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On to the household management

by Dee
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Today is one of the numerous days where I spend my time enriching my knowledge, without having no idea as to when or where to practice it. After Lucy’s presentation on Medieval, Victorian, Georgian, Edwardian, and modern British domestic life, I am obsessed to watch all the related documentaries (…and that is why I love the BBC). They somehow are the elixirs to my longing to come back to the UK, well.. just to hear a familiar accents on the way people talk, I certainly hope it is enough. Not.

Sophie Dahl host to The Marvellous Mrs. Beeton. Image is taken from BBC 2 website

Today I stumble upon Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Managements with Sophie Dahl (that lucky girl who marries Jamie Cullum and has Lyra as her baby) on BBC2 (the programme was entitled The Marvellous Mrs. Beeton). She owns this book, being passed on to her by her grandmother, and it was the first edition (even more luckier!). I saw the book she was waiving on the show and I have a thing with old books, i decided to give it a research. Being one of the first books to have colour plates printed on it, the book contains everything that a Victorian woman needs to know to manage their households. Having watched Lucy’s Harlots, Housewives, and Heroines Act 1 about the roles of women at home, I have concluded that women’s roles are somewhat essentials and important to the household they’re in; and even more so complicated than the roles today’s women have. Why I should think so? Because these past household managers have to make things from scratch and scraps.

The show carried on and one thing hit my eyes immediately – was when Sophie and her friend were at the kitchen making carrot jam and raspberry jam (was it raspberry?? the berry was actually too big to the raspberry – I wasn’t paying attention to the berry). On the book, the carrot jam is supposed to be the substitute for apricot jam. [see the full recipe] I HATE vegetables, and especially carrots (as the saying has it, that is why I am wearing glasses). But I am very well intrigued to try this carrot jam (a.k.a. apricot jam – if I hadn’t been informed of this in the first place because it DOES coloured like apricots!). If I am not mistaken, this recipe shall be found on the Chapter 31 of the Book of Household Managements.

The Book

Cover of Mrs. Beeton’s  Book of Household Managements
Image taken from Wikipedia

I had to steal some knowledge from the mighty Wikipedia for this part of the essay. The book was published in 1861 by Mr. Beeton (obviously the husband of Mrs. Beeton (née Mayson); with thousands of pages containing various household recipes and (i imagine) tips and tricks for house chores. What I like is that the book includes the ingredients, the price of the meal made, and the duration of the cooking process. Such a meticulous work, although I have little doubts that the price would be of relevance with today’s currency. This point attracts me the most because I have this mindset in my brain that in whichever condition I am placed on, I shall not suffer from the inavailability of sources to make the things I am used to enjoy, plus, how to get these things in reasonable prices. I have a thought, that with this ‘weapon of thinking’, my future husband wouldn’t have to worry about spending so much money on household managing allocations. Then again, I was just thinking… nor that I have a husband or potentials.

The book was a constant hit, overlapping with Charles Dicken’s Great Expectation (as said on the documentary). In a form of compilation from the female reader of her and her husband’s domestic weekly magazine, it is a masterpiece. And…. she’s not that type of stay-at-home mum as you’d (or I’d) imagined. She worked with her husband, who owned a publishing company, as a journalist. So, Isabella Beeton was a working mom. I imagined that she was actually doing whatever it is that she has written and compiled in the book. If she had not, then… it’s okay. I guess the book might be useful for other women from various generations, remembering that this work is more than 100 years old and still is being used. 

The first two chapters of this book discuss (or instruct) about women’s role as the mistress of the household and as a housekeeper. Chapter three includes the explanations on the arrangements and the economics of the kitchen, as well as inserts on some French terms used in the modern household cookery. I wonder when she wrote modern, it must have referred to her timeline, but French terms don’t change much, so it’s probably in relevance for today’s. Then she went on with recipes on the rest of the book. Wow! Such an amazing lady.

Chapter 1 opens with:

AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so as it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path.

