Tuesday, 20 January 2015

4 January 1902 - 'The White House Class' by Lina Orman Cooper - Chapter 4

A Victorian curry. Look, I don't condone everything here, I just transcribe it, all right?

Having had two “sweet mornings”, or rather two mornings devoted to sweet things, Miss Benson thought a lesson in savoury cooking would not come amiss.  Mr Merton, in fact, had gone out of his way in order to call at the White House and ask Miss Benson to teach his daughters how to cook a curry.

“Having been in India so long,” he explained, “I am devoted to curry.  No, my liver is not out of order, Miss Benson, but my life is incomplete without that spicy and toothsome mixture on my table occasionally.  It is true, my wife gives me a yellowy, pallid compound, which she calls curry!  But it is nothing like unto the crisp, browny, golden mixture I used to get in Bengal.”

“Well, I think I can give your daughters instruction on that point,” answered Miss Benson, smiling.  “I myself learned from a shivering Bengalese in London many years ago.  He came to my mother’s house one bitter wintry day clad in his national costume.  No, not in a neat postage stamp and a necklace, Mr Merton, but swathed in snow-white muslin.  The poor fellow was such an object of compassion, that my people took him in, until they could communicate with the proper officials interested in such stray Orientals.  In gratitude, Mooza taught my sister and me how to make his national dish.  I never eat a curry now in any house but my own.  For what professes to be such is but a feeble imitation. 

Mr Merton was full of thanks.

“And don’t forget the rice,” he whispered, as he took his way down the white steps.  “For goodness’ sake, Miss Benson, don’t forget the rice!”

So on the fourth morning, the round spice-box, full of every kind of dry pod and bean which can be used, stood on the kitchen dresser when the three young maidens arrived for their weekly instruction. 

“Condiments, my dear girls,” began Miss Benson, in her most pedagogic manner, “are rather adjuncts to food than foods themselves.  In fact they may be said to be medicines more than foods.  Yet they are extremely valuable in rendering food more palatable, stimulating a jaded appetite, supplying a necessary substance, and assisting in the preservation of food.  Your father was here yesterday, and though he did not pl illness, or complain of a jaded appetite, he did ask me to teach you all how to make him a savoury curry such as his soul loves.  Lucilla, Linda and Eva, you are this day to make a curry succulent enough to melt in the mouth, hot enough to tickle the palate, soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, and crisp enough not to be a hash!”

Miss Benson was evidently in good form this morning.  Lucilla kissed the white brow which was so often wrinkled with pain, and looked lovingly at the thin cheeks.

“Yes,” replied Miss Benson to the unspoke sympathy, “I am feeling better than usual.  So you girls will have to look extra spry if you want to please me.  I am all anxiety to turn out a first class curry.”

On the table the girls saw some raw beef cut up into dice, some cooked vegetables left from last night’s dinner, a bottle of powder, and onions.

“First and foremost, Linda, those onions must be cut into rings.  I have some compassion on your eyes, dears, so I asked cook to peel them for you.  That is right, Linda, I want a good pile.  Now, Eva, melt in a stew pan a lump of good dripping or butter; when it boils, and it only does this when all bubbling has ceased, pour in your rings and let them fry.  You may let them, indeed, look quite a dark colour and feel quite crisp before you remove them from the fire.  Linda, if you peel a couple of potatoes with the knife you have used in slicing the onions, all unpleasant odour will be eradicated.  Now, Lucilla, dredge over the meat and vegetables with flour out of its dredger.  Don’t be satisfied with a sprinkling, but see that every part is well covered with a white veil.  Eva, whilst the onions are frying, mix a tablespoonful of curry-powder with a breakfastcupful of milk.  It I had been able to get butter-milk or thick sour cream it would be even better.  Mix thoroughly and take out every lump with the back of a spoon.  Pour it into the pan.  When it boils up, Linda, must put the meat in.  There, that will do, but as we have had to use sweet milk, Lucilla, please squeeze a lemon over the meat, and see that the sauce covers it completely.  That is the foundation of all curries; but we must add much more if we want really a good one.  I see an apple on the dresser, slice that in, and are not those green gooseberries in that basket?  Top and tail a handful, little Eva, they can go in too.  Is there anything else?  Yes, that bottle of chutney is nearly empty and its contents too dry to use.  Pop it in – the chutney, not the bottle, I mean.  Now give it one or two ‘rakes’ with a folk, Lucilla, and if it’s bubbling draw it away from the open ring and leave it to cook at the side of the range.  The lid is well down, isn’t it, Linda?  Doesn’t fit properly?  Oh, then we had better dispense with it altogether!  Our object will be to keep in all the steam which may arise; so put a plate over the compound, Lucilla, it will act splendidly.”

“But when will the curry be ready, Miss Benson?  It is scarcely cooking at all at the side of the range.”

“It will not be ready till eight o’clock dinner,” explained Miss Benson, “by that time every ingredient will be undistinguishable.  It will be a golden brown mass of soft stuff, most toothsome and most appetising.  Never be in a hurry with curry.  It is always better after twelve hours’ cooking.”

“Do you always make your curries of fresh meat, Miss Benson?” quoth  Lucilla the prudent.  “Mother says she uses up all the cold meat and scraps in one.”

“Your mother is quite right, Lucilla, as she always is.  For I hope your motto is the same as I had when a girl – ‘What mother says is so – Is so, even if it isn’t so.’  Curies may be made of any scraps at hand.  It’s in the mixing and the cooking that success hangs; but, of course, a curry made of fresh meat or fowl is better than one made of dry, cold mutton or any reheated stuff.  As I wanted your father to have a really good one, I have been extravagant enough today to use fresh butcher’s beef.”

“Now for the rice!” exclaimed Lucilla.  “That is a more fearsome mystery than the curry even.”

“It is less seldom met with properly cooked,” answered the old lady.  “Let us try our ‘prentice hands anyway.”

So, according to directions, a quarter of a pound of Patna rice was well washed in clean cold water, every disfiguring dark grain being ruthlessly picked out.  It was then put  into a large saucepan of madly boiling water.

“A large saucepan is a sine qua non for cooking rice,” explained Miss Benson.  “There must be room for each separate grain to whirl about in the water.  If you put rice into a little water, it will absorb it, and become a glutinous pulpy mass.  If there be sufficient water that is impossible.  Keep it boiling quickly for fifteen minutes; at the end of that time try a grain between finger and thumb; if there still be a ‘bone’ in it, give another minute’s boiling.  Then strain quickly, pour cold water through it, and after covering the rice with a dry clean cloth, put the sieve and it into an oven, and serve when every grain is distinct.”

“Is there much difference between the different kinds of rice we see in the grocer?” queried Linda, who was particularly fond of the delicious little grain.

“There is a great difference in price and some difference in appearance, Linda,” answered Miss Benson; “but there is not much difference in their nutritive qualities.  The large-grained Patna rice at threepence a pound is quite indispensable for cooking with curries.  It is so white and firm; but the smaller grains at twopence a pound do well enough for milk puddings, etc.  The cheaper kinds, and there are cheaper, must be I think the sweeping of grocers’ shops, and to be avoided.  It is wonderful how we are able to get rice at even threepence a pound, which is the top price in the market, when one thinks that it is an entirely tropical or sub-tropical production, and the long way it has to travel to reach us.  We ought never to grudge the price.  Rice requires much moisture and germinates best in marshy surroundings.  For this reason the paddy fields of India and the cultivated portions of the Nile banks grow the finest kinds.  There is not much nutriment in rice myself, though from the earliest records it has formed the staple food of the great masses of population in both India and China.  One has only to read of the way in which Death mows down his millions in those countries whenever an epidemic breaks out, to see how little stamina the people possess.  It is the additions we make to it that makes rice wholesome.  In India it is the ‘ghee’ or rancid butter, they mix with their daily dole, which sustains life.  In this country the milk and sugar we usually cook it with is what makes it valuable.”

“Can anything be done with this plain-water boiled rice when there is any over?” queried economical Lucilla, looking at the pile of snowy grain left on the sieve after being boiled.

“One nice way of eating it is to add cold milk and aw sugar to it and eat it thus.  As a child I delighted in this mixture, and every other child I have ever given it to does the same; but, as a rule, rice is not worth heating up twice.  You can soon tell how much you  need to cook.  Usually far too much is put into saucepan or pudding.  Amateurs forget how much rice swells, one teaspoonful to half a pint of milk is quite sufficient for the milk-rice so much used.  Skim milk will make this, if you replace the abstracted cream with a bit of finely-chopped suet.  This suet is better than butter in giving a thin yellowy-brown skin to the baked pudding.  It never tastes as strongly as does cooking butter, and it is more wholesome to weakly digestions.  You know suet boiled in milk is largely given to consumptives as a fattening, sustaining, heat-giving food.”

The curry prepared that morning at the White House appeared at the dinner table of Mr Merton that same night.  It was of a dark-brown complexion, and encircled with a high wall of dainty grains of white rice.  N.B. – This was freshly boiled, the trio of cooks having demolished the first-made pile with sugar and milk before they left Miss Benson’s kitchen.  In addition to the curry was a small glass pot of hastily-made chutney.  I append the recipe for the same. 

A handful of sultana raisins well cleaned and finely chopped, a few small chillies treated in the same way, a handful of fresh green mint chopped and pounded, and a fistful of raw brown sugar.  All these ingredients pounded together in a mortar and moistened with a few drops of tarragon vinegar.

“The very nicest chutney I ever tasted,” decided Mr Merton, the connoisseur, as he helped himself for a third time.  “More power to your elbows, girls, and may your shadows never grow less!”

Monday, 12 January 2015

21 December 1901 - 'The White House Class' by Lina Orman Cooper - Chapter 3

Today, sponge cake and a delicious-sounding apricot gateaux.


Miss Benson was a wise woman.  She did not wish to make the weekly classes at White House too severely scientific.  So, on the third morning on which the young Mertons came up her spotless hite steps, and into her pretty, comfortable kitchen, they found a variety of tempting ingredients laid out on the table in the window.  There were currants and spices, and sultanas and sugar, and flour and baking-powder, and butter and jam.  The fire too was alight, and nothing but one of the most interesting of processes to be gone through.


“I am going to have a tea-party tonight.  I want a sponge cake, voila tout!” explained the old lady, with a sweep of her hands.


“But how are we to make it, please?” quoth the proud Lucilla humbly.  “I haven’t the faintest idea!”


“What ingredients do you suppose you will want?” queried Miss  Benson.


“Flour, of course,” answered all three.


“Butter as well,” added Lucilla.


“Eggs,” said Eva.


“Milk,” supplemented Linda. 


