Monday, 13 February 2017

25 June 1881 - 'The Difficulties of a Young Housekeeper and How She Overcame Them' by Dora Hope - Chapter Eight

"So your friend is to arrive to-day, is she, Madge?" said Mr Colville, one morning in June, as they sat at breakfast. "Miss – Miss Dolabella – let me see, what is her name?"

"Dorothy, papa; Dorothy Snow."

"Sweet thing in names, certainly," remarked Tom. "I say, Madge, what is she like?"

"Well, I have not seen her for more than two years, as, being my senior, she left school before I did, and we have never met since. But I used to admire her immensely; she was very tall and very dark and handsome, and I thought her very clever, but then I think schoolgirls always exaggerate the good qualities of their friends."

"H'm, glad she's nice-looking," said Tom, complacently, with a glance at the pier-glass, as he fingered his collar and tie delicately with his finger tips, to make sure they were arranged as they should be. Tom was at that age when, though exceedingly boyish in many ways, he still felt himself very much grown up and manly. He began to feel an interest in the cut of his coat, and displayed even anxiety about the shape of his hats.

"Oh, my dear boy, she will very soon crush you if you evince admiration, I'm quite sure," said Margaret, laughing. "Do is so splendidly strong and tall, she could pick you up in her finger and thumb, almost."

"May we call her Do, too, Madge?" asked Dick.

"No; of course, you must say Miss Snow, unless she tells you you need not. She used to be so teased about her name at school, they always used to call her Do Snow, but I beg you won't do that."

The meeting between the friends was hearty and warm, for though a correspondence had been kept up they had not seen one another since the old days at school, and there would be large arrears of talk to make up during Dorothy's fortnight visit.

Margaret knew quite well that her friend's home was a more luxurious one than her own. With plenty of servants, it was not likely that she would take any part in household matters herself, and Margaret could not help wondering what she would think of the innumerable duties which devolved upon the mistress of the Colville household.

The morning after Dorothy's arrival, Margaret, with some little hesitation, asked if she would excuse her for half an hour, and having no idea of attempting to hide anything of the sort, explained that she usually made the pastry herself instead of trusting it to a not very efficient maid.

To her surprise, Dorothy begged to be allowed to come and help, or at any rate look on, for her mother had lately taken up the idea of her learning all about cooking and cleaning, and so, having been "learning hard" lately, she would be delighted to continue her education.

Of course Margaret was only too pleased, and so it happened that some of their merriest times were spent by the two girls in the kitchen.

One morning, as Margaret was tying on her large apron and rolling up her sleeves preparatory to a plunge in the flour tub, Dorothy bethought her of certain items of cookery in which she considered herself proficient.

"Did you not say, Margery, the Trents are coming to supper to-night?" asked she.

"Yes, they are," replied Margaret, "I want you to see Mrs Trent, she is such a good friend to me."

"Oh, then, do let me make some delicacies for supper!" cried Dorothy. "You need not look so alarmed, I can make a select few dishes beautifully. Now, if you will consent, you shall have the loveliest jelly you ever tasted, which will cost a mere nothing. Do you happen to have any very cheap claret in the house? That as 10d a bottle will do."

"No, I fear we have not, but Betsy shall go and get a bottle; or stay, perhaps, as she is a teetotaller, she might not like the errand, so we will go ourselves as my pastry will not be required."

"But we must provide something else for supper besides. One jelly is hardly enough."

"No, hardly. Let me see, there will be cold lamb and mint sauce –"

"Will you not have a salad with mayonnaise sauce also? I feel competent for that; even mamma praises my mayonnaise sauce."

"That will do very nicely, and with a dish of gooseberry fool, I think there will be enough. We do not usually make much difference  for the Trents."

After their purchases were made the girls set to work at their cooking, Dorothy having borrowed one of Margaret's aprons and pairs of sleeves.

"Now, look here, Margery, you ought to learn how to make this jelly; it is so nice and cheap withal," said Dorothy, as she uncorked the bottle of wine. "See now, I simply put into my earthenware pot 1 oz of gelatine,  a fourpenny jar of red currant jelly, the rind and juice of one lemon, 3/4 lb loaf sugar, and the claret. They are to simmer gently till the gelatine is melted, and then boil for five minutes. That is the whole process. Now I strain it into this mould, which has been standing in cold water meanwhile, and there you are."