Oh well. I can’t compete with what Number Three has to say:

EARLY RISING IS ONE OF THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITIES which enter into good Household Management, as it is not only the parent of health, but of innumerable other advantages. Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed.

HAHAHAHA…. Sorry, but I had to laugh at myself on this department!! I have forgotten the thing about rising up early since I graduated my bachelor degree duties. No, I know it is NOT a reason – it’s an EXCUSE for me not to rise early, but hell yeah, let’s see it in the mirror and say that I should change it. It’s just that my bed feels sooooooooooooooooooooo comfortable I find it hard for me to raise my vertebral column from the spring-y bed. Oh, God…. Hahahaha.. such a reason, ehm, I mean, excuse.

She pin-pointed the necessity of a woman:

“..To run a respectable household and secure the happiness, comfort and well-being of her family she must perform her duties intelligently and thoroughly.”

(Women in the Victorian era)

… and she talked about how

“THE CHOICE OF ACQUAINTANCES is very important to the happiness of a mistress and her family…” (number 6); and “…FRIENDSHIPS SHOULD NOT BE HASTILY FORMED, nor the heart given, at once, to every new-comer.”

(number 7)

This is a seriously word by word, step by step guidebook that pinpointed almost EVERYTHING IMPORTANT to be a woman, and yet to run a household. I started to loving the every page I am reading. She even covered the estimation of wages for the househelpers. Truly amazing and meticulous.

On chapter 2, she wrote,

A NECESSARY QUALIFICATION FOR A HOUSEKEEPER is, that she should thoroughly understand accounts. She will have to write in her books an accurate registry of all sums paid for any and every purpose, all the current expenses of the house, tradesmen’s bills, and other extraneous matter.

from nigella.com

Hmm, I feel like if I had read all the points made on this book, I’d be the housewife that every men would want and if I follow every rules laid out, I would have a perfectly managed household. This is interesting! I mean, there is no harm on combining the traditional ways of household managerials with these of the Victorians, right? Sorry, future husband, I have made my mind. This is how our household is going to be managed with. Oh, I want the original copy of the book!!!!! I’d like to think that this is the earlier version of Nigella’s Domestic Goddess potrayal in today’s society. Maybe Nigella was even inspired by her. Though I believe that Nigella only covers the part where women can be goddesses in the kitchen – which is still not an easy way, especially with all the options that we have these days: career-woman, homemaker, single-fighter (the more accepted-slash-polite way to say spinster these days), single parent, etc.

In case you were wondering where I have gotten the excerpts, open Google and type the title of the book as the keyword. Make yourself resourceful, WOMAN! Allright, allright, I’ll be resourceful for you…..

The official website for the WHOLE chapters of the book

It seems like being a perfect manager of the household is very important for women living in Victorian era – if not today. During my unprofessional research I stumbled upon one digital collection of  WOMEN AND VICTORIAN VALUES, 1837-1910, Advice Books, Manuals and Journals for Women, with sources from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. It is mentioned that there are plenty of handbooks regarding to the household management and cookery for women in that era. Here are some titles included on the website:

  • The housewife’s guide (1840).
  • The female’s friend and general domestic advisor (1837) by Robert Huish.
  • Indian domestic economy (1852).
  • The hostess of to-date (1899) by Linda Larned.
  • Labourers Friend Society: A 2nd series of useful hints for labourers (1840).
  • Comfort in the home (1895) by M J Loftie.
  • The servant’s companion (1864) by S M T Millington.
  • A manual of homeopathic cookery (1846).
  • From kitchen to garret: Hints for young householders (1888) by Jane Panton.
  • Selfridge’s household encyclopaedia (1929).
  • The Twentieth Century Household guide (1909).

And I blame Lucy Worsley to have opened my eyes to this interesting issue. Hahahaa… Thanks, Lucy! The variety of cuisine and developments of gadgetry to be used in the kitchen and all that matters the most, not merely to keep the husband to keep coming back home at the end of the day, but also for the greater picture of happiness of the household as well. Rare picturesque for today’s society. Come on… now don’t you lie to yourself! *wink All we care about today is the equality of the women and men in the society, whilst how many percentage of our time spent to cook at home for our family? I have a personal fantasy about being able to be on the field but also cook at home later when I have my own household. I don’t know yet how to do it, as I am not attached at the moment, nor do I have children, but I do have that in mind. Maybe I should write and publish a manual book for women archaeologists alike, later in the day. HAHAHAHA. no, really. I do have the thought.