“Eggs certainly,” assented Miss Benson.  “And maybe a very little flour.  But no milk and no butter.  Sponge cake is one of the easiest of cakes to make.  It is also one of the least expensive.  On the other hand it takes the most time and requires a good deal of elbow grease.  Now, Lucilla, take two eggs and their weight in flour.  Put the latter in a basin, and whilst you are breaking up six more eggs, Linda must sift the flour carefully.  My last cook broke my sifting wheel, Linda; but pass the flour carefully through that tiny wire sieve and it will do as well.  Now, Lucilla, break each egg separately.  This is always necessary if eggs are bought in a shop.  It is unnecessary if they are home laid.  AS you see that the white of each is clear, you may add it to the ones already broken.  There, that will do.  Now, with a spoon, Lucilla, remove these little white specks and threads attached to so many yolks.  If you forget to do this, the cake may taste strongly and will be heavy too.  Now, whisk with that wire erection.  It cost eightpence, and is better than any double fork.  Nay, child, but you have to whip for twenty minutes, and if you do it from the shoulder you will never last out!  Whisk with the wrist, as I show you – what a mercy I have the use of my hands, isn’t it?  Now, take a quarter of a  pound of sifted sugar, and add it to your eggs.  Go on whisking all the time.  I see that the mixture is more like milk than cream, so we must add the flour Linda has already prepared.  If you were expert enough at whisking, this would not be necessary.  Now squeeze half a lemon into the cream.”


Poor Lucilla went on labouring at the beating, whilst Eva was directed to put a walnut of butter into a round cake pan.


“Melt it, and then sift over some white sugar, turning the tin in all directions as you do so in order that it may be coated with the oleaginous compound.  This little addition is the secret whereby confectioners manage to give their sponges the syrupy, frosty appearance so taking, and apparently unattainable by an ordinary amateur.  The oven must be hot.  Put a crumb of bread in it, Linda.  Is it brown at once?  Then the oven is hot enough.  Now pour the cream into the pan, Lucilla, as quickly and deftly as possible.  Cover the face with a sheet of tissue paper, and put at once into the oven.  Don’t attempt to look at it for ten minutes, girls.  At the end of that time it will have risen as much as it will ever do, a /heat must be moderated in order to cook it thoroughly all through."


All three girls were intensely delighted at the result of this morning’s work.  Their cake emerged from the oven in first-rate condition.  Though the cream had only half filled its tin when introduced to its fiery ordeal, it was a couple of inches above the top of the rim when finished.  Loosening it with a knife from its surroundings, it slid out freely and satisfactorily without leaving any morsels of ragged sponge behind it.  Then it was set on a sieve to cool.


“If it we lay it on a flat surface like a plate,” explained Miss Benson, “it would become moist and heavy with the condensation of steam.  On a sieve it dries evenly and completely, and even its bottom layer will be as crisp as its crown.”


So it was.  And great was Mrs Merton’s satisfaction when she eat a bit of the first cake made by her daughters’ hands.


Not to be prolix, I will say that this sponge mixture may be used in many different ways.  It can be poured into patty-pans and made into spongelets.  It can be spread out evenly on the tin top of an ordinary biscuit box, then cut in two, sandwiched with jam, and so made into swiss roll.  It can, par excellence, be made into apricot shape.  As this is a famous supper dish of Miss Benson’s, I will tell you how she prepared it.


After making and baking a square sponge cake after the above plan, she caused the girls to scoop out its crumb as far as possible.  This was done with the point of a knife.  Then this hollow was filled with apricot mixture and covered with apricot glaze.  To prepare the latter, she soaked a quarter of an ounce of sheet gelatine in about two tablespoonfuls of water.  In order to do this, it was set over gentle heat in a small saucepan.  As soon as it was melted, two tablespoonfuls of apricot jam was added to it.  If too thick to run nicely when dropped from a spoon (and gelatine rather varies in strength) a little syrup from an open tin of apricots was added to it. This glaze was then poured over the sponge casing, which rested on a tin, through a fine wire-sieve.  This enabled any glaze which ran down the sides to be pasted up again with the back of a spoon.  That left over finally was taken up and poured into the centre of the casing.


Then two whites of egg were beaten up as stiffly as possible with a flat wire-netting spoon.  Two and a half ounces of sugar were added to the froth and mixed up in it.  This compound was next forced through a paper bag (the pattern for which I gave in a recent number of the “G.O.P.”) on to the sponge.  It was sprinkled with sugar.


“Never forget this sprinkling,” directed Miss Benson, when she was teaching her class this particular recipe.  “If you do, the meringue will entirely lose its crispness and character.”


It was set in an oven for five or six minutes, taken out and let cool. Then, lastly, the centre of the apricot gateau was filled up with good tinned apricots. 


“Would fresh fruit do as well, Miss Benson?” queried Lucilla, as she piled up the apricots.  “Mother has a great prejudice against our eating any tinned things, and we would like our share of this delicious dish.”


“To be sure,” answered the old lady.  “Any fresh fruit would do as well.  Strawberries might be slightly mawkish, but raspberries would not be too sweet to use, or stewed apples.  There, it is done now, girls; but it looks a little dry.  So put away the syrup out of the tin, and I will tell cook to add a little to the cake before bringing it to the table.  This must be done at the last moment, or it would soak into the sponge casing and make it sodden.  But, for gracious, Linda, don’t leave the juice in the tin!  Pour it into a cup or bowl.  No wonder your mother objects to your eating canned things, if that is the way you manage them.  Never leave any contents of a tin in its former receptacle when once opened; that is what causes the few cases of poisonings we hear of.  If it be fruit, an acid will be formed which is highly injurious.  Why, even potted meat should never be left in the tin in which it is bought!  It should be scraped out and put into a china pot.  I have them of all sizes with tight-fitting covers.  By using such, all dangers of ptomaine poison is avoided.”


As Mr Ruskin’s definition of cookery included a knowledge of fruits, Miss Benson told her class a little about the process of preserving fruits in a tin.


“I was for awhile in California,” she said, and the girls set themselves to listen as to an interesting tale, “and saw several canneries at work.  All prejudice on the matter was taken from my mind at seeing the way in which peaches and apricots were treated.  Warm and luscious they were brought from out of the hot sunshine into the cool depths of the store.  They were always carefully covered with layers of their own glossy oval leaves.  Then each downy, orange-brown skin was looked at, and if bruised in any way, that particular specimen was tossed aside into a large basket and sent away to feed the pigs; if whole and sound, the fruit was laid on a stone slab, and with one sweep of a sharp knife detached from its stone.  Some of the kernels were bitter, others sweet; when this last was the case the kernel was added to the quartered fruit and put into the tin with it.  Syrup was then poured over all, and the air being expelled by artificial means, it was soldered down.  Now, besides the care exercised in choosing only sound apricots, the tins were subjected to strict scrutiny before being used.  It is almost impossible to say how quick and deft the packers were in discerning any flaw in them.  Thousands of tins are passed through a store in the season, but quite as many are rejected as being unsuitable."


“Does the apricot tree flourish in all parts of the world, Miss Benson?” queried Linda.


“I do not know,” replied the old lady frankly, “but it is not indigenous to England, though it flourishes so well on a south wall in our cold island.  It was introduced only in the time of Henry VIII.  The agent was his own gardener named Weolf, and this man brought it from Italy.  The fruit was, however, well known to the Greeks and the Romans, so its antiquity is great.”


“It is rather hard sometimes to tell an apricot from a peach,” quoth Lucilla thoughtfully.  “Do they belong to the same family, Miss Benson?”


“No,” answered the old lady, who seemed to have such knowledge at her finger-ends.  “The peach is of the genus almond and of the natural order Rosaceae, whereas the apricot belongs to the plum family.  Nectarines are a tender variety of the peach, with a smooth instead of a hairy skin, but apricots are quite distinct.  I suppose you know that the tiny bottles of bitter almond flavouring are distilled from peach stones and from the pulp of the bruises leaves.  It is a deadly poison.”


“Why do we so seldom come across canned plums?” queried Eva, whose special favourite was the above mentioned stone fruit.


“There is no need to tin plums when we can procure them so easily in a dried form,” answered Miss Benson.  “Heavy pressure to extract moisture, and a thorough drying in a southern sun is enough to preserve this fruit to us.  If prunes be properly cooked, they are almost equal to fresh plums, and their mecicinal properties are too well known for me to enlarge on them.”


“I suppose it is incorrect cooking that makes the stewed prunes one is so often given, like nothing but hard skin and stone,” went on Eva.  “How do you cook them, Miss Benson?”


“Just gently stewing them,” said the old lady.  “But the secret is not so much to soak as to plump them,  by pouring over them boiling water.  The prunes, if treated in this way, and dried figs too, will ‘swell wisible’ like Mr Guppy.  Then they must be stewed in a prepared syrup until tender.  Taken as a laxative they are invaluable.  But if given to very young children the skins should be passed through a wire-sieve and reduced to pulp, or the results may be disastrous.”


Here the kitchen clock struck a sonorous twelve, and the class had to adjourn.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

2 November 1901 - 'The White House Class' by Lina Orman Cooper - Chapter 2

How to light a fire, a brief foray into social justice and the manufacture of matches, cooking methods and the question of ethical vegetarianism. 

A love of cookery, or rather, of cooking, is born in all children.  From their earliest years they will make sand or mud pies, turn puddings out of buckets on the shore, or make feasts in winkles and cockle shells.  Who does not remember the toffee of childhood boiled only on snowy days and as hard as the nether millstone?  Who does not recall the tallow, crimson drops evolved by application of a sugary lump to a smoking candle?  Who does not recall the delight of snow pancakes and even of those wonderful flat loaves made from courtcards?  Who does not love doughy pigs with currant eyes, or pastry mice with tender tails?

Yet how few of the maidens who esteemed an hour in the kitchen as the greatest pleasure of all their pleasurable childhood carry out this love into intelligent interest and manipulation in other years?  Miss Benson had not been in error when she said that the three young Mertons would look upon the classes as a grand bit of fun.  They came in sparkling and dimpling and bursting with eagerness.  For the first morning their instructress let them work their own sweet will, “Just to let them know their own ignorance,” as she said.  When this was manifested by a pile of burnt pies and sodden cakes, she raised their spirits by telling them that she would see they made no mistakes in future.

“Listen to what I say and follow what I say, and you will be successful.”  And successful they were in the end, though inaccuracy and carelessness and inattention spoiled many a dish even after they had set themselves to learn in real earnest.

As Miss Benson’s classes were no formal ones, so no formal sequence of proceedings marked them.  Just as was convenient she taught them various things, so my readers must not wonder if the lessons hopped from pastry to turnips and from soups to sweets.

“The first thing a cook must learn is how to lay and light a fire,” said Miss Benson, as her small class came in the next day.  “I have not allowed cook to do mine this morning so that you might have a chance.  Coal, sticks, and paper are the articles wanted.  Rake out every bit of dust and cinder.  Your fire requires air to breathe just as much as your lungs do.  Now put a few of the larger cinders at the bottom.  On them place a handful of sticks.  No, not in a bunch like that, Linda!  Build them up as you would do bricks.  You have in your hand a bundle of prepared kindling twigs.  Each end has been dipped in resin, as you see, to make it catch easily.  A bundle costs one halfpenny, and half a bundle should be sufficient to light up a big range fire quickly.  If speed be not an object the bundle can be made to light three fires, and it should be expected to do so, when used in the parlour or bedroom.  For one penny, therefore, you have sufficient kindling material for three fires.  Remember this when you have servants of your own, my dears.”