"That is an easily made jelly, certainly," said Margaret, admiringly; "and I must say it looks nice too."

"I should think it was nice indeed!" Dorothy exclaimed. "At home, when we want it specially good, we put in a small cupful of brandy also. And when the jelly is turned out we pour round it some cream, sweetened and flavoured with almond or anything we choose. But it is quite good enough for ordinary occasions without these expensive adjuncts."

"Now,  for the mayonnaise sauce, Do. But would it not be better to leave the making of that til nearer the time?"

"Oh, no, it will not matter; of course, we will not pour it over the salad till just before supper. You have to put the yolk of an egg into a basin, so oh dear, how difficult it is to separate the yolk and white!) also a little white pepper and salt, and a quarter teaspoonful of mustard. Then you mix them well together."

"How much salad oil shall you allow?" asked Margaret, looking on with much interest.

"I believe tastes differ about that, but I have been instructed that 1/4 pint is about right. It must not be put in all at once, you observe, but just very slowly, drop by drop, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, until about half of it is used. Next, I put in the least little drop of vinegar, Tarragon and the ordinary kind mixed, and then go on very slowly adding the remainder of the oil. There, this is turning out very well, as smooth as cream, and yet not oily-looking. Now it ought to have a teaspoonful of whipped cream added, but perhaps town milk does not yield cream?"

"Yes, it does, more or less," answered Margaret, fetching a basin from the pantry. "Betsy always puts it to stand when it comes in, and though the cream is not as thick as it might be, still we should not fancy our tea and coffee without it. Why, how clever you are, Do; and you pretended to be such an ignoramus."

"So I am; I have very nearly come to the end of my cooking capabilities already, and I know simply nothing of the management of a house. Now we must put this sauce in the very coolest place you have till it is wanted, and then, please, let me watch you make the gooseberry fool."

Margaret began by putting the green gooseberries into a jar with a little water, and a good deal of sugar.

This was set in a saucepan of boiling water, which was let boil till the fruit was soft enough to mash. After being reduced to a pulp, it was worked through a colander into a basin. Next some cold milk and cream should have been added, but as the latter was not plentiful, Margaret used a little corn flour instead. Allowing a pint of milk to the same measure of pulp, she put it on to boil, then mixed the corn flour (in the proportion of one teaspoonful to each pint of milk) in a cup of cold milk, and added it to the rest in the saucepan. After boiling, it was slowly stirred into the fruit. Margaret then tasted it, and made a wry face at the sourness.

"What, sour after all that sugar?" exclaimed Dorothy.

"Yes, it does take such a quantity," Margaret replied, as she added more, "and it is simply uneatable if you stint the sugar. Now you have seen the whole mystery of a gooseberry fool, so when I have told Betsy to be sure and put plenty of sugar to the mint sauce suppose we have a run round the garden before dinner?"

Mr Colville unexpectedly joined them at that meal. AS this was a very rare occurrence, he said he would be treated as a guest, and refused to take the head of the table, which post Margaret was anxious to vacate, declaring she would be far too nervous to carve with her father looking on.

"But you carve splendidly, Madge; I have often noticed and admired your skill," said Dorothy.

"I do better than some girls, I think, because it is not usually considered necessary for them to know how. I was determined to learn, because I have to do it so often."

"And it is certainly a very useful accomplishment," said Dorothy; "one feels so utterly stupid at having to refuse if asked."

"It is still worse to make the attempt and fail," remarked Mr Colville. "You know, Miss Snow, many people, ladies particularly, think it quite enough if they are able to cut a joint to pieces, anything beyond that they consider gluttonous Epicureanism. Of course, one undoubtedly enjoys one's dinner more if it be well cut, but the chief thing is that a joint goes twice as far, so it is most economical. And, as old Dr Kitchener says, 'A dextrous carver will help half-a-dozen people in half the time one of your would-be-thought polite folks wastes in making civil faces to a guest.'"

"What delightfully plain speaking," laughed Dorothy.

