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.”