“But when wood is so cheap, is there any need to be so particular?” inquired Lucilla, with her most grande-dame air.  “It hardly seems worth while, does it?”

“My dear child,” said Miss Benson, you have evidently never mastered the first principles of economics!  A wise man has said, ‘Political economy consists in spending a pound to save a penny.  Household economy consists in spending a penny to save a pound’.  This is true, and every penny saved is a penny gained.  I will not bid you add up the amount to credit if you save just one farthing in firewood per diem!  Such statistics are futile to most folk!  But I will demonstrate truth in another way.  The heap of firewood in that corner beside you cost sixpence.  There are twelve bundles.  Take a third from each bundle, and you will lose four bundles at once!  That is, that you waste twopence out of every sixpence, or nearly seven shillings out of every pound!”

Lucilla looked convinced.  It was all as clear as day when Miss Benson put it that way!

“Now use that wire shovel beside you for taking up each bit of cinder.  Heap it on the wood, and intersperse it with lumps of round coal.  Not large ones, Linda!  Just the smallest in the bucket.  There!  Your fire is alight!”

“But you use expensive matches, I see, Miss Benson,” quoth Lucille, remembering the little lecture on saving she had just been given.

“Yes, my dear, for two reasons!  One is that common Swedish matches at fourpence a dozen are apt to catch fire when not wanted.  Only the other night a child came in to me with her hand badly scorched by a box of these cheap things exploding in it!  Extracting one match is often sufficient to cause the whole box to ignite.  The second reason is that most match-making is a most fatal trade.  By improper sanitary precautions the match-makers of England suffer from a most terrible and fatal disease called ‘Phosphorous jaw’.  Manufacturers know that unless certain precautions are taken this dreadful disease is sure to attack those who engage in it.  If these precautions are taken, it makes match-making a more expensive process than if they are given out to be made at home.  For this reason I always use the matches made by the Salvation Army.  These are made under healthy and safe conditions.  And I believe Bryant and May are careful about their employees too, and their matches are very well made!”

“Then we should all use safety matches from unselfish as well as selfish motives,” remarked Lucilla.  “I have only heard the cheap ones condemned because they are unsafe.”

“That is the reason usually given, because folks have not looked into the matter,” said Miss Benson earnestly.  “But my reason is, as I have told you, because in safety matches, which are said to light only on the box, the head of the match contains no phosphorus as do those of ordinary make.  They are tipped with a mixture of chlorate of potash and sulphide of antimony.  These are comparatively harmless chemicals.”

Linda, whilst the talk had been going on, had the fire well laid and blazing.  Miss Benson bid her carry away all refuse and, when the first blaze was a little over, she was directed to add more coal. 

“As Mr Ruskin says a knowledge of cookery includes many other things, I must give you a little lecture about coal, I suppose,” sighed Miss Benson, for her class was eager to get “forrard”.  “I wonder which of you girls can tell me to what kingdom it belongs.”

“As it is dug out of the ground, I suppose to the mineral,” quoth all three at once.

But the old lady shook her head.

“To the vegetable, my dears!  Coal is of vegetable origin.  It is, indeed, the remains of vast forests which grew in the carboniferous period!  There is a long word for you, little Eva!  Wherever coal is now found was once, ages and ages ago, vast swampy forests, in which grew gigantic trees.  These forests subsided beneath the sea, and the accumulated vegetable matter was covered with a layer of sand.  The wet vegetable matter underwent slow decomposition, and consequently became richer and richer in carbon.  Our ordinary household contains, I believe, on an average about 88 per cent of carbon.  That is why it fizzes in little jets and gives out such a cheery flame.  Another form of true economy, Lucilla, is connected with coal.  The cheapest is never the cheapest in the long run!  Good, hard, clean coal is far less wasteful in use than cheap, soft stuff.  It burns itself and does not leave behind clinkers and cinders and ash.  I save the proverbial pound by spending the proverbial penny in this matter.”

The kind of fire necessary to our different processes of cooking were next dwelt upon.  For roasting, Miss Benson said, a clear hot fire was called for.  This could be secured by having the front surface built up of lumps and kept in place by a background of damp slack.

“In large kitchens,” she said, “the fireplaces are built very shallow.  At King’s College, Cambridge, where the kitchens are almost as beautiful as the Chapel, long grates measuring only about three inches in depth are found.  These give a large surface and very little background.  Spits hang before these long gratings, and food is cooked in the most digestible way.  In roasting, our object must be to seal up the juices of the meat in a kind of envelope.  Hence we hang a joint as near the fire as we can.  Intense heat freezes the surface, to use a Hibernianism.  After a time the meat is drawn backwards and basting begins.  This keeps the inside moist and helps to make the envelope crisp.  The rule for roasting is, twenty minutes before the hottest part of a fire to begin with; then twenty minutes to each pound at a reasonable distance from the same.

“For baking we need much the same kind of fire, but it must be as fierce at the back as in front, otherwise our oven will not heat.  This fire must be kept at the same heat all the time the oven is required.  Regulation of it must take place by letting in air to the oven and letting out fair from it.  Twenty minutes to each pound is again the rule for all meat cookery in an oven.  Roasting and baking may be called the aristocratic branches of heating.  The poor must be content with boiling and stewing – indeed so must the dyspeptics!  No way is meat so digestible as when stewed.  By stewing I mean extracting the juices and goodness of meat by slow boiling.  French people seldom cook in any other way, and in stewing, inferior or, I would rather say, less expensive parts of a carcass can be used.  Really inferior meat is never economical.  Go to the best butcher in the town, is my advice.  If you cannot afford to buy the best joints buy the cheaper ones.  But by dealing with an honest well-to-do man you are sure of getting good value for money, and of getting even the less tasty part of meat of good quality.  It is the duty of a cook to so present these inferior parts that they may be just as nourishing and toothsome as the superior ones.  A good cook in this way is a most economical thing.  I pity housewives who have to put up with a ‘slavey’ at six pound a year.  She will waste more thorough ignorance than one realises.  If you cannot have a good trained cook, girls, then do the cooking yourselves!  So much depends on the kitchen in a modern household – health and spirits and brain and cheerfulness!”

Miss Benson had apparently forgotten the last branch of cookery.  Lucilla reminded her she had said nothing about boiling. 

“For boiling,” amended the old lady, “you need a gentle heat.  For what is called boiling a joint is not boiling at all – or certainly not beyond the first two minutes.  Here again our object must be to produce an envelope capable of resisting the action of hot water.  This we obtain by plunging the leg or shoulder or chicken into a pot of madly bubbling water.  Introduction of the said shoulder, etc., immediately stops boiling.  But let the pot come up to a bubble again and you will have sealed the pores of the meat, and can depend on juices being retained until it is cut at table.  All delicate-looking white-complexioned meat is produced by not attending to this rule.  And then not only is the meat tasteless but its most nourishing properties have been left behind in the pot from which it was lifted.  That contains the essence, as it were, extracted by the process of stewing.”

“Mother told me to ask you, Miss Benson, if New Zealand frozen meat is as nourishing as English-fed animals?  It is so much cheaper, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” replied Miss Benson.  “It may be prejudice but I must confess I prefer nice English mutton to any which has come over the sea.  New Zealand lamb, however, and American beef are much in vogue now.  It depends entirely on how long they are cooked whether they are as nourishing as English produce.  In some ways I rejoice at the introduction of ice chambers and refrigerators.  It has done away with much of the dreadful trade of shipping living animals for consumption in our little island.  It makes one inclined to forswear all animal food to read of the torments inflicted on poor brutes during the passage, say, from Ireland to England, or from Normandy to us.”

“Do you, then, approve of vegetarianism?” queried Eva with wide-open eyes.

“Yes, in many ways,” answered Miss Benson.  “But for ourselves I believe our cold climate calls for use of animal food in moderation.  We eat far too much as a rule, little Eva.  If milk and eggs could be procured as cheaply and easily as flesh, I think our artisan population might be largely benefited by using them more generously.  I am sure our ‘upper suckles’ would benefit largely by knocking off half their daily meat allowance.”

By this time the hour was up.  Miss Benson and her two pupils looked ruefully at the clock.

“We have done absolutely no cooking this morning,” urged the trio.  “Can’t we go on for awhile?”  But Miss Benson shook her head.

“I perceive these classes will be as diffuse as Mr Ruskin could wish!” she said.  “But one hour is quite enough, my dears, both for teacher and for taught.  Next week, I promise you, you shall do some real cooking.  But you will have to light the fire first, remember.”

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

19 October 1901 - 'Pixie O'Shaughnessy' by Mrs George de Horne Vaizey - Chapter 3




Major O'Shaughnessy and his little daughter reached London on the following afternoon, after a comfortable and unadventurous journey.  Pixie had howled dismally all the way to the station, but had dried her eyes at the sight of the train, and brightened into the most hilarious spirits on boarding the steamer.  She ate an enormous dinner of the richest and most indigestible dishes on the menu, slept peacefully through a stormy passage, and was up on deck conversing affably with the men who were washing down, long before her father had nerved himself to think of dressing.  The journey to London was a more or less disappointing experience, for if she had not known to the contrary, she was not at all sure that she would have recognised that she was in a strange land.  What she had expected, it was impossible to say, but that England should bear so close a resemblance to her beloved land seemed another “insult to Ireland” as Pat would have had it, and that it should in some respects look better, more prosperous and orderly, this was indeed a bitter pill to swallow.  As the train neared London, and other passengers came in and out of the carriage, Major O'Shaughnessy became conscious for the first time what a dusty, dishevelled little mortal he was about to introduce to an English school.  He was not noticing where his children were concerned, and moreover his eye had grown accustomed to the home surroundings, but the contrast between these trim strangers and his own daughter was too striking to be overlooked. 

Pixie had wriggled about until her frock was a mass of creases, her hat was grey with dust, and she had apparently forgotten to brush her hair before leaving her cabin.  The Major was too easy-going to feel any distress at this reflection.  He merely remarked to himself whimsically that “the piccaninny would astonish them”, meaning the companions to whom she was about to be introduced, and decided then and there to take her straight to her destination.  This had been the only point upon which he and his young daughter had been at variance, for from the start Pixie had laid down as her idea of what was right and proper that her father should take her for the night to “a grand hotel”, introduce her the next morning to the Tower, the Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud’s, and deposit her at Surbiton in the afternoon.  The Major’s ideas on the subject were, however, that an exacting little daughter was a drawback to a man’s enjoyment of a visit to London, and that there were other forms of amusement which he would prefer to a visit to the beforementioned historic resorts.  With accustomed fluency, he found a dozen reasons for carrying out his own wishes, and propitiated Pixie by promising that Jack should take her sight-seeing before many weeks were over.

“I’ll tell Miss Phipps that I wish you to go out with your brother on Saturday afternoon, and you’ll have a fine time together seeing all there is to be seen.  Far greater fun than if we tried to hurry about with not a minute to spare.”

