The English Housekeeper/Chapter 33

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I have selected such receipts as appear to be the most profitable to adopt; and the insertion of these will accomplish nearly all that I can hope to effect under the above head, for we all know that a supply of food alone can avert the misery of hunger, and that if there were a thousand different systems for feeding the poor by the means of voluntary aid, the success of each system must depend on the practical efforts made in its application.

Some persons object to making soups, &c., for the poor, on the ground that poor people are not so well satisfied with this mode of relief as they would be if the materials were given them to dispose of in their own way. This objection is just in some cases, but not so in all; because, as respects domestic management, there are two distinct classes among the poor, the one having learned arts of economy while faring well, and the other being ignorant of those arts from never having had enough means to encourage them to make such things their study.

It is true that the old-fashioned English cottagers, that class so fast falling into decay, are by no means wanting in the knowledge of housekeeping and of cooking in an economical manner. Not only does their labour in the fields produce fertility, bring the richest harvests, and cause those appearances on the face of the country which make it admired as one of the most beautiful in the world; but the habitations of the labourers themselves, their neat cottages, and their gardens so abounding at once with the useful and the elegant; these have always been regarded as one complete feature, and that not the least important, in the landscape of England. And, if we look at the interior of these dwellings, we there find every thing corresponding with what we have remarked without. Where the father, after having done a hard day's work for his master, will continue, in the evening, to toil upon his own small plot of ground for a couple of hours, and where the children are bred up to respect the edges of the borders, the twigs of the shrubs, and the stems of the flowers, and to be industrious and even delighted in such things, it is natural that the mother should take the same pains with all that belongs to the inside of the dwelling. And, accordingly, those who have occasionally visited the poor of the rural districts of England, must have observed, that if they are often deficient in the means of living well, they are, as often, patterns of cleanliness, and as anxious to make a respectable appearance with their scanty furniture, to polish their half dozen pewter platters, to scrub their plain table or dresser, to keep clean and to set in order their few cups and saucers of china-ware, as their betters are to make a display of the greatest luxuries of life. These excellent habits of the people are so fixed, that we see a portion of them still clinging to those labourers, perhaps the most of all to be commiserated, who are employed in the factories of the north of England.

But the condition of the other class is very different. Some of these have never, from their earliest infancy, been accustomed to any of those scenes in which, though there be difficulties, there are circumstances to excite perseverance, and to reward painstaking. These are born in absolute want; their experience under the roof of their parents has been but a course of destitution; and they go forth into the world rather as fugitives from misery than as seekers to be more prosperous. If they obtain employment, their labour is perhaps repaid by wages barely sufficient to keep them alive; destitute of the means of practising anything like household management, never having known what it is to have a home, worthy to be so called, for a single day, it is scarcely possible for them to obtain that knowledge, simple as it is, which is required to contrive the various modes of making much out of a little. Besides, if the poor people existing in this condition were ever so inclined to do well, there are the strongest inducements held out to them to mismanage their small stock of means; they are continually standing in need of some temporary sustenance; and, who can wonder if thus bereft of all power to provide or to economise, they yield to destruction, and suffer themselves to be allured by the glare of the gin-palace, or the revelry of the pot-house! It is one of the signs of misery with such persons, that they are little acquainted with the art of cookery. Here and there may be found a poor woman who has become skilful by serving in the kitchens of other persons: but this is only an exception, and too rare to be of account.

In almost every family there are, occasionally, things which may be spared from its consumption, to be converted, by an experienced cook, into palatable and nourishing food for poor people, but which, if given to them in the shape of fragments, they would be totally ignorant how to make use of. Such, for instance, as bones with very little meat on them, trimmings of meat, of poultry, &c., some cooked, some uncooked, crusts of bread, and pieces of dripping; yet these, with a little pepper, salt, and flour to thicken, may, by careful cooking and scumming, be made to produce an excellent meal for a family of children.—Few servants are unwilling to take the trouble of helping their poor fellow creatures, and, if the head of every family would give as much as she can spare to the poor who live immediately in her own neighbourhood, more general good would be done than ladies can reasonably hope to do by subscribing their money to "societies," which, though they may have been established by the best-intentioned persons, and for the kindest of purposes, can never be so beneficial in their effects as that charity which one individual bestows on another. The relief which is doled out by a "Society" is accompanied by very imperfect, if any, inquiries into the particular circumstances of the persons relieved; by no expressions of sympathy, by no encouraging promises for the future, to cheer the heart of the anxious mother as she bends her way homeward with her kettle of soup: the soup which has been obtained by presenting a ticket is apportioned to the little hungry creatures, without their being reminded who it is that has so kindly provided for them, and after it is eaten there is no more thought about the source whence it came than about the hunger which it has removed. The private mode of charity is superior to the public in every way. There are great advantages arising from the former which the latter can never procure. Not only must the attentions of a known individual be the most gratefully appreciated by a poor man and woman, but the child which has often gone to bed satisfied and happy, after a supper provided by some good neighbour, cannot be expected to grow up without some of those feelings of personal respect and attachment for its benefactor, which, while they prevent the contrast of riches with poverty from becoming odious, are the strongest assurances of union between him who claims a property in the soil and him whose labour makes that property of value. Self-interest and humanity are not the least at variance in this matter; the same course of policy is dictated to both. It may seem glorious to be advertised throughout Europe, and to be read of in newspapers, as a large subscriber to a public Institution; but the benefits which are confined to a single parish are the more lasting from being local, and the fame of the distributor, though bounded in distance, is all the more deserved, the longer kept alive and cherished, and, consequently, the better worth endeavouring to obtain.

