Monday, October 21, 2013

The Gentlewoman at Dinner.

Good manners, they say, are never out of style. In 1675, Hannah Woolley gave some advice about behavior at the dinner table in The Gentlewoman's Companion: or, A Guide to the Female Sex. See what you think about the relevance of the advice today:

Gentlewomen, the first thing you are to observe, is to keep your body strait in the Chair, and do not lean your Elbows on the Table. Discover not by any ravenous gesture your angry appetite; nor fix your eyes too greedily on the meat before you, as if you would devour more that way than your throat can swallow, or your stomach digest.
If you are invited abroad, presume not on the principal place at the Table, and seem to be perswaded with some difficulty to be seated, where your Inviter hath chosen in his opinion the most convenient place for you. Being a Guest, let not your hand be first in the Dish; and though the Mistess of the Feast may out of a Complement desire you to carve, yet beg her excuse, though you are better able to do it than her self.
In carving at your own Table, distribute the best pieces first, and it will appear very comely and decent to use a Fork; if so, touch no piece of meat without it.
I have been invited to Dinner, where I have seen the good Gentlewoman of the House sweat more in cutting up of a Fowl, than the Cookmaid in roasting it; and when she had soundly beliquor'd her joints, hath suckt her knuckles, and to work with them again in the Dish; at the sight whereof my belly hath been three quarters full, before I had swallowed one bit. Wherefore avoid clapping your fingers in your mouth and lick them, although you have burnt them with carving. Take these more especial Rules, according to the newest and best mode for Carving.
If Chicken-broth be the first dish, and you would help your principal Guest with a part of the Chicken, the best piece is the breast; the wings and legs are the next;; and of them, the general opinion of most is, That in all boil'd Fowl the legs are look'd on as chief.
As to all roasted Fowl, those which are curious in the indulging their pallats, do generally agree, that flying Wild-fowl are much tendered than Tam-fowl, and quicker of concoction; such as scratch the Earth, and seldom use the Wing, the Legs are to be preferr'd before any other part, the wings and breasts of wild-fowl are best.
The ordinary way of cutting-up a roast-fowl, is by dividing the four principal members, beginning first with the legs; and be not tedious in hitting the joynts, which you may avoid by well considering with your eye where they lye, before you exercise your knife.
The best piece to carve to the best in the company, oft the larger sort of Fowl, as Capons, Turkies, Geese, Duck, and Mallard, Pheasant, Dottril, Cock of the wood, etc. Is the piece on the breast, observing always to cut it long-ways towards the rump. But do not cut your Oranges long-ways, but cross.
Since in Butchers-meat there are few ignorant of the best pieces, it will be to little purpose to give you an account of them in this place;
for my design is to treat of that which is not commonly known: However, without deviating from my intention, take these remarks which follow.
In boiled or roasted Beef, that which is interlin'd or interlarded with fat, is most to be esteemed; and the short ribs being most sweet and tender, is to be preferred before any other.
Cut a Loin of Veal in the middle, and the present the Nut or Kidney as the best part in the whole Joint. Thrust your knife into a Leg of Mutton a considerable depth, above the handle, to let out the gravy; and begin to cut on the inside, as if you intended to split it; in the joint on the other side, is a little bone fit to be presented, and in great estimation among the Curious.
I heard of a Gentleman coming from hunting, and falling into a friend's house, complained he was extreamly hungry; the Mistris thereof replied, That she was very sorry she had nothing to accomodate him with but a cold Leg of Mutton. His appetite being very sharp, made him commend that Joint beyond any other; whereupon it was brough: But finding that choice bone remaining still untoucht, refused to eat a bit: Being demanded the reason, Madam, said he, the sharpness of my Stomach shall never make me feed uncleanly; for I am confident they must be Bores and Clown that first handled this leg of Mutton, or else their breeding would have taught them not to have left untoucht the choicst bit in the whole joint. I cannot but applaud the jest, but I must condemn the rudeness of the Gentleman.
A Shoulder of Mutton is to be cut semi circularly, between the handle and the slap; the Pope's eye (as it is commonly called) is a choice bit both in Leg and Shoulder.
In a roasted Pig, the dainty most approve the ears and divided jaws, the neck and middlepiece, by reason of the crackling. In Hares, Leverets, and Rabbets, the most esteemed (called the Huntsmans piece) is by the sides of the tail; and next to that, is the back, legs, and wings, improperly so termed.

Hannah’s book was not primarily a cook book, but it did contain a small number of recipes. Gentlewomen of the time were not expected to actually cook – they had hired servants to do that. They were however expected to have knowledge of home remedies, and to take an active part in their preparation.  The Gentlewoman’s Companion includes the following medicinal recipe, which also introduces us to a new (to this blog) ingredient-

China-broth for a Consumption.
Take two ounces of China-root sliced thin, and let it be steept twenty-four hours in fair water, let it stand warm all the time close covered in an Ear-then Pipkin; add thereunto a couple of Chickens or a Cockerel, cleanly dressed, to these put half an handful of Maiden- hair, the like quanity of five-leav'd grass and Harts-tongue; twenty sliced Dates, three or four blades of Mace, and the bottom of a Manchet; let all these stew together till there be but a quart of liquor left, then strain it and take all the flesh and bones, and beat them in a Stone-Morter, then strain out the juice into the aforesaid broth, then sweeten it with two ounces of powder'd Sugar-Candy. Take hereof half a pint in the morning warm, and sleep after it if you can; you will not do amiss to add two drams of white and red Sanders to steep with your Chicaroot.

China root is the root of Smilax china, a perennial deciduous climber originating in eastern Asia, and related to the original sarsaparilla plant (Smilax regelii ) The root, fruit and leaves are all edible, and it is popular in traditional Chinese medicine for a wide range of conditions. The fruit is said to be refreshingly thirst-quenching when eaten raw, the leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, and the starchy root can be dried, as in the recipe above.

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