“I like to do things now,” sighed Pixie pensively, but as usual she resigned herself to the inevitable, and a box of chocolates, bought at Waterloo, sufficed to bring back the smiles to her face and restore her lost equanimity.

The arrival at Kingston Station was a breathless experience, though it was a distinct blow to her vanity to find that no deputation from Holly House was in waiting to receive Patricia O'Shaughnessy with the honours she deserved.  No one took any notice of her at all.  Even the cabman, when directed to drive to Holly House, preserved an unmoved stolidity of feature, and had no remark whatever to offer on the subject.  How different from dear friendly outspoken Bally William, where each man was keenly interested in the affairs of his neighbour, and the poorest peasant upon the road felt himself competent to offer advice on the most intimate family matters!  Pixie felt a chill of foreboding as she drove through the trim Surbiton streets and noticed girls like herself walking demurely beside mother or governess with laced-in boots, gloved hands, and silky manes flowing down their backs in straight uninterrupted flow.  She looked down at her own new stout little boots.  Sixteen buttons in all, and only one missing!  Such a pitch of propriety made her feel quite in keeping with her surroundings, and she had kid gloves too – dyed ones – which looked every bit as good as new, and left no mark at all except round the fastenings and the lobes of the fingers.  She gave a wriggle of contentment, and at that moment the cab turned in at the gate of Holly House.



The name of the house seemed to have more appropriateness than is usually the case, for the garden was surrounded by a thick holly hedge, and the beds were planted with holly-trees so dark that they appeared to be almost black in hue.  To the eyes of the new pupil there was something awe-inspiring in the sight of the grim flowerless beds and the foliage which looked so stern and prickly – almost as bad as the pieces of broken glass which are laid on top of high walls to prevent escape or intrusion.  The house itself was big and square, with a door in the centre, and at the top two quaint dormer windows, standing out from the roof like big surprised-looking eyes.  “Dear, dear!” they seemed to say.  “If this isn’t Pixie O'Shaughnessy driving up to the door!  Wonders will never cease!”

The hall was wide and cold, and, oh, so clean – “fearful clean” thought the new pupil with a sigh as she stepped gingerly over the polished oilcloth and gazed awesomely at spotless wood and burnished brass.  The drawing-room had none of the splendour of that disused apartment at Knock Castle, but it was bright and home-like, with an abundance of pretty cushions and table-cloths, a scent of spring flowers in the air, and a fire dancing cheerily in the grate.  Pixie’s prejudices received a shock at the sight of so much frivolity in a drawing-room, and she could not echo her father’s admiration.  She seated herself on the edge of the sofa and began to paint imaginary pictures of the mistress of this fine house.  “She will be tall, with yellow hair.  She will have cold fingers and nose that looks thin and has a bump in the middle.  No, I don’t believe she will, after all.  I believe she’ll be fussy, and then they are small and dark – dark, with eye-glasses, and those funny red cheeks that are made up of little lines, and never get lighter or darker.  And she’ll have a chain hanging from her waist with a lot of things that jingle, like the lady in the train.  Oh, me dear, suppose she was old!  I never thought of that.  Suppose shew as old, in a cap and a black satin dress, and chilblains on her hands!” And then the door opened – it was really a most exciting occasion – and Miss Phipps came into the room.

She was not in the least like any of the three pictures which Pixie had imagined – she was far, far, nicer and prettier.  She was tall, and so graceful and elegantly dressed as to be quite dazzling to the eyes of the country-bred stranger.  She had waving brown hair, which formed a sort of halo around her face, a pale complexion, and grey eyes which looked at you with a straight long glance, and then lightened as if they liked what they saw.  She was quite young too, not a bit old and proper; the only thing that looked old were the little lines about the eyes, and even those disappeared when her face was in repose.  She came forward to where the Major was standing, and held out her hand with a smile of welcome.

“Major O'Shaughnessy!  I am very pleased to see you.  I hope you have had a good journey and a comfortable crossing.”  Then she turned and looked at the crumpled little figure on the sofa, and her eyes softened tenderly.  “Is this my new pupil?  How do you do, dear?  I hope we shall be very good friends!”

“Oi trust we may!” returned Pixie fervently, and with a broadening of the already broad brogue which arose from the emotion of the moment and made her father frown with embarrassment.

“Ha – hum – ha – I am afraid I have brought you a rather rough specimen,” he said apologetically.  “Pixie is the baby of the family and she has been allowed to run wild and play with all the children about the place.  I hope you will not find her very backward in her lessons.  She has had a good governess at home but -“

“But she wasn’t much good either!” interrupted Pixie, entering into the conversation with the ease and geniality of one whose remarks are in the habit of being received with applause.  “I didn’t pay much attention to her.  I expect there's a good deal I don’t know yet, but I’m very quick and clever, and can be even with anyone if I choose to try.”

“Then please try, Pixie!  I shall be disappointed if you don’t!” said Miss Phipps promptly.  Her cheeks had grown quite red with surprise, and she pulled in her upper lip and bit at it hard as she looked down at her new pupil and noted the flat nose, the wide mouth and the elf-like thinness of the shabby figure.  “Pixie!  That's a very charming little name, but a fancy one, surely.  What is your Christian name?”

Father and daughter gazed at each other appealingly.  It was a moment which they had both dreaded, and the Major had fondly hoped that he might escape before the question was asked.  He remained obstinately silent, and Pixie nerved herself to reply.

“Me name’s not suited to me appearance,” she said sadly.  “I’d rather, if you please, that ye didn’t tell it to the girls.  I am always called Pixie at home.  Me name’s Patricia!”

Miss Phipps bit her lip harder than ever, but she managed to control her features, and Pixie was relieved to see that she did not even smile at the mention of the fatal name.

“It’s rather a long name for such a small person, isn't it?” she said seriously.  “I think we will keep to Pixie.  It will make school more home-like for you than if we changed to one to which you are not accustomed.”  Then turning to the Major, “I am sorry my head mistress, Miss Bruce, is not at home today, as I should have liked you to see her.  She is very bright and original, and has a happy knack of bringing out the best that is in her pupils.  She directs the teaching, and I am the housekeeper and sick nurse of the establishment.  Would you like to come upstairs and see the room in which Pixie will sleep, or shall we wait perhaps until after tea?”

The Major declared that he could not wait for tea.  He had kept the cab waiting at the door, and was all anxiety to get the parting over as quickly as possible and return to the fascinations of town, so he discussed a few business matters with Miss Phipps, and then took Pixie’s hand and accompanied her up the staircase to the third floor bedroom which she was to share with three other pupils.  Two windows looked out on to the garden in front of the house, and an arrangement of curtains hung on rods made each little cubicle private from the rest.  Pixie’s handbag had already been laid by her bed, and she felt quite a swelling of importance as she surveyed her new domain, wherein everything was to be her very own, and not shared with someone else, as had always been the case at home.  The Major gushed over all he saw, and professed himself as more than satisfied, but he was plainly ill at ease, and after walking twice round the room was all eagerness to make his escape.

“I’ll say good-bye to you now, Pixie,” he said, “for your bag is there, I see, and you would be much the better for a wash and a bush.  It’s no use coming downstairs again.  Be a good girl, now, and Jack shall come often to see you!  I’m happy to have you in such good hands and it’s a lucky child you are to have such a school to come to!  It will be your own fault if you are not happy.”

“I’ve no doubt I’ll be very comfortable, thank you,” Pixie said pleasantly, lifting her cheek to receive his kiss, with little sign of the emotion dreaded by the two onlookers.  Her father had never been as much to her as the other members of the household, and her mind was too full of the new excitements to allow her to realise his departure.  He hurried out of the room, followed by Miss Phipps, and Pixie withdrew into her little cubicle, pulled the curtain closely around her and felt monarch of all she surveyed.  A dear, little white bed, so narrow that if you turned, you turned at your peril and in instant dread of landing on the floor; a wonderful piece of furniture which did duty as dressing-table, washstand and chest of drawers combined; a single chair and a hanging cupboard.  Everything fresh, spotlessly clean, and in perfect order; absolutely, if you can believe it, not a single broken thing to be seen1  Pixie drew a quick breath of admiration, and wondered how long it could possibly be before she succeeded in cracking that lovely blue and white china, and exactly what would happen if she spilt the water over the floor!  She was so much occupied in building castles in the air that ten minutes passed by and she had not moved from her seat, when suddenly there came the sound of footsteps running up the stairs, the door was pushed open, and tramp, tramp, in came her future companions, hidden from sight, but talking volubly to each other as they took off hats and jackets after the afternoon walk.

“The new girl has arrived!” cried number one in a tone of breathless excitement.  “I saw her box as I came through the hall.  I peeped at the label, but hadn’t time to read it properly.”

“I did though!” cried another.  “A funny name.  O’ something or other.  Shog-nessie, or something like that.  Such a shabby old trunk1  Looked as if it came out of the Ark.”

“It will be rather fun having an Irish girl, don’t you think?” number two suggested.  “They are untidy and quarrelsome, of course, but it is funny to hear them talk, and they make such droll mistakes.  I shouldn’t like to be Irish myself, but it will be a pleasant change to have a Paddy among us!”

“Well, I hope she isn’t quarrelsome in this room, that’s all,” said a third speaker, who had hitherto been silent, “because if she is, I shall feel it my duty to give her a taste of Home Rule that she may not appreciate.  And if she snores I shall squeeze my sponge over her, so you may tell her what she has to expect.  There’s nothing like training these youngsters properly from the beginning!”

“Twelve years old!  I call it mean to put a child like that in this room!  You are fourteen, I’m fourteen, Ethel is fifteen; we ought to have one of the older ones with us.  We will make her fag for her living.  She shall get the hot water, and fold up our nightgowns, and pick up the pins.  All the same I shall be kind to her, for the credit of the country, for Irish people are always imagining themselves ill-used by England.  If I had thought of it I would have drawn a picture for her cubicle as a delicate little mark of attention.  An Irishman with his – what do you call it? – shi-lee-lah!”

The speaker stopped suddenly as she pronounced this difficult word, for a curious muffled sound reached her ears.  “What’s that?” she asked quickly, but her companions had heard nothing, so she retired into the cubicle next to Pixie’s own to brush her hair, slightly raising her voice so as to be heard more easily by her companions.

“She lives in a castle!  I heard Miss Phipps telling Miss Bruce when she was sending the labels.  ‘Knock-Kneed Castle’ or something like that.  Every second house in Ireland is called a castle, my father says.  It’s no more than a villa in England, and all the people are as poor as Job, and have hens in their parlours and pigs on the lawn.  They don’t know what it is to keep order.  What are you grunting for, Ethel?  It’s quite true, I tell you!”

“Dear me, I’m not grunting, I’m only washing my hands,” cried Ethel, aggrieved.  “What’s the matter with your ears this afternoon?  I don’t care where she lives so long as she behaves herself, and knows how to respect her elders.  I wonder what she is like!”

“Irish girls are mostly pretty.”

“Who told you that?”

“Never mind, I know it.  It’s always raining over there, and that is supposed to be good for the hair, or the complexion, or something.  And they are so bright and vivacious.  If an author wants to make a specially lively heroine in a book, the father is Irish and the mother is French.  Perhaps she’ll be the beauty of the school and then won’t someone we could mention tear her hair with rage?”