"The, every carver ought to know which is considered the best part of whatever he may be serving," continued Mr Colville, "for some people would be quite offended if, when dining out, they were not helped to, for instance, some of the thin part of salmon as well as the thick, or the fins of turbot, or if they had any other part than the wing of a fowl, the back of a hare, or the breast of turkey. However, I must defer the rest of my discourse on the merits of good carving til a more favourable opportunity, for I see it is time I were off."

The next day the two girls had betaken themselves to a pretty summer-house in the garden for a chat after dinner, when Betsy brought some letters to them which the postman had just left.

The summer-house was a rustic and, it must be added, an unsteady-looking erection. It had been built, at great pains and labour, by Tom and Dick, as a pleasant surprise for their father on his return from a recent short absence from home. They intended the family to have tea in it on the evening of Mr Colville's arrival; but Margaret thought she detected a slightly slanting tendency about the walls, and trembled  for the safety of her pretty tea-set, and likewise of their own heads. So she suggested tea on the lawn, from whence they could look at the summer-house, and, as she pointed out, see it much better than if they were inside. And a happy thing it was that her idea was carried out, for during their merry meal Dick stepped into the edifice, sand, to prove its strength, rashly shook one of the uprights with both hands. The whole affair tottered for an instant, and then entirely collapsed, burying the young architect in its ruins. The hapless youth, when extricated, was found to be unhurt (save in his mind, which was considerably wounded), and with the aid of a carpenter the summer-house once more reared its head in beauty and strength, surpassing its original state.

In fact, it could now be pronounced safe, and here it was that Margaret and Dorothy sat to read their letters that fine June day.

"Do you know, I think Betsy must have had a letter from her dear baker, she looked so beaming," said Dorothy. "I have heard from home, and mamma says she hopes I shall one day blossom forth into another such model young housekeeper as you are. But she does not seem very sanguine about it, I must confess."

"Now, Do, don't you flatter me so; pray, what have you been saying to Mrs Snow about me? I must write and tell her the truth. My letter is from Joanna, and I think I will read it out lout to you, because whether you like it or not, it will be very useful for your education. I asked a number of questions the last time I wrote, and she says, in answer to one apropos of my bill file, 'By all means keep your paid and receipted bills, all of them, excepting those for very trifling sums. Put them o file till the end of the quarter, then take them off, and having labelled and stitched them together, put them away in some safe place.

"For cool summer drinks nothing is better than different sorts of 'ades'. The nicest possible lemonade is made thus: - Remove the peel and every scrap of white, and also the pips, from three lemons, Slice them and lay them, with the peel of one, in a quart jug. Add half a pound or more of loaf-sugar, and fill the jug with boiling water. When cold, this is just as good as some of the complicated lemonades. Another pleasant drink is made by substituting  for the lemon slices of apples, peeled and cored. This does not require so much sugar and a squeeze of lemon improves it. Again, raspberry vinegar and water with lemon juice is very agreeable. All these are immensely improved by the addition of a lump of ice.

"Then you asked me, I think, about preserving –"

"Yes, I did," put in Margaret, "but I changed my mind, and am now going to be content with the fruit I bottled."

"I should like to hear about it, though, please," said Dorothy. "It may come in useful some day."

"Well, here are Joanna's sentiments on the subject: - 'Let the fruit be perfectly dry when you gather it – that is to say, no rain ought to have fallen for at least twenty-four hours previously. If it should chance to be showery weather, so that you cannot keep to this rule, boil the fruit an extra long time, or it will soon be mouldy. The fruit should be preserved as soon as possible after gathering. Use good sugar; it is economy in the end, as it requires less skimming, and hence there is less waste. As a rule, allow 1lb of sugar to one quart of fruit. Very economical people do not add the sugar till the fruit has boiled some time, and all the skimming is done; but I do not think the preserve would be thoroughly sweet, nor would it, I fancy, keep equally well. If you use a brass pan, be sure it is perfectly clean and dry; the least dirt or moisture left in it after the last time of using will have a produced verdigris, which, as doubtless you know, is deadly poison.'

