I find myself extremely busy at present, and all out of pre-written posts, so for the next few days I must continue to let other writers do most of my work. Today it is the turn of a Mrs. Praga (‘A Careful Cook’,) the author of a most useful work called Dinners of the Day, (London, 1899.) The section I have chosen for you today is:
How to train a Cook.
In a past chapter I promised to give some hints as to the training of a raw cook. Now this task is in reality by no means as formidable as it sounds — provided always that the raw one be possessed of an average intelligence and ability. As to selection, if possible choose a country girl. No doubt just at first she will prove a little more raw than would her own-bred sister. Her accent may be broad, and your preliminary instructions will probably cause her to gape hugely. But what of that? She will not want an accent to cook with, and gaping does no harm, when it proceeds from wonderment and not from laziness. And one great virtue she will probably possess to start with. She will be able to roast a joint and cook a potato decently. Further, she will also be able to send up eggs and bacon which are eatable. Most country girls whom I have met with have possessed the above accomplishment, and hence my advice. Now, with a cook who can roast a joint well — really well, I mean — all things culinary are possible. This sounds a large order; but I write from experience, and have proved the truth of my words over and over again. If the second joint the raw cook sends up be in a semi-baked, half-raw condition, with the outside burnt to the semblance of a cinder, take my counsel, don’t attempt to train her, for your efforts will be fruitless. Pay her the modicum of silver due to her, and have done with her. Let her go her ways in peace, to make some other household dyspeptically unhappy. Anything she likes, only have none of her. You will notice that I said “if the second joint be spoilt.” My reason for doing so is that a first failure is always forgivable, since it may proceed from nervousness, natural enough in a young, untrained girl suddenly transplanted from her cottage home to a London situation, and with that, to her, terrible ordeal of the “first dinner” to get through somehow. Not so the second; therefore waste not good efforts on bad material.
However, we will suppose the newcomer has treated the first joint with the consideration due to it, thereby proving herself capable of better things in the future, when she shall have had the benefit of your teaching. Here let me lay down a few important rules for your guidance. To begin with, don’t overload her with instructions; commence by degrees — the simplest French dishes to start with. These pages are full of the recipes for such. Impress upon her that she must only use the exact quantities laid down therein. Provide her with a pair of scales and see that she uses them, and forbid her strictly to trust to “guess-work,” in any shape or form. Take care that she keeps a piece of clean soap and a separate hand-bowl for washing her hands after each dish is duly finished in its order; also a half of squeezed-out lemon wherewith to rub over her fingers when she has handled or peeled onions, shallots, or leeks. Vanilla pastry or strawberry tartlets are not improved by a soupçon of “oniony” flavouring. If she insists upon that most ungraceful badge of middle-class servantism, a profusely-curled fringe, tell her it must be pinned back when cooking operations are in progress. Go down each morning, look carefully through her pantries and store cupboards, and note that they are kept scrupulously clean. Provide her with a saucepan-stand of red enamelled iron (these are obtainable at any big ironmonger’s and only cost 5s. 6d. each), have it kept in the scullery, if there is one — if not, then in a corner of the kitchen. See that all the saucepans in their graduated sizes are duly ranged upon it. And when you are on your morning tour of inspection, look in each of the saucepans and observe that they have been properly cleaned. The lids must not be kept upon them, but must be ranged neatly upon a shelf, and polished once a week. Such a stand as I have advised is a most useful article and serves a twofold purpose, for it enables the mistress to see at a moment’s glance if all the stew-pans, etc., are kept in a properly clean condition, and it does away with that pet abomination, the potboard, the corners of which were so convenient for the hiding of dirty saucepans, which cook “hadn’t time” (that is, was too lazy) to clean.