“Well, I don’t know about being pretty,” said Pixie’s neighbour reflectively.  “We have had lots of Irish servants, and they were plain enough.  But the name sounds interesting – ‘Miss Shog-nessie – The Castle – Ireland’.  It certainly sounds interesting.  I’d give something to know what she’s like.

“If ye’ll step inside the curtain, ye may judge for yeself,” said a deep rich voice suddenly from behind the curtain which was furthest from the door.

There was silence in the bedroom – a silence which might be felt!

12 October 1901 - 'The White House Class' by Lina Orman Cooper - Chapter 1

Another educational serial story, in which a saintly invalid teaches three girls the finer points of middle-class cookery.

There was great excitement at Merton House.  The master and mistress were going out to dine.  This in itself was no extraordinary thing.  But as it was a vice-regal dinner-party to which they had been bidden, this particular feast excited much interest.  First of all, the dress proper for such an occasion had to be thought of; feathers and lapels arranged according to the Chamberlain’s order; ancient buckles fished out of a grandmother’s chest; diamonds burnished up and fresh flowers begged, borrowed or stolen.

It was early when Mrs Merton set forth in the festive chariot, it was late when she returned.  It was very late when she showed her face next morning, for the dinner had been heavy and her sleep deep in consequence.

Now, I should not have mentioned this dinner-party save that it determined Mrs Merton to give all her growing-up daughters a course of cookery lectures.  It came about in this way.  Mrs Merton went, as usual, to a certain little white house ro7und the corner to tell a certain invalid, there resident, of how the grand dinner-party had gone off.  It had not been a success in one way: though a cook had been hired for the occasion at one hundred pounds for the week, the dinner was sadly lacking in many points.  The lemon sponge had been lemon rock, the ice pudding full of lumps, the soup cold, the entree uneatable.

“It has determined me, dear Miss Benson,” concluded Mrs Merton, as she finished the recital of all the deficits as well as the pleasures of the last night’s entertainment, “to have Linda and Lucilla and Eva taught the rudiments of cookery at all events.  If Lady Canforth had known anything about it, she would never have allowed her guests to go hungry away from the table.”

“Probably not,” answered little Miss Benson calmly.  “Such a thing as housewifely training amongst the ‘upper suckles’ as Jeames Yellow Plush called them, is almost unknown.”

“And it is almost as sealed an art in our middle-class circles as well,” moaned the mother of five.  “It ought to be one of the courses in our elementary schools.  Isn't it Mr Ruskin who writes, ‘The education of girls should begin in learning how to cook’.”

“Yes,” answered Miss Benson.  “And he says even more than this.  He considers a knowledge of cookery to imply a pretty extensive acquaintance with most other things.  Give me my commonplace book, dear, and I will look it up.”

Mrs Merton brought the thick strongly-bound volume to her old friend, for, alas, Miss Benson was tied to her couch with an incurable disease.  From that couch, however, radiated more light and wisdom than from most of the scholastic centres in our midst.  Mrs Merton, at least relied almost more entirely on the old lady’s sound sanctified common-sense than on anything else in this world.  So near the veil of futurity lived Miss Benson that she seemed to have drunk in a sibylline spirit, and to have a stock of good advice on almost every subject.  The quotation she was looking for was quickly found.  She bade Mrs Merton read it aloud.

“A knowledge of cookery means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices, and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savoury in meats; it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness and readiness of appliance; it means the economy of your great-grandmothers and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art, and Arabian hospitality; and as you are to see imperatively that everybody has something pretty to put on so you are to see yet more imperatively that everybody has something nice to eat.”

Mrs Merton was silent for a while.  This extract had altogether raised the subject into a higher realm than that of an ordinary kitchen.  Then she broke on.

“If cooking is indeed all that Mr Ruskin claims it to be, however are we foolish enough to leave it to the ignorant women called ‘plain cooks’?”

“I think, my dear, we do not leave it as much as we used to do.  Kensington has done much towards making it into a fine art.  It trains its students on a sound principle; it supplies reasons for each act of the culinary calling.  For instance it tells its students why potatoes are peeled thinly and why turnips are peeled thickly; it gives rules about the proper course of events in a kitchen – why onions should be shred before potatoes are cut if we wish to eliminate their particular flavour from a knife; it teaches economical habits, it insists on cleanliness.”

“I had thought I might teach the girls myself,” said Mrs Merton hopelessly, “but you and Mr Ruskin show me how little I know myself after all.”

“You know enough to teach your young fry,” answered Miss Benson firmly.  “All the same, I think you had better not do so.  The fact is, one of the chief moral lessons taught by learning how to cook is self-reliance.  It is far better that too much help should not be given at the commencement.  For this reason I, who seem a useless log lying on this sofa –“ Mrs Merton made a gesture of denial, “- am a far more competent teacher than an active mother could ever be.  Lucilla and Linda will have to cultivate their powers of memory because I cannot get off my chair to fetch forgotten ingredients fo them.”

Miss Benson looked quite pleased at the prospect of her cooking lectures, and Mrs Merton gave in gratefully.  A somewhat lengthy conversation followed the compact.  In it Miss Benson spoke of the observation required by cooking, of the self-control cultivated by preparation of dainties which might never be tasted save in the preliminary stages, of the accuracy indispensable, of the alertness acquired even by the most lethargic young persons when a few minutes may turn a light sponge into a piece of lead, of the deftness and delicacy of touch so valuable; lastly, but by no means leastly, of the habits of tidiness and cleanliness engendered by the culinary art when properly understood.  Mrs Merton went away from the White House thinking more of the moral than the economical side of the classes to be given to her young fry.  She felt that Miss Benson would raise the subject even higher than Mr Ruskin had done, that her three daughters would understand more forcibly by means of her instruction than by any other the sacredness of food and our responsibility in connection to it.

His wife enlarged on all these points to Mr Merton when he came home from the City that night.  Manlike he thought more of the physical than of the spiritual side of the question. 

“Why, my dear, I shall be able to retire from business years sooner than I had contemplated, for Lucilla and Linda and our little Eva will require about half the dot I had thought would be necessary for them!  Any man will jump at the chance of such virtuous and educated wives.  They have each a certificate for swimming, haven’t they?”  Mrs Merton nodded.  “Well, if any suitors come, I had intended to meet them armed with that fine piece of parchment.  ‘Here,’ I would say, ‘is a wife who will help you out of deep water whenever you get into it.  Is not she a valuable person?’  But if Miss Benson teaches my girls all she intends, I shall wave a far more important document in my right hand.  ‘Here,’ I shall say, ‘is the hallmark on Lucilla and Linda, and the rest of them which shows that any of them are capable of keeping you out of deep water’.”

Mrs Merton smiled.  Her husband would have his joke, as she knew.  But there was truth in what he said, nevertheless, for by teaching the girls cooking her old friend was giving them a good dowry of commonsense and usefulness. 

Not many days after this a small group were gathered in Miss Benson’s kitchen.  It was a “lovely” one, if loveliness consists of perfect adaptability to a purpose; it was long and rather low, with thick rafters intersecting its ceiling.  Originally a barn-like excrescence from the house, these rafters could not be hidden, but were found useful for hanging up flitches of bacon and the home-cured hams Miss Benson delighted in.  The windows were two; in one of them was placed a solid square table, in the other a small couch on which lay the mistress of the house.  Behind it on a writing table – Miss Benson supplied her housemaidens with many luxuries not usually given to servants, and had cheerful willing service rendered in consequence – rested a cookery-book, a ledger and pencils.  Ranged on the walls were cover-dishes and jam-pans in silver and copper and block-tin.  Roses peeped into the two windows, and God’s sunshine permeated the room, lighting up its comfortable corners and allowing no place for dust or debris of any sort.  A tile patterned linoleum was on the floor, pretty prints bound with red braid, and therefore easily replaceable when an annual turn-out called for spotless prints, a bookcase full of intelligent readable volumes, a bright steel range and a glowing fire.  These were some of the object lessons which surrounded three demure apron-clad figures on the morning of Miss Benson’s opening lecture.  What was taught thereby I will tell in our next paper.

25 April 1885 - 'Dress, in Season and in Reason'


 The changes in dress-making and draping this spring are seen more in small details than in any general outlines of absolutely new creations.  The full effect of the back drapery is increased, but no dress improvers nor crinolettes are worn by well-dressed people, and the full appearance seems only the clever effect of drapery much bunched-up.  But where this effect is not liked it seems equally good style to allow the tunic to hang straight and bag-like in the same way that it did last year.  The basques are short and cut quite round, about two inches below the waist, with no back-trimmings nor folds in many cases.  The edges of the whole bodice, when cut in this way, are often edged with bead passementerie, or a kind of silk bead, which is a Parisian novelty this year.  The front darts are now cut very high indeed.

Flounces are still used; most of them have four or five tucks run in at the edge, and they are kilted in various ways in wide and narrow plaits, and these are fastened down flatly, so as to prevent their giving the least bouffant or full effect.  In dresses made for young people flounces are less used, and all kinds of flat trimmings are in vogue – folds, tucks, braiding, and also the new woollen yak laces, which are so plentifully used for every description of dress.  These laces will form one of the very distinguishing marks of all year’s fashions.  They appear to wear very well, so far as can yet be seen, when used with care, and they are not more expensive than the different kinds of imitation laces that have been so much employed during the last two or three years.

All skirts of dresses, costumes, etc., follow the same styles, having plain foundations over which the tunics and draperies are arranged in long folds, the puffy ones being reserved for the back.  Young ladies’ summer dresses will very probably be made with narrow flounces to the waist, with perhaps small panier-like overskirts, or only back drapery.

Two or even more materials will continue to be used for all dresses to be worn on all occasions.  In an ordinary gown the bodice and tunic are of the same material, and the cuffs, collar, and front plastron would match the skirt.  If there be a jacket, it would match the upper skirt, while a waistcoat would be like the lower.  Tunics are worn very long, and nearly all are arranged so as to hang on one side of the dress.  A very generally used model has a shawl point in front, or rather at the side front, and very full folds at one side, while at the right the end of the drapery is caught by an ornament of passementerie and jet.  Some of the new tunics hang quite straight, without any folds, and are open on one side quite to the waist, showing the under-petticoat its entire length.

The perfectly plain, or “housemaid” skirt, is still favoured by the young and very slight in figure, but it is undoubtedly hard in effect, and trying, and has been worn by persons to whom it was eminently unsuitable.  The other day I met a widow lady, of not much under fifty summers, who had made herself a perfect guy by adopting a rough foule dress, with a “housemaid skirt”, a style which would have suited her daughter, aged seventeen, but which was a most ungraceful garment on the mother.  After all, dress consists not half so much in its richness as in its suitability to the wearer, and also to the time and place in which it is to be worn.  I hold each day more firmly to my ancient belief that the really well-dressed woman or girl will aspire to have as few dresses as possible, and to wear them out, as far as she can, before making fresh purchases.  Three dresses for an ordinary woman’s use seems quite enough; in having more she only runs the risk of having a sorry-looking collection of old and useless garments, difficult to wear out.