The soup I would recommend for poor people, should be made of the shin, or any coarse parts of beef, shanks and scrags of mutton, also trimmings of any fresh meat or poultry. 1 pound of meat to every pint of soup (that is, every three ½ pints of water), and then all the meat should not be boiled to rags, but some be left to eat. There should be a sufficient quantity of turnips, carrots, onions and herbs; also pepper and salt; and dumplings, of either white or brown flour, would be a good addition. A quart of soup, made in this way, with about ½ lb. of meat, and a dumpling for each person, would be a good dinner for a poor man, his wife and children; and such a one as a lady who has a kitchen at her command, may often regale them with. Less meat will do where there is pot-liquor. The liquor of all boiled meat should be saved, in a clean pan, and made the next day into soup. That of a leg of mutton will require but little meat in addition, to make good soup. The liquor of any fresh meat, of boiled pork, if the latter be not very salt, will make good peas soup, without any meat.—Soak a quart of peas all night, in soft water, or pot-liquor, and, if the former, some bones or pieces of meat; a small piece of pork would be very good. Put in 2 onions, cut up, a head of celery, a bunch of sweet herbs, and what salt and pepper you think it requires. Let it boil, and then simmer gently by the side full three hours, or longer if the peas be not done; stir the peas up from the bottom now and then. When you have neither meat nor pot-liquor, mix 2 or 3 oz. of dripping with an equal quantity of oatmeal, and stir it, by degrees, into the soup, or boil in it some dumplings of flour and suet.

In houses where a brick oven is heated once a week or oftener, for bread, it would give little additional trouble to bake a dish of some sort or other for a poor family. Soup may be made in this way: first put the meat on the fire in just enough water to cover it; when it boils, take off the scum, pour off the water, put the meat into an earthen pan, with 3 carrots cut up, a turnip, 2 onions, pepper and salt, and stale dry crusts of bread; pour over boiling water, in the proportion of a gallon to 2 lbs. meat, and let it bake three hours. Shanks of mutton, cowheels, ox and sheep's head, may be cooked in this way, but the two latter must be parboiled, to cleanse them; and will require four or five hours' baking. The soup made of ox head is not so nourishing as that of shin of beef. If there be room in the oven, a plain pudding may be baked as follows. Pour boiling skim milk over stale pieces of bread, and cover with a plate or dish. When it has soaked up the milk, beat the bread, dust in a little flour, add sugar, an egg or two, or shred suet, or pieces of dripping, and more milk if required; butter a brown pan, pour in the pudding, and bake it three-quarters of an hour.—Or: a batter pudding, made with two eggs, a quart of milk; or if eggs be scarce, leave them out, and use dripping; rub it into the flour, with a little salt, mix this by degrees with some milk into a batter and bake it. A batter pudding of this kind, rather thick, is very good with pieces of meat baked in it; in the proportion of 1 lb. solid meat, to a batter made with 1 quart of milk. Pickled pork, not very salt, makes a very good pudding. A plain rice pudding, without egg or butter, made with skim milk, and suet or dripping, is excellent food for children. But rice costs something, and my object is to point out to young housekeepers how they can best assist the poor without injury to their own purses; and, therefore, I do not urge the use of barley, rice, sugar, currants, &c. &c. They do not, of themselves, produce much nourishment; sufficient, perhaps, for children, and for persons who do not labour, but for hard working people, the object is to provide as much animal food as possible; therefore, when money is laid out, it ought to be for meat.

Puddings with suet approach very nearly to meat. A thick crust, with a slice of bacon or pork in it, and boiled, makes a good pudding.

Hasty pudding, made with skim milk, in the proportion of 1 quart to 3 table-spoonsful of flour, would be a good supper for children, and the cost not worth consideration, to any lady who has a dairy.

Buttermilk puddings, too, are cheap and easily made.

Milk is of great value to the poor.

Where there is a garden well stocked with vegetables, a meal for poor people may often be prepared, at little expense, by cooking cabbages, lettuces, turnips or carrots, &c. &c. in the water which has been saved from boiling meat, or thin broth. The vegetables, stewed slowly till tender, with or without a small piece of meat, and the gravy seasoned and thickened, will be much more nourishing, as well as palatable, than plain boiled.

To dress Cabbages, Lettuces, Brocoli and Cauliflower.

Put ½ lb. bacon or pork, in slices, at the bottom of a stew-pan, upon them a large cabbage, or two small ones, in quarters; a small bunch of herbs, some pepper and salt, the same quantity of bacon or pork on the top, and a quart of water or pot liquor; let it simmer till the cabbage is quite tender.

Another: wash a large cabbage or lettuce, open the leaves, and put between them little pieces of bacon or pork, and any fragments of fresh meat cut up; tie up the cabbage securely, and stew it till tender in a very little broth or water, with a little butter rolled in flour, and some seasonings. A little meat will go a great way in making this a palatable dish. Turnips, carrots, and potatoes, either raw, or such as have been cooked the day before, may be just warmed up, or stewed till tender in a little weak broth, thickened with flour, and seasoned with salt and pepper, and then, poured with the gravy on slices of bread in a tureen, they will be good food for children.

In “Cobbett’s Cottage Economy” there will be found a variety of receipts for cooking Indian corn meal.