

Examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mould; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless.

Suet keeps good all the year round, if chopped and packed down in a stone-jar, covered with molasses.

It is poor economy to buy vinegar, by the gallon. Buy a barrel, or half barrel of really strong vinegar, when you begin house-keeping. As you use it, fill the barrel with old cider, sour beer, or wine-settlings, &c. left in pitchers, decanters, or tumblers, weak tea is likewise said to be good: nothing is hurtful, which has a tolerable portion of spirit, or acidity.

If beer grows sour it may be used to advantage for pancakes and fritters.

Have all the good bits of vegetables and meat collected after dinner, and minced before they are set away; that they may be in readiness to make a little savoury mince meat for supper, or breakfast.

As far as it is possible, have bits of bread eaten up before they become hard. Spread those that are not eaten, and let them dry to be pounded for puddings, or soaked for brewis. Brewis is made of crusts, and dry pieces of bread, soaked a good while in hot milk, mashed up, and salted and buttered like toast. Above all, do not let them accumulate in such quantities that they cannot be used. With proper care, there is no need of losing a particle of bread, even in the hottest weather.

She also, of course, included some cooking advice. Vegetables were decidedly not served crisp and crunchy in those days – although there is also the argument that older horticultural types did not have the tenderness that has been bred into modern varieties, so perhaps they did in fact need more cooking.

Cooking Vegetables.
Cabbages need to be boiled an hour; beets an hour and a half.
The lower part of a squash should be boiled half an hour; the neck pieces fifteen or twenty minutes longer.
Parsnips should boil an hour, or an hour and a quarter, according to size.
New potatoes should boil fifteen or twenty minutes; three quarters of an hour, or an hour, is not too much for large, old potatoes; common sized ones half an hour.
Asparagus should be boiled fifteen or twenty minutes; half an hour if old.
Green peas should be boiled from twenty minutes to sixty, according to their age;
string beans the same.
Corn should be boiled from twenty minutes to forty, according to age.
Beet-tops should be boiled twenty minutes; and spinnage three or four minutes. Put in no green vegetables till the water boils, if you would keep all their sweetness.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Having a ball with food.

Quotation for the Day …

Omit and substitute! That's how recipes should be written. Please don't ever get so hung up on published recipes that you forget that you can omit and substitute.
Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet)


Liz + Louka said...

I reckon with all that storing large quantities and spreading stuff out to dry out, you'd need a pretty big house - or at least kitchen. Not going to work in my tiny flat.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I have a facsimile of this book that I purchased at Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. It contains some very solid advice, but I can just imagine what peas boiled for 60 minutes must have tasted like!