The great material for the present season is, without contradiction, “canvaserie”, or canvas-cloth, as it is called by some people.  It is what may be described as semi-transparent, and is made up over coloured silk or satin skirts, viz: a dark blue over scarlet satin, brown over yellow or red, and black over red also; the red showing through it, particularly on the bodice.  There are several descriptions of canvas-cloth, variously named. Some have the appearance of being plaited, others are woven in plain and fancy stripes, and others are plain, with very coarse meshes; all, however, being of wool, give fair promise of good wear, so doubtless they well deserve their popularity.  The skirts made up in these semi-thin materials are all wider than they have yet been worn, some of them measuring as much as three yards round.  The canvas-cloth is always loosely draped over the foundation, and from all I can see, the favourite colour will be ecru, or rather a light shade, that will go well with the favourite red with which it is so often mixed.  These thin black canvas-cloths will be a very useful and economical addition to the dress of this year, as they will make up over old silk and satin skirts, and even over sateens and cashmere foundations.

Black, the favourite colour of the Englishwoman, will be more worn than ever, but it will generally be relieved with some colour.  Black silks will be more popular than they have been for some time back.  They are trimmed with velvet, and much ornamented with beads, not only in the form of fringes and passementerie, but in elaborate designs carried out in very fine cut bugles on net, which is then laid over velvet and satin, and the net becoming invisible the designs have the appearance of being carried out on the richer material.  Black and white too have become popular, and black lace and insertion is now frequently laid over a white foundation of white silk or satin as the trimmings of black dresses.  Black and white “Pekins”, in stripes of varying breadths, will also be popular again; in fact stripes are quite the order of the season, as spotted materials were last year.  Sometimes the striped materials are made to run horizontally instead of vertically, a change which is not becoming to the wearer.

I cannot say that I much admire the striped wincey skirtings, which it is so fashionable to turn into underskirts at present, made quite plainly, the over-tunic and bodices being of some unpatterned woollen material such as serge of vigogne.  I have recently seen one in the street, the stripes being two inches wide, of black and yellow, and the black bodice having a waistcoat of the same, but I did not like the effect; it seemed staring – too gaudily bright.  It seems likely, however, that this style will be very much used for making up sateens and zephyrs when the season is more advanced.

Many gay striped patterns are amongst the new materials, some of them in canvas-cloth; and as yet they are made up in entire dresses, without any relief from the admixture of other materials.  The stripes are of coarse lines or threads thrown up to the surface.  I do not know whether this plan of making up will last, nor do I know how the quantities of Roman sash-like materials will be used – probably for sashes and trimmings.  Ginghams and zephyrs will be both striped and embroidered; and a new material will probably replace nun’s veiling in public favour.  It is called “oriental crepe” by some houses, by others only “crepe”, but all these crinkled crepe materials are made in woollen and cotton under many names, and are one of the season’s novelties.  Silk is very much mixed with all the woollen materials of the year; and even Scotch tweeds, when striped, have a glistening thread running through them, which makes them look lighter and more glossy.

So far as colours go, very pale and delicate are the hats as yet produced for the washing dresses of summer – pale blues, greens, buffs, and pinks, the patterns being small, and pretty Watteau-like flowers and bouquets.  We shall see many combinations of colours, such as scarlet and blue, yellow braiding on blues and browns, and blue and white in stripes.  Yellow and black also promises to be a favourite mixture.  The popular shades, so far as we have yet advanced, are Noisette, almond, cafe, chamois, tan and ripe corn.  These, as my readers will see, are all of the same family of yellowish wood-colours, and they promise to be more used than anything else for the early days of spring.  They are economical, too, for they do not show the dirty very much, although they may be considered light.  Meerschaum, chaudron, and two greys called “smoke” and “elephant” are also new colours, and to my surprised eyes a whole family of reds are visible, of the dark handsome Pompeian or Venetian order.  Terra-cotta, too, and dark browns are all to be seen, and also an ugly idea, which has been invented by someone without taste, to my mind, viz., that of trimming them each and all with black yak lace.  In satins and silks all the last hues I have named will be popular.

The new spring mantles do not show much change, but are only the mantles we have latterly been wearing; in the “Visite” and “Dolman” shapes all the newest ones are very short in the back, with long fronts and high shoulders.  The backs are certainly less ornate, less full and bunched up, and have fewer ornaments added to them.  Coloured mantles of cloths, plushes, and velvets are very much worn; in plush, I think grey is the popular hue.  I cloth, red seems preferred, the cloth being thick and coarse-looking.  I imagine from this that later in the season we shall have a majority of coloured mantles; but I fear that people to whom economy is an object will have to confine themselves to brown, and not stray into the more inviting pastures of red or grey, bothof which are too remarkable for the adoption of those who have only one mantle, or at most two, during the year.  It is never wise to choose any article of dress that is fashionable enough to show age within the year.  This is especially the case with mantles, which have to be selected with great care.  The one chosen should always be of the latest style, but should never be of a kind or shape to be remarked for its special peculiarities.  To do this requires a very observant eye, and the expenditure of some thought.  This thought the more conscientious of my readers, if they agree with me, will not object to give, always bearing in mind that the right and honest expenditure of money is a duty, that much of our rightful share of personal influence in this world is derived from our outward appearance, and that here is one, at least, of our duties to our neighbour.

I must not leave the subject of outer garments without a mention of the small Zouave, Corsair, Spanish, Prussian and Giaour jackets, which promise to be much worn, and also to be rather a useful addition to our dress.  I have put down all the list of names, for they seem to be called almost indiscriminately by all, and, indeed, in most instances they really do form a part of the national dress of the country named. They are made without sleeves, are fastened at the throat, and are either cut round at the corners at the waist, or else fall over it in square corners.  Some of them have hanging sleeves, but the majority have none. They are edged with beads, and lined with a colour, and they are sometimes very richly embroidered and braided.

The stiff ungraceful bouquet of many years’ duration will be soon superseded by the Elizabethan posy, and at the March drawing-rooms ladies were seen with natural flowers in bunches, just as they were gathered.  The true posy has no wires, and spreads out its leaves and flowers at its own sweet will.  The stems, as of old, are tied with ribbon, a bunch of daffodils, with daffodil-coloured ribbon, and white lilacs with pale green.  Being thus very simply prepared, they are easily carried in the hand, and their scent and beauty can be really enjoyed and admired.  Real flowers will be used instead of artificial ones to decorate Court dresses this year, and one cannot help rejoicing at every change that brings so charming an industry as gardening into requisition, for it is one that ladies, young and old, can follow; and it is, moreover, remunerative and not too fatiguing.

Our illustrations this month represent the private view of a separate picture and the public view of a large London picture gallery.  The gowns shown are suitable for the spring days before the warmer ones come in.  Velveteen, serge, and Scotch tweed are the general materials, and they are made up with the straight cut tunics, simply draped and trimmed, which we have endeavoured to illustrate.  The bonnets shown in the larger illustration are both of the same order, jetted fronts and lace backs, the lace being laid over a colour, the pompon of feathers matching it, the strings being of black velvet.  For the paper pattern this month the pattern of the black velvet bodice worn by the figure with her back toward us will be given.  Though made in velvet it will be suitable for any material or dress.  The front is pointed and buttoned up plainly, but one of the many plastrons illustrated may be worn with it.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

9 May 1891 - 'A Servant's Wedding Outfit' by Maude Robinson

I am not certain whether this article is genuinely how Maude Robinson, a servant, budgeted for setting up as a married woman. In the article she refers to herself as Ellen, so it could be one of the GOP's "life advice in form of a short story" pieces.

We have had plenty of good hints in the Girl’s Own Paper for the outfits of girls who need evening dresses and white satin wedding gowns; but so many of the readers are working girls, that perhaps it will not be amiss to explain to them how I managed to get such a comfortable outfit when Richard and I settled down in our cottage home.

When I came to consider what I needed, I found that I had more than £50 in the Post Office Savings Bank.  That seems a great deal for a girl of twenty-six, whose wages have never been more than £16 a year, but I will tell you how I managed.

I always had an idea of saving, since a poor old lady, a cousin of our next door neighbour’s, who came out of the workhouse on visiting days, used to tell me her story.

She had been a very good cook, taking her £20 or £25 a year for many years, until rheumatic fever came, and crippled her poor hands so that she could not even tie her bonnet-strings, or lift her tea-cup for herself.  She had no home to go to, and only £3 or £4 in hand, so that at thirty-five there was nothing before her but the workhouse infirmary for the rest of her life.

“But what did you do with so much money?” I asked her once, for £20 sounded like a fortune to my childish ears.

“I just squandered it away, my dear,” she said sadly, “on pretty clothes, and treats, and excursions, for myself and my friends.  My fellow-servants always praised me for being so open-handed, but not one of them ever comes to see me now.  If ever you go to service, Ellen, be sure and put by a bit for a rainy day,” and her eyes would fill with tears.

I have been fortunate in having no call to spend my savings.  My health has always been good, so that I have had no doctor’s stuff to pay for.  My parents are not old, and father has good, regular work as a gardener, so that I have never needed to help them, though many a useful garment for the little ones have I made with my sewing machine of an evening out of my own clothes, which were no longer fit for use in service, to save my mother’s yees, which are weak, and she has plenty of mending to do without making.

These quiet opportunities for needlework have been a great saving to me.  In each place I have had, I have found time to make all of my clothes except my very best dresses; and having been well drilled in needlework, both at school and at home, it is no trouble to me.

“My places have all been in my native town, so little money has gone for travelling, although I have always gone the summer-trips of our Temperance Society, which is generally to the sea-side thirty miles away. 

I do not mind confessing that another motive for saving has been that I always thought a good outfit was such a nice thing for a girl if she got married, especially since I helped our Miss Ethel make and pack her pretty trousseau when she left us for a new home in the north of England.

Since Richard and I made up our minds, two years ago, I have actually saved nearly £24, by careful repairing and contriving, in order to have plenty to spend when the important time came.

Mistress has always given each of us a black merino dress each Christmas, and I must say that the visitors have been very liberal to me, although I am sure that I have never put myself forward to get their “tips”, as some ill-mannered servants do.

I was not quite thirteen when I first went to service.  I had done well at school, and there were plenty of mouths to feed at home without a great hungry growing girl as I was then.

So mother fitted me out as well as she could, and I started in life as a maid-of-all-work as M Shaw, the greengrocer’s, at the other end of the town, for the small wage of a shilling a week.

My mistress, who had several children, was very strict and particular.  She had been in good service herself, and knew just how things ought to be done.  She as kind, too, in her way, and took pains to teach me my work, and to keep my clothes mended up of an evening.

But it was my master whom I remember with most gratitude.  He was a cheerful, jovial sort of man, and often softened even his fault-finding with a joke.  It was he who put me in the way of the Post Office Savings Bank.

On my thirteenth birthday, my mother, who thought I should be feeling homesick, sent me a little parcel, with some apples and lardy cakes, a pair of woollen gloves, and a sixpenny story-book.  How pleased I was, to be sure!  When Mr Shaw saw me with them he said, with one of his merry twinkles, “You have been a good girl this three months, Nellie, so I think we must give you a book too. You shall come with me and get it after tea, if the missus can spare you for five minutes.”

I thanked him heartily, privately thinking that five minutes was not much to allow for a visit to the bookseller’s.  But when the time came, he led me into the Post Office next door, put down half-a-crown, and before I understood what was being done, an account was opened in the name of Ellen Williams, and the thin, buff-coloured book was handed to me.  I was so pleased, for I knew that father wanted me to begin to save as soon as possible.  The account being opened on my birthday, has made it easy for me to remember to send my book to be made up, as you have to do on each anniversary.

It was not much that I managed to put by in that place, although Mrs Shaw soon raised my wages to two shillings a week, for, like most girls of my age, I grew out of my clothes and wore out my shoes terribly fast; but at the end of two years I had added seven-and-sixpence to my good master’s “nest egg”.

When her eldest daughter left school, Mrs Shaw gave up keeping a servant, and she got me a place with Mrs White, a widow lady with a large family, where I was to have £7 a year.  I was the only servant there too, but no one was idle in that house.  All the family were in business, or at school, but they all lent a hand to the necessary work.  Even the little girls made their own bed before totting off to school, and the young gentlemen were not a bit above blacking their own boots of an evening in the privacy of the scullery, and yet I am sure they were real gentlefolks, both in birth and manners.

When they were fairly started for the day, Mrs White and I were very busy.  She always worked with me, and taught me what I did not know, and to be sure there was plenty for us to do, cooking and cleaning, washing and ironing, mending and making – there seemed no end to it; and yet we always did get through comfortably by Saturday night.

My mistress was a clever, managing woman, and now that I have a home of my own, I am thankful that I had those five years with her, and especially to have learnt her thrifty ways, and tasty, inexpensive cooking.  She gave me a rise each year up to £10, to beyond which her small income did not allow her to go; but I managed in those five years to bring my banking account up to a little over £11.  £3 of this i withdrew, when I was about nineteen, and with my mistress’s approval bought a good lockstitch hand sewing-machine.  She had taught me to use hers, and often had allowed me to do the longer seams of my own garments upon it, so I thought best to buy myself one of the same sort.  I was so proud of that machine when it was new!  It has proved a good friend to me, and must have done miles of stitching in the seven years I have had it.

When I was just twenty, Mrs White decided to take all her family to Australia.  She had relatives in Adelaide, who promised the young people better prospects than they had here, and they were all eager to go.  So my mistress disposed of her furniture, packed her boxes, and started on the long voyage, leaving me very sorrowful at parting from as true a friend.

But she did not forget me among all her business, for before she left she procured for me an excellent place as house and parlour-maid with a cousin of her own, Mrs Leslie, at “The Cedars”.

I had £14 a year from the first, which was liberal of my new mistress, considering that so much was new to me – the waiting at table, the plate and lamp cleaning, and the care of so much handsome furniture.

When I had been there three years, my wages were raised to £16, and then I treated myself to a nice little silver watch, a thing I had long wished for.

When we decided last Easter that we would look to being married in September, we talked over ways and means.  Richard had savings enough to pay for all the main furnishings, and being a carpenter, he made many useful things.

He said if he paid ready money down he should get a good discount – “No hire system for him, making you pay far more than the goods are worth, and having the weekly payments hanging over your head like a nightmare!”

I said I would undertake all the house-linen and crockery for my share, and began, with mother’s help, to make lists of all that I would need.  I did not mean to spend all my savings – “rainy days” may yet come; and if it please God to grant us little ones, the money will come in handy for the extra expenses which they bring.

I had a grand time for getting on with my shopping and work, for my master’s family were away the whole of July and August; and the mistress, knowing what I had in hand, usually gave me leave to go out as much as I liked.

One of my first visits was to my friend, Lizzie Brown, a member of our Bible Class, who supports her invalid mother by dress-making.

I took up a piece of oversewing to help her while we talked.  I told her that I had decided to get two good stuff dresses to begin with, and she said at once, “I tell you what, Nellie, if you can get them soon, I will make them at leisure times, and only charge you five shillings for each of them.  I wish I could afford to make them for nothing, but the lower price is all I can give you by way of a wedding present, for we have had so many extra expenses lately”.

So we settled that I should get a nice grey cashmere for a wedding dress, which would do for Sundays next summer, and a grey bonnet to match.  I have a fancy for bonnets, being tall, and broadly-built hats are not becoming to me.  Lizzie made me the bonnet, and put some bows of narrow pink velvet in it, and made one for the neck of the dress.  This, with grey silk gloves, and the white flowers which our young ladies brought me, made as pretty a set-out as nay bride in my station in life could desire.

For the second dress, which was my Sunday one for the coming winter, I chose a blue serge, which kind Lizzie took the trouble to braid for me, and I bought an excellent cloth ulster for 18s. 6d. at a sale.

I had two very good stuff dresses by me, and four cotton ones; but these were very light, and I thought, through the winter, when drying was bad, I should not want one of them added to the necessary washing every week; so I put them by for summer wear, and bought an every-day dress of old-fashioned brown linsey.  This only cost 10s and I made it myself, with full sleeves and wrist-bands.  There was a loop inside these, and a little button on each shoulder, so that I could fasten them right up when at work, and yet they would come down in a moment for meals, and to answer the door.

I made the skirt short, to avoid getting draggled when I was in and out of the garden feeding the fowls or hanging out the clothes.  I cannot tell you what a comfort that warm substantial dress  has been to me already.

I did not need a good jacket – indeed I Had a very good stock of half-worn clothes to go on with.  A hat I brought last winter only needed a shilling’s worth of ribbon to make it nice for every day, and I got a black fancy straw bonnet, lined it with a piece of velvet which I once had on a hat, and trimmed it with a handsome scarlet and black ribbon, for Richard likes to see something bright and cheerful.

The new things which I needed were the following.

Grey cashmere dress - £1 3s 6d
Grey bonnet – 5s 6d
Serge dress – 17s
Dressmaking – 10s
Linsey dress – 10s
Ulster – 18s 6d
Winter petticoat – 6s
Six nightdresses – 12s 9d
Six combinations – 9s
Two flannel petticoats – 6s
Three flannel vests – 6s
Three flannelette vests – 3s
Four large aprons – 3s
Two pairs of stays – 6s 6d
Six pairs of stocking at 1s 6d – 9s
Twelve handkerchiefs – 5s 9d
One pair of boots – 10s 6d
One pair of shoes – 7s 6d
Bonnet and hat trimming – 4s 3d
Two pairs of gloves – 3s 4d
Collars and necktie – 2x 3d
Cottons, tapes, etc – 8d
Total - £9

My clothes finished, I turned my attention to the house linen, and with the help of my good sewing-machine soon made it all more strongly and neatly than any shop-made things.  We had only two bedrooms to furnish, and I bought two gay-striped Austrian blankets to lay over the beds in winter.

Two pairs of blankets at 15s - £1 10s
One small pair of ditto – 8s 6d
Two Austrian blankets – 15s
Two counterpanes - £1 1s
Four pairs of sheets - £2
Two tablecloths at 10s - £1
Two ditto at 5s – 10s
Twelve pillow cases – 6s 6d
Twelve huckaback towels – 9s
Six Turkish towels – 4s 6d
Four toilet covers at 1s 3d – 5s
Kitchen and pudding clothes – 4s 6d
Window blinds – 2s 6d
Two pairs of white curtains – 10s
Two red tablecloths – 6s 6d
Total - £9 17s 6d

These prices are by no means the cheapest at which the different articles might be had, but I had seen in my places of service how much more satisfactory is the wear of eally good material, so I resolved to buy only such.

Besides these things, I made up many useful odds and ends out of scraps I had by me – iron-holders and dusters out of pieces of print, oven-cloths from the best parts of worn-out working aprons, and a couple of house-flannels from a very thin old petticoat quilted together.

When it came to choosing the crockery, I had two pleasant surprises.  Master and mistress said they must give me something after six years of faithful service, and chose a dinner set.  It is a real beauty, with a brown pattern on a cream-coloured ground, and such a number of plates and dishes.

Then the cook, who is a quiet middle-aged person, insisted on spending 14s on a lovely pink tea-set for me.  I protested that it was far too much, but she only laughed and said she should feel free to come and dink tea out of it very often, as she has no relations in our parts to go to on her Sunday out.

These presents saved me so much that I felt justified in buying what I had longed for, but had felt I ought not to afford, namely, a small mangle and wringer combined, which saves so much work on washing day.

But the tea-set was far too pretty for daily use, so I bought six strong blue cups and saucers, some plates and dishes, a brown earthenware teapot, six different-sized jugs, some basins and pie-dishes, kitchen tins, knives, spoons and forks.  Two sets of bedroom china cost me 15s, and I brought sets of blacking and black-lead brushes, brooms, a good scrubbing brush, some tin candlesticks, and a strong double-burner lamp.

I had little need to spend on ornamental things, for our young ladies gave me some framed pictures, and the little boys a pair of vases; master’s old aunt sent me a plated teapot, and my Bible Class teacher a nice little clock, besides smaller gifts from my relations, and from Richard’s brothers and sisters.

I bought and trimmed a new brown bonnet for my mother, and gave my little twin sisters new pale pink gingham frocks, white sailor hats, and white cotton gloves; and with their long fair hair (which they generally wear in pigtails) all brushed out, they made as pretty a pair of little bridesmaids as you could wish to see, and very proud they were of their office.

After all this, I still had £20 in the Saving Bank, which gives one a very comfortable feeling in looking forward to the future; and I have the satisfaction of knowing that for years to come I shall need next to nothing from Richard’s earnings for my personal needs, and that many of the household goods which I have bought will, with careful using, be comforts all my life.

Monday, 26 May 2014

8 March 1884 - 'A Few Hints on Nursing for Our Girls' by A Hospital Nurse - Part 1

The fact that almost every woman has at some time to act as a sick-nurse is generally acknowledged, but only very little provision is made for training our girls to be intelligent and efficient aids to the doctor, when their turn comes to take the management of a sick room.  I wish on this occasion as a nurse of some experience to address the readers of THE GIRL’S OWN PAPER as young nurses, and to give a few simple hints which may be useful either in attending sick friends, or on meeting with some of those cases of accident to which we are liable every day of our lives; cases in which a little knowledge and presence of mind may avert a great deal of trouble, sometimes may save even life itself.

To begin with, I have a piece of encouragement to give you as inexperienced nurses, if you are suddenly called upon to act.  Remember that loving care, unselfishness, and obedience will make up for a great deal.  If you can get your patient to like your attendance, and not to object to receive your assistance when necessary, you may, by obeying your doctor in every point, carry through a case very creditably without regular training.  Still, study and experience are not to be undervalued; for one thing, even if you have had but a little, it is a comfort to yourself to know that you have at least a fair idea how things ought to be done from having done them before, or having seen others do them.  I know from personal experience that even when the patient and friends are satisfied, and the doctor complimentary, there is yet a keen sense of incompetence, or at least of uncertainty; a feeling that if so-and-so had been done otherwise it would have been better; a haunting fear of something absolutely necessary for the well-being of the patient being left undone.  This is all very foolish.  When we go into hospital for training, we learn that what we have to do is carry out orders; not to originate, or to fancy that things have been forgotten.

However, we must come now to practical matters.  Suppose you have a member of your family laid up at home with a bad knee and the doctor orders a blister, would you know how to apply it?  First be sure you know the exact place where it is to go on.  Some doctors mark it on the patient’s body, and it is a very good plan.  The place should be washed clean, of course, leaving the mark.  When you get the blister-plaster, if there is a little bit of stuff like silver paper over the flies (the brown part), take it off before applying, unless the patient’s skin is exceedingly tender.  Warm the blister slightly, holding the back to the fire.  The doctor will tell you about how long it is to stay on and the signs by which you will know when it is to be taken off.  The ointment for dressing the blister should be spread upon a piece of lint or old linen cut to the right size before the plaster is removed.  Have a pair of sharp scissors ready or, failing them, a needle will do.  Then take the blister off as gently as you can without dragging.  The best way to do this is to take it with both hands and draw it towards the middle from the edges.  Have a piece of cotton-wool or old linen to catch the “serum” as the fluid that runs out is called, and if the blister has risen much it may be well to put a saucer underneath to save the sheets.  In hospitals there are trays for such purposes.  Snip or prick the blister at its lowest part, and the fluid will run out.  If possible, do not let any flow over the healthy skin, as it is apt to scald.  You may help it out with a little gentle pressure.  There will be some dead loose skin.  Opinions differ as to whether it should be cut off at first or not.  It will come away in time.  It is always removed if the blister is to be kept “open”; but the doctor will explain this to you.  By keeping it open I do not mean leaving it uncovered; this is never done.  I mean keeping up the irritation by means of some smarting ointment.

A blister should be dressed at least every morning and evening until the place heals up.  In some parts of the body the dressing will keep its place if laid on, but it is generally well either to bandage it loosely or to fasten it down with two or three strips of strapping or diachylon plaster.  If you use this for any purpose, heat it first by holding the back – the linen side – to the fire, or by putting it round a vessel of hot water.  Otherwise unless the skin is very hot it will not stick.

Sometimes a poultice has to go on when the blister comes off.  In this case if you have to attend to all yourself, you must open the blister first, and cover the place with a piece of lint or old linen, while you make the poultice, which would be quite cold if you made it first, besides, it does not take long to prepare, and ointment is often very tedious to spread.

If you are set to make a poultice and are not in good practice, do not be afraid of having it too hot.  It is much more likely to be too cool with all your pains.  Do not be afraid, either, of having it too big if for a surgical case.  In poulticing the breast cut a hole for the nipple.

First spread out your linen or whatever you are going to spread upon so as not to waste time after the poultice is mixed, then scald out the vessel in which you are going to make it.  Throw away that water and pour in some more, as much as you think will do, from a kettle hissing and boiling furiously, put your meal in by degrees, stirring it in quickly until you have a thick smooth paste with no dry meal at the edges of the bowl.  Always stir in the same direction, not backwards and forwards.  Turn out on your linen and spread it evenly, about a quarter of an inch in thickness; cut the edges straight, leaving a good margin of linen to turn in like a hem.  The linen should be double.  I have often seen poultices spread on lint, but it is great extravagance, for large ones, at any rate.  Tow does very well for the purpose, but is requires some practice to lay it properly, and a badly-made tow poultice is very uncomfortable.  Dipping the knife or spatula into boiling water makes it easier to spread the meal.

When taking off a poultice or any dressing, if it sticks never drag it; moisten it slightly with warm water and it will come away.  If a poultice is likely to remain a good while unchanged, and is over an open sore, a very little oil spread upon it will keep it from sticking.  Some people recommend oil with all linseed poultices.  I do not.  It is hard to put little enough, and it is rather dirty.  A properly made poultice ought not to stick, but in a case where one might not like to disturb a patient during the night I should use oil, as if left on many hours a poultice is apt to get dry.

A mustard poultice is an old-fashioned remedy for cold on the chest.  The approved way to make it was to use cold water, and spread it on brown paper with a little bit of muslin over the front to protect the skin.  This could not be kept on long.  Perhaps ten minutes or a quarter of an hour is as long as one could bear it from the time it is first felt.  Nowadays I generally see linseed meal mixed with the mustard, or mustard leaves are used.  They are very good and clean and easily applied.  When you take off a mustard leaf lay a folded pocket-handkerchief or a piece of old soft linen over the place.

The nicest way of making a bread poultice that I know is to grate up stale bread in a colander, pour a little boiling water upon it, and stir it up with a knife.  It takes much less water than you would think, as it should be a pretty stiff paste, and if sloppy it is no good and will fall to pieces before coming off.  With a little oil spread over it, it is a very soothing application but this does not make a very hot poultice.  If heat is required, and you use bread, first scald out your vessel, put in a little boiling water and then some coarsely crumbled bread, stir it, and leave by the fire or in the oven to soak for five minutes or so.

Most extraordinary mistakes have been made about blisters and poultices, though they seem simple things.  It is not fair, however, to expect people to know what they have never been taught.

Not long ago I left a blister on a patient, and asked his wife, a middle-aged woman, if she knew what to do when the time came to take it off.  She told me that she had never seen a person blistered but once, and then she fainted.  The first blister I put on, many years ago, did not rise.  If it had risen I should certainly not have known how to treat it, though probably some one in the house could have told me.  It is, however, very stupid and very wrong of people nursing the sick not to ask for directions in a case of this kind if they are not quite sure that they know what to do.  In some arts we learn a good deal by one of our own mistakes, but a nurse’s mistakes mean suffering to her patient, and this being the case she ought never to be ashamed to confess ignorance and ask for instructions. 

A clever person not long ago who was too lazy or too proud to ask for directions in a simple matter, set about making a linseed poultice by blending up the meal with cold water – I suppose with a vague idea of making starch.  If it ever reached the spreading stage it must have been a nice sticky mess.  Many years ago a doctor in the North of Ireland, prescribing for one of his out-patients, gave the wife a blister, a bottle of medicine, and some other things that were required, with, as he thought, full directions how to use them.  Calling a few days afterwards to see how the man was getting on, he found that the woman had put all he had given her into a saucepan and boiled it, giving the mess afterwards to the patient as a dose.  The doctor said that the man would most certainly have been poisoned, only that the flies of which the blister was composed made him very sick, and he brought the whole thing up, so that after all no great harm was done.

Fomentations or stupes are often ordered to relieve pain.  There is a particular kind of material called spongio-piline used in hospital for the purpose, but a stupe can be made quite well by wringing out coarse flannel in boiling water.  If not wrung every day, a fomentation is about the most miserably uncomfortable thing that can be imagined, and is almost certain to give the patient cold.  A good way to prepare one is get a strong towel and lay iyt over a wash-hand basin; then lay your flannel in the towel, and pour boiling water upon it until it is well soaked.  By twisting the ends of the towel in opposite directions, you will not scald your hands, and you will be able to wring the flannel dry.  Two people can prepare a fomentation much more easily than one.  To relieve acute pain opium is sprinkled on the flannel before applying, and turpentine is sometimes ordered as a counter-irritant.  If the stupe is to be plain hot water, bring the flannel to the bedside in the towel so as to keep it as hot as possible, shake it up just before applying, and it will keep warm much longer.  Fold a dry towel and lay it over the fomentation when you put it on.  In hospitals a piece of waterproof material is generally used for this purpose.  Sometimes these stupes have to be changed very frequently, but the doctor will tell you this.  If you have many to prepare it will be worthwhile to make a regular “wringer”, by running a stick or lath into a hem at each end of the towel.  By twisting these sticks in opposite directions, you can wring with little or no fatigue.  The wrists soon get tired doing it the other way.

When a doctor asks you any question about yourself or anyone else, be quite sure you understand what he means.  If you do not, tell him so.  I remember once hearing a girl unintentionally quite deceiving a physician about a shivering fit she thought she had had; it was probably just a little chilliness, but she made herself out so very much worse than she really was, that he thought she must have had a severe rigor, as it is called, and sent her to the fever hospital, where, I believe, they rather laughed at her and sent her away in a day or two as having nothing the matter.

Another thing: When you get a prescription made up at a dispensary, be sure you understand how the medicine is to be given.  Doctors have ways of their own of writing directions, meant for the dispenser, not for you.  A girl once brought me a piece of paper that had been given her with a bottle; from having been some time in the hospital as a nurse I could explain it to her, but before I went I could have made nothing of it.  In most of the London hospitals I believe they have printed labels for all the bottles, “Take two tablespoonfuls three times a day” and so on.  It is a good plan and ought to be universally adopted.  If you do not understand the directions, however, and ask the dispenser, he will always tell you when and how the physic is to be taken.

There are a few simple things to be noticed in giving medicines that you may as well understand.  It may perhaps be an unnecessary caution to tell you if you are directed to give, say, a tablespoonful of anything, only to measure it in the spoon and bring it to the patient in a cup or glass.  I have known a spoon put to the sick person’s lips with the dose.  A moment’s thought will convince you that is a most slovenly and uncomfortable proceeding.  Always wash your cup and spoon immediately after giving medicine.  If you have to give castor oil, first rinse your vessel and spoon in cold water; then put your milk, or brandy-and-water, or whatever you are going to give it on, into the glass, measure the oil in a spoon, and pour it as carefully as possible into the middle of the glass, not letting a drop touch the sides.  It is well to pour out castor oil near the patient, as carrying it across a room is apt to shake it up . When it is desirable to make the oil act quickly it should be stirred up in hot water.  This must be a most abominable dose; but, given as I have described, castor oil need not be hard to take at all.  However, some children, and grown people too, are very obstinate, and if this medicine is ordered will point-blank refuse to take it.  For them we had a plan in hospitals of shaking the oil up with about twice the quantity of peppermint-water in a soda-water bottle.  Any bottle, of course, would do, provided it was clean and big enough.  It takes a good deal of shaking until it comes into a sort of creamy stuff.  It seems to me that this would be far nastier than the oil in its usual form; but I am bound to say that I have seen a boy who would roar for half an hour if you suggested castor oil in his hearing, but would take this mixture without the slightest fuss.  A nurse, who has had large experience, told me that she never knew a child object to it.

Sometimes when a pill is ordered for a patient one is rather put aback by the statement that he or she never did and never could swallow such a thing.  I have sometimes been able to persuade one of these incompetent people to try a very simple plan, which I never knew to fail even with a small pill, which is more difficult to swallow than a big one.  Put it back as far as possible on the tongue, and take a drink of water; it is almost sure to go down.  In case of a child, however, or a patient who is determined that he cannot take a pill on any terms, the best way i s to scrape it up and mix it with a little sugar in a teaspoon.  Then, of course, there is no further difficulty.