"If you ever have to preserve, Do, take my advice and use an earthenware pan – then there is no danger of verdigris, and it would be much easier to clean," remarked Margaret. "But Joanna mentions the brass one because she knows we have one. Let me see – where was I? Oh, here is the place:- 'Have a good red fire – not a blazing one. Let the preserve boil as fast as possible, but be careful it does not boil over. Stir all the time with a wooden spoon, removing the scum as it rises. When it thoroughly boils, do not stir violently or you will mash the fruit, and the beauty of preserve is to keep it whole and distinct. If you leave off stirring, the fruit will stick to the bottom of the pan in a mass, and the whole will be spoilt. When it has boiled fast about twenty minutes, try a little on a plate; if it sets in five minutes or so, it is done enough. Pour it into pots, and when cold, cover it down. The best and simplest way of covering is to take a piece of paper the right size, brush it well over with white of egg slightly beaten, and press it over the pot. It will adhere firmly, and is quite airtight. An improvement to strawberry jam is to add red currant juice. Stew the currants in a jar in a cool oven till the juice is thoroughly out; strain it, and pour it into the strawberries, allowing the same proportion of sugar as for other fruit.'"

"Are you tired of this instructive letter, Do?" asked Margaret, laying down the third sheet. "Please say if you are. You see I ask so many questions, that Joanna's letters are necessarily rather long."

"No, indeed, I am not tired; pray go on if there is any more of the same nature."

"'Beans are in season now,'" continued Margaret. "'Gather them before they are quite full grown and throw them at once, after shelling, into boiling salt and water, with a bunch of summer savory, which is boiled with them, as mint is with peas. When done serve them in a vegetable-dish, with a piece of butter stirred amongst them, or else make a tureen of melted butter, in which is chopped the cooked savory.

"Arthur tells me that beans and bacon are quite an aristocratic dish now! I always considered it a very homely one. The two should be cooked separately, as the bacon spoils the colour of the beans. Put the former into cold, and the latter into *boiling water, when cooking them.

"Now I come to 'lastly', which is the rather unpleasant subject of the dust-bin. You must be most particular that no greens, cabbage leaves, and such like are thrown in, neither should there be scraps of meat or bone. In fact, try to keep it free from everything from which a disagreeable odour could arise. Then it must be cleared regularly once a week during the summer; do not on any account let it go longer, and now and then have the inside whitewashed. You might occasionally also throw in a little chloride of lime."

"There, Do, I hope you feel a great deal the better for hearing all of that?"

"Oh, Madge, I think it is well to be you to have such a sister. What would you do without her?"

"Indeed, I do not know," answered Margaret, folding up her letter. "But, you know, I feel dreadfully dependent on my friends, for in the least difficulty I always go, at least, write to Joanna. Then Mrs Melrose, the 'lady with ideas,' as you call her, is very kind in giving me hints; and then as to Mr Trent –"

"And as to Mr Trent?" interrogated Dorothy, mimicking her friend's done.

"Well," said Margaret stiffly, "I don't know that Mr Trent's acquaintance is of vital importance to my housekeeping."

"Oh, Madge, why you are ungrateful after the cunning way in which he extricated the stopper from the decanter last night."

"Did he do so?  It must have been whilst I was upstairs with Mrs Trent."

"Yes, it was most firmly fixed; we all tried in vain, when Wilfrid, with charming modesty, said he thought he could get it out. I fetched, at his direction, a basin of hot water, in which he plunged the neck of the decanter, tapping it gently on each side. Still it would not come out, so the ingenious thing asked for some oil, of which he put the last drop round the stopper, just where it enters the bottle, held it before the fire for a minute, and out it came in a twinkling!"

"Oh, it was rather sharp, perhaps," replied Margaret; "but it was a pity to spoil the sherry by mixing it with oil."

"Now, Madge, you are in a very contrary frame of mind. There was not much wine in the decanter, and it was not spoilt, because I very quickly wiped the inside of the neck with a clean serviette from the sideboard drawer. And even if it did taste oily, it could be used perfectly well for cookery. So you may just as well admit that Wilfrid Trent is a very clever, ingenious, handsome, good and altogether nice fellow; certainly he would admit the same and a good deal more of you."

"Particularly the 'fellow' part of it!" retorted Margaret. "No, Do; the first time he saw me I was most shamefully untidy and floury, being in the middle of pastry-making, and that filled him with a repulsion for me that he has never conquered."

But a merry look in the girl's eyes either belied her words, or else proved the fact in no way affected her peace of mind.

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