Life was not easy for the new wife in the Victorian era, if one was from the middle class. There was the sudden necessity to be Mistress of the Household and to manage recalcitrant, lazy, thieving, and just plain intimidating staff, for starters - and to do it within the household budget allotted by one’s hopefully loving, but inevitably stern, Husband, all the while producing for him a steady stream of children.
Luckily, there were plenty of authors and publishers willing to come to the rescue. A plethora of cookery and household management books hit the shelves in the second half of the century and a little beyond. One of my favourites of these is Cre-Fydd's Family Fare: The Young Housewife's Daily Assistant on All Matters Relating to Cookery and Housekeeping, published in London in 1864.
Before I give you some of the insights from the book, I want to give you one of its puzzles. The name, or word ‘Cre-Fydd’ is a mystery to me. It appears to be a pseudonym, but I have not been able to find out the real name of the author. The word spelled without the hyphen means ‘religion’ in Welsh. I have no idea what this means, so if you do, please let us know!
Now, to the book. The author’s preface is suitably reassuring to the nervous young housewife:
Let any young housewife in moderate circumstances (and we cannot all afford to invoke the shade of Ude, or have Francatelli at our elbow) answer whether, when she has put the newly-purchased cookery-book into the hands of her cook, she has not been ultimately disappointed. Not from excessive fastidiousness on her part, or from the want of goodwill in the cook, but because, in the majority of instances, the receipts and directions are only suited to those cooks who are well informed, and have had considerable .They are often the result of theoretical ingenuity, or the productions of those who know, but who cannot impart their knowledge to the uninformed. Theory and practice must be combined; and that combination put forth in such language, that while the lady will not object to read, the cook will be able to understand. The Authoress of the present work has, from various motives, sought opportunities, and from peculiar circumstances found them, of acquiring the receipts it contains. They are not all new to the Public, though many of them are, but they have all this recommendation — that they have been tested, and served on the table of the Authoress, under her direct supervision. Those dishes have passed the ordeal of fastidious and almost morbidly critical palates, and have come forth with approval. The materials suggested are reasonably economical, the quantities exact, and the directions plain. The words 'reasonably economical' are used advisedly, as it would be insulting to the understanding of sensible persons to state that inferior materials can be formed into superior dishes. In addition to the receipts on cookery, the Authoress has introduced a variety of other receipts and suggestions for the management of a house and servants. With regard to servants, it may be observed that many of them would be much better for the gentle but firm directions of a kind mistress. Experienced and skillful servants need no direction; but such are not always to be found; and when found, the rate of wages required by them would not be suitable to persons with a moderate income. A mistress, under such circumstances, if she would have a comfortable establishment, must be able, in some degree, to instruct her servants; without this, it is impossible that they, who have but little experience, can know the wants incident to a respectable family.
The necessity of doing what she advises, has been forced on the Authoress during a long life of much experience.
In order to moderate, in some degree, the difficulty of managing a household, these suggestions are made. If the Authoress has aided the young housewife, and smoothed the way in the difficulties of housekeeping, and in that essential to health and comfort, good cooking, her object has been attained.
It will be observed that the quantity of every ingredient used is carefully given, as well as the exact time required in cooking. Each receipt is perfect in itself, for it is found that reference to other receipts is, to the inexperienced, extremely perplexing. French terms are avoided.
It is right to add that the whole of the receipts have been successfully used, with the simple aid of an ordinary range, and the usual appliances found in the kitchen of a small establishment.
The author includes suggested menus for every day of the year for breakfast and dinner, as well as for ‘the kitchen’ – that is, the servants. For today, the menu is:
Potted shrimps, broiled ham, fried eggs, hot cake, honey.
Fillets of sole, with sweet herbs.
Irish stew, roast pigeons, sprouts.
Ground rice souffle. Cheese, &c.
Meat pudding, potatoes.
Naturally, the author gives recipes for the dishes suggested. For your breakfast delight, I give you her recipe for Potted Shrimps.
Take off the shells of two quarts of fresh-boiled shrimps ; season with the sixth part of a nutmeg, grated, two grains of cayenne, a saltspoonful of white pepper, and a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, dissolved. Press the shrimps into pots or a small pie-dish; pour over the top two ounces of dissolved butter. When firm they are fit for use. Another way, and sometimes preferred, is to pound the shrimps to a paste, add the seasoning, and finish as directed.