One word more respecting saucepans. Never allow the cook under any pretext, no matter how tired she may be after a dinner-party, or how late the hour, to go to bed and leave even a single saucepan dirty. No doubt this seems a hard rule to enforce, and partakes rather of the nature of slave-driving; but, believe me, it is a good and salutary one, and your cook, when trained, will thank you for your discipline of cleanliness. It is a rule I myself enforce strictly; if disobeyed, well, there is a row next morning: for I have known that solitary neglected saucepan lead to, oh! such dirty habits — frying-pans put away with half-cold fat in them and left till next required, and a host of other minor evils, too numerous to mention in detail. Now such a visite d’inspection as I have described takes scarcely half a dozen minutes, and does away with these innumerable small negligences on the part of the cook. Punctuality is another great virtue you should endeavour to inculcate your budding female Valentin with. But in many houses, notably those of professional men, it is often a virtue that the master, by reason of the exigencies of his business, finds it impossible to practise. Should this be the case in your own special household, and you find yourselves really unable to sit down to a meal at its appointed time, why then, teach your cook the all-important art of keeping things hot. Now I do not mean, by hot, shrivelled up, uneatable. I mean hot and palatable. This is by no means difficult if proper care and attention is given to the various dishes when once they are cooked. Further, if unpunctuality is the order of the day in your ménage,
you should yourself aid your cook by selecting for the daily menu those dishes that will “ keep” best. You must eschew roast joints and poultry, and, as far as possible, such things as fritters of various descriptions; choosing instead from among the many recipes for ragouts, curries, braises, vegetables cooked à la creme, and steamed puddings which are given in great variety in this book. All these things rather improve than deteriorate by prolonged cooking. And in them, oh, forcedly unpunctual housewife, lies your culinary salvation.
Finally, and most important rule of all, never do your cook’s work for her, no matter what errors your raw chef may make. Correct her faults, and see that she duly rectifies them; and she will learn by and from every mistake she has made; but never under any consideration, save that of illness, do the actual work yourself. If you do, you will not only never succeed in training her to a satisfactory degree of efficiency, but you will, in all probability, sacrifice the respect all servants should feel for their mistress. When I speak of work, I do not, of course, mean such trifles as the flavouring or making of a specially difficult dish or series of dishes upon the occasion of a dinner-party or little fête of any kind, since these are things that a careful housewife and mistress should undoubtedly see to herself if she wishes to train her handmaiden successfully; indeed, it is a good plan to give the cook a first lesson in a new plat by doing it from the commencement before her, and seeing that she watches with due care and attention. By work I mean the ordinary everyday routine of her duties. Write these out clearly and concisely for her upon a piece of cardboard, and nail it behind the kitchen door ; then, if she follows out your orders, there will be no need for her to complain that she is “rushed,” save upon some all-important occasion, such as a dinner or supper party, when extra help should always be allowed. After all, you pay her a reasonable wage to do your work; therefore, why lower yourself in her estimation by paying her money for labour you afterwards carry out with your own hands? Better by far save your purse and do without such so-called help, or adopt the more sensible plan. Further, when engaging her, make her fully understand that if her work is not performed to your full satisfaction she will be cautioned twice, but not a third time, and that repeated faults of any description will entail dismissal.
It seems that the conversion of a raw country girl into a cook capable of preparing French-style dishes for dinner-parties was a great skill in itself! The chapter does continue with more advice about teaching the raw girl about specific culinary skills, but these will have to wait until another day. There are other fascinating chapters too, on such things as Emergency Meals, Seaside Cookery, and The Gentle Art of Shopping, and I feel sure I will also share some of these with you in the future.
As the recipe for the day, I give you from the book, a nice steamed pudding, which should keep nicely hot for a while, if the man of the house is running late for dinner.
Take four ounces each of breadcrumbs, chopped apples, brown sugar, and finely chopped suet, mix well together; then add the yolks and whites of two eggs, whisked separately, three large spoonfuls of golden syrup, a gill of milk, and a little grated lemon-peel. Fill a buttered mould with this mixture, and steam for two hours. Serve with wine sauce.