Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scullery.

It has taken until this, day four of our exploration of ‘kitchen’ words, for me to fully realise the extent to which modern technology has enabled entire rooms to be omitted from modern house design. Food processing, transport, and supermarkets have allowed the pantry room(s) to be replaced by a glorified cupboard and the larder has been made obsolete by the refrigerator. Today we are considering the scullery – also long since gone, albeit with no-one mourning its demise.

The scullery has disappeared thanks to modern plumbing, cleaning products, and especially the dishwasher. Originally it was ‘the department of a household concerned with the care of the plates, dishes, and kitchen utensils … also the room or rooms in which the work of this department is carried on’. By the eighteenth century it was no longer a ‘department’ but merely ‘a small room attached to a kitchen, in which the washing of dishes and other dirty work is done; a back kitchen.’

The scullery was occasionally separate from the main house, presumably in order to distance the dirty and noisy work from the Master and Mistress, thus avoiding offending their aristocratic sensibilities. Sometimes it was where the laundry and brewing were carried out, but primarily it was the place where the big cleaning jobs got done. A large and wealthy household might even have a ‘silver scullery’ where the good cutlery and plate was cleaned and polished.

The first reference for ‘scullery’ cited in the OED is from 1330 – and as with ‘pantry’ and ‘larder’, the word has French connections. The word has its roots in the Latin scutella, meaning a salver or dish-stand. In French this gave rise to esculier ( escuillier, esquelier)- a maker or seller of dishes. The word was further adapted in English to give squiller – the name for a servant in charge of the scullery.

In the servant hierarchy of big houses, the scullery maid was the lowest of the low. Her job (it was always a ‘her’) was to clean, clean, clean. Hannah Woolley in her Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) has this to say about her duties (although it is highly unlikely that a seventeenth century scullery maid would have been literate, so presumably the instructions would be passed on verbally).

To Scullery-maids in great Houses.
There are several Rooms that you must keep sweet and clean, as the Kitchen, Pantry, Wash-house, &c.
That you wash and scowre all the Plates and Dishes which are used in the Kitchen, also Kettles, Pots, Pans, Chamber-pots, with all other Iron, Brass, and Pewter materials that belong to the Chambers or Kitchen; and lastly you must wash your own Linnen.

The recipe for the day has to be something in a large pot, methinks, to give the scullery maid something to work on. I am returning to my promise of a seventeenth century recipe, and give you the following, from one of the most important cookbooks of the time – William Rabisha’s The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661)

To make Stewed-Broth.
Take your shins of Beef or Mutton, otherwise what meat is allowed, being washed and set on, scum it clean; then slice your brown bread and soak it in the said Broth; when it is so soaked, rub it through a strainer with your hands, put in as much as you judge will make your Broth thick in the boyling; when it is half boyled, at thereto your Raisons, Currans, and Pruins, according to the quantity of your Broth, with beaten Cloves, Mace, and Cinamon, and Ginger; taking a good quantity of your Pruins up when they are boyled, mash them together, and strain them as you did the bread with the Clarret; so let it continue till its boyled, then season it further with sugar and Rose-water, and serve it up with some of the best of your meat.

Quotation for the Day.

Have you any idea how many kids it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen? Three. It takes one to say, "What light?" and two more to say, "I didn't turn it on."
Erma Bombeck


Lloyd Alter said...

My wife Kelly of Planet Green pointed me you your posts on kitchens. I think you have missed the major reason all of these rooms have disappeared: servants, each of which had their own domain. Did all of these rooms exist in more egalitarian societies like America or Australia? I don't think so; one room was used for almost all of these functions except perhaps for a root cellar.

Perhaps the biggest loss, however was the pantry, replaced by the fitted kitchen in the late 1920's as a space saving alternative. Here we have traded a walk-in closet with open shelves where you can see everything for expensive carpentry where only a small portion is easily reachable.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Lloyd - you are right, of course! The servant problem seemed to begin after WWI, which coincides (I guess) with technological developments too - so perhaps it was a combination of all of the above?
I await other ideas and comments, so keep them rolling in, folks!

Katie Scarlett said...

I'm pretty sure the U.S. had these rooms as well (obviously in upper class households at least). The Victorians in all western countries were obsessed with having everything in its separate place.

Unknown said...

They had all these rooms in North America, if they had money. You can see them in reproduced colonial villages like Williamburg, Virginia and associated restored plantations. Also in Theodore Roosevelt's house at Oyster Bay, New York or Franklin Roosevelt's houses in Hyde Park, New York or Campobello Island in Canada. If you were poor, these functions were carried out in the common living space or outside, as in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods."