I’ve been reading cookbooks. You may remember reading Julie and Julia, a best-selling book by Julie Powell. The book (and the subsequent movie starring Meryl Streep who played Julia Child) was a compilation of blogs written by Powell, who fought her way through depression by using Julia Child‘s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to cook 524 recipes over 365 days.
Not that I’m depressed but it has come to me that I could follow in Julie Powell’s footsteps. Rather than use Julia Child’s cookbook, I would go back a couple of centuries. I have two great cookbooks in my kitchen library. The older book is A New System of Domestic Cookery: formed upon Principles of Economy and adapted to the use of private families by a lady. My book is a 1977 reprint; however, the original was published in 1816. Just who “the lady” was is very much a mystery… but then… in keeping with the times, no “lady” would have lent her name to such an unseemly publishing venture.
I love the recipes – the section on “sick cookery” is especially tempting. Tapioca jelly, Saloop, and Eel broth are all interesting. What if I were to use this book and try one recipe each day for a year? It might be fun. On the other hand, I would have to be careful, some recipes would be a challenge. Consider the recipe for Asses’ Milk found under the sick cookery section:
Asses’ Milk far surpasses any imitation of it that can be made. It should be milked into a glass that is kept warm by being in a basin of hot water. The fixed air that it contains gives some people a pain in the stomach. At first a tea-spoonful of rum may be taken with it, but should only be put in the moment it is to be swallowed.
Where would I find an ass? And if I found one, would I have the skill to milk the ass while holding the glass in a pan of warm water? Could I use more rum?
The second recipe book at-hand is Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management published in 1861. Mrs. Beeton‘s writing life was somewhat charmed in that her husband, a magazine and book publisher, promoted her work. Nevertheless, during, her 28-year life, she bore four children and compiled this classic book totaling 1,112 pages. Even if I had married a publisher, I highly doubt that I could have begun to match her industry.
You can find Mrs. Beeton’s book on-line at http://www.mrsbeeton.com. I was particularly taken with Chapter 41 – Domestic Servants. Given that I have never had a servant nor aspired to have one (think of all the cleaning I would have to do in preparation for the servant’s arrival!) it might come as a surprise that I have been sucked into the world of Downton Abbey. If you are unaware of this British, period drama playing on PBS, let me remind you that Season Two, episode two airs tonight, Sunday, January 15.
If you miss an episode, you can stream it by going to www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey. If you missed the entire first season, you have just two days to catch up on your computer: come 17 January, Season One will be off-line. Call in sick for work – the series is worth it.
The social history, prior to and following WW I, is especially interesting. Life in the manor house undergoes dramatic changes. For the most part, prior to WW I, life at Downton Abbey came right out of Mrs. Beeton’s book written fifty years earlier.
Referencing “Chapter 41 – domestic servants,” Mrs. Beeton cautions her readers to treat their servants with respect: Men-servants have always about them humble dependents, whose children have no other prospect than domestic service to look forward to; to them it presents no degradation, but the reverse, to be so employed; they are initiated step by step into the mysteries of the household, with the prospect of rising in the service.
With Season Two and World War I, social mobility is a possibility.
Highclere Castle in Berkshire is the manor house for the ITV series. The castle realized its present state under the direction of Sir Charles Barry in 1838. The 1,000-acre estate includes gardens designed by Capability Brown. As grand as Downton Abbey may look on television, Highclere is in disrepair and 50 of its 100 rooms are uninhabitable. The present owners, the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon estimate that renovations will cost 12 million pounds ($18,4000.000.) In this economy, what’s to be done? Where will the money come from?
Well, if you aspire higher, you could hold your wedding at Highclere. Winter weddings are cheaper than summer weddings. If you want a summer wedding on a Saturday, you will pay upwards from 12,000 pounds ($18,400.) Friday and Sunday summer weddings are cheaper; they begin at 9,000 pounds ($13,800.) Plus, of course, the value added tax.
This amount of money will buy you the use of the house and gardens. Also a cake stand and knife, an in-house toastmaster, 1/2 bottle of champagne per/person, 1/2 bottle of wine per/person, a three-course dinner, coffee, and flowers.
Mind your manners – You’re in the manor! And no, you can’t bring your own cake stand!
If you have never set a story in a distant time, research is required. Using Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management get a feel for the Victorian era. Use Chapter 41; find a domestic service position; study the servant’s duties; and write a scene in which your character is a footman, butler, housemaid, or…