Notes Compared

Time for comparing notes. 

Image taken from Google Images

When talking about guidebooks on household and such, Indonesia has the infamous R.A. Kartini. She (and her sisters) is (are) the only one(s) whom I know have such recipe book published. And by God, they sell it quite on a high price! Some of her recipes are made into coffee table books with extreme expensiveness (sweet Lord, 350,000 Rupiahs!!! – I guess this is equivalent to the efforts made on translating the methods and re-measuring the ingredients, so it’s a fair expensive price ) and some are published in a more humanely price. I have never encounter a detailed book like Mrs. Beeton’s though, that could be passed generations to generations as a manual and somehow sacred heirloom from a mother to a daughter. If anyone does encounter such thing in Indonesia, especially, please do let me know. It’s enriching my knowledge.

The book that Kartini and her sisters published consisted of lists of recipes, written in Javanese, employing measurements relevant to the time it was written and were the recipes regular to her family. Most of the recipes have foreign influence, mostly Dutch, accordingly to the time of her life. The manners-manual included within the writings were also Dutch-influenced. The publisher did had to convert all the measurements and had a taste test-kitchen to ensure the recipes were converted correctly. Recipes ranging from traditional Javanese food to European style puddings and Dutch’s poffertjes can be found in the collection.

I have always eyed this book whenever I walk passed it on the bookstore, just that I have no sum of money enough to pay for it at the till. Ha! And to be honest, some of the stuff written, I have known from my mother and grandmother too. There are types of activities or preferences like: having bread and butter or jam and tea for breakfast or having afternoon tea time with cakes and/or crackers – which are usual in my mother’s household. Laksmi Pamuntjak wrote on her piece about the European-ness on Kartini’s life:

Dengan demikian Eropa juga masuk ke diri Kartini melalui makanan.. Buku yang ditulis Kartini, kumpulan resep keluarganya, adalah semacam testimoni atas bagaimana cita rasa dan cara hidup kaum elite kolonial meniru budaya si penguasa yang sebenarnya juga tidak asli.

Kartini dan Eropa: Sebuah Mimikri, 2008.

[transl.: European style has been instilled within Kartini’s life through food and cookery. The book she had written, the compilation of her family’s recipe, was some sort of testimonial towards how the taste and lifestyle of the colonial elites mimicked those of the foreigners (red. changed it from the pejorative-like meaning) which were actually not originally theirs.]

Relevance to Today’s Homemakers

If we look at the history of the earlier women whom are (mostly) homemakers, I really think that we should be thankful (not that I am a homemaker [yet]). Why? Because oh my God, what does the supermarket is not selling to make our managerial job easier!? I believe we need not have to make carrot jam to substitute apricot jam; as all we need is to walk on the aisle of jam in the supermarket and pick one jar or two!

I recognised something, though. Sophie did said something that this book is a traditional gift to new brides as to help on starting the household management that she had just become the boss of. ‘Tis indeed though, a good present for the bride. I imagine having one copy of the Kartini’s recipe book on my present list one day. Ha! No, really. Seriously. Standing between two cultural influences is never easy and I would like to preserve the way it is done by my ancestors, though not deliberately forbidding myself to indulge in other cultural cuisine. [heck, I want a  tiramisu NOW!!!]

If you are willing to have a copy of it, those who stayed in the UK might simply browse around the library or amazon.co.uk or Waterstones Books. Here are some list to the sellers of the book: 

  1. Mrs Beeton’s Household Management (Wordsworth Reference) for £ 3.39 
  2. Mrs Beeton How to Cook: 220 Classic Recipes Updated for the Modern Cook [Hardcover] for £17