Three hundred and thirty-six years ago to this very day, the author of The Gentlewoman’s Companion signed the Epistle Dedicatory, and presumably then sent it off to the publisher with great relief and the expectation of good sales.
Most humble Servant,
Hannah Wooley (her name is spelled a variety of ways) was already the author of two books - The Ladies Directory and The Cooks Guide, “both of which have found very good Acceptance.” Her success suggested to her that there was a market for an even more comprehensive work:
“And when I considered the great need of such a Book as might be a Universal Companion and Guide to the Female Sex, in all Relations, Companies, Conditions, and states of Life, even from Child-hood down to Old Age; and from the Lady at the Court, to the Cook-Maid in the Country: I was at length prevailed upon to do it, and the rather because I knew not of any Book in any Language that hath done the like”
The publishing style of the times was that the title page was the book’s blurb and table of contents rolled into one, with a riot of fonts, bolds, italics and text sizes.
The very useful book has chapters on such things as “Rules to be observed in walking with persons of honour, and how you ought to behave your self in congratulating and condoling them”, “Of Habit, and the neatness and propriety therof: of Fashions and their ridiculous apish Imitation” and “Of marriage, and the duty of a Wife to her Husband.” It also contains household remedies for everyday problems including “Against a Stinking Breath”, “Kibed Heels”, and “For one burned with Gunpowder”, and much wisdom on “Lying In” – that most hazardous time for every married woman.
Amongst all of that Mrs Wooley had to make many pages available for cookery advice. Much of it is practical, essential stuff for the kitchen of the day – making preserves, pies, sauces, and basic roasts, boils, and stews. She did have some fancy stuff too – “jellies of several colours”, pickled flowers, and this delightful way of serving thick clotted or “clouted” cream so that it looked like a cabbage.
Set over the fire six quarts of new Milk, and when it boils, pour it out into half a score of Earthen-pans or bowls, as fast as you can without frothing, set them apart, and when they are a little cold gather the Cream that is on the top with your hand, rumpling it together, and lay it on a flat dish; when you have laid three or four layers one on the other, wet a feather in Rosewater and Musk, and stroke over it, then searce a little grated Nutmeg, and fine Sugar, then lay three or four lays more on, as before, thus doing till you have all the Milk together and boil it again; and when it boils, do with it as you did before; it will yield thus four or five times seegihg, with which you must do as before, that it may lie round and high like a Cabbedg. You will do well to let one of the first Bowls to stand till last, that the Cream may be thick and crumpled, and that use for the uppermost lay, and so scrape Sugar in it. This must be made overnight for Dinner, and in the morning for Supper.
This week I am going to see what treasures I can find for you in Mrs. Wooley’s book.
Quotation for the Day …
Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream.
William S. Gilbert
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