A domestic treasure

vicar-of-wakefield-mr-burches-first-visit-rowlandson1After I wrote a few weeks ago about the clash of cuisines for Caroline Warfields Highlighting Historical, one of my friends loaned me a treasure: the 1819 edition of A New System of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles of Economy and Adapted the Use of Private Families, by A Lady. The lady in question was Maria Eliza Rundell, who has been called the original domestic goddess, and the book bears that out.

I have it beside me now, using gloves to turn the precious pages and remembering that they’ve known many hands going back, undoubtedly, to the year of publication.

The book starts with some general observations: a not so little homily on habits of economy, the joys of managing a household, and the importance of properly supervising servants.

imageThe bulk of the book comprises recipes for everything a household might require: food of all kinds, preserves, drink, household remedies. The writer also gives instructions for everything from carving lamb to keeping chickens to making ink and household cleaners. Consider these, chosen at random from the table of contents:

To stew lampreys as at Worcester (and eels the same way)

To make a pickle that will keep for years, for hams, tongues, or beef, if boiled and skimmed between each parcel of them

To dress moor-fowl with red cabbage

A liquor to wash old deeds &c. on paper or parchment, when the writing is obliterated, or when sunk, to make it legible

To prevent the creaking of a door

General remarks on dinners

Everything, in fact, that a prudent woman might need to know in order to run a household. Not for our Regency lady the conveniences of squeegee bottles filled with precisely manufactured chemicals, or vacuum cleaning machines, or spray on foam for oven-cleaning. Or stainless steel, for that matter.

To dust Carpets and Floors.

Sprinkle tea-leaves on them, then sweep carefully.

The former should not be swept frequently with a whisk brush, as it wears them fast; only once a week, and the other times with the leaves and a hair-brush.

Fine carpets should be gently done with a hair hand-brush, such as for clothes, on the knees.

To prevent the Rot in Sheep.

Keep them in the pens till the dew is off the grass.

For Chapped Lips.

Put a quarter of an ounce of benjamin, storax, and spermaceti, two penny-worth of alkanet root, a large juicy apple chopped, a buch of black grapes bruised, a quarter of a pound of unsalted butter, and two ounces of bees-wax into a new tin saucepan. Simmer gently till the wax &c. are disolved, and then strain it through a linen. When cold melt it again, and pour it into small pots or boxes; or if to make cakes, use the bottoms of tea-cups.

And it goes on with recipes and advice for 347 pages. (The 1865 edition had grown to 644!)

First published in 1806, Mrs Rundell’s book stayed in print until the 1880s, with 67 successive editions. Now that is a domestic treasure. Thank you, Inez, for the privilege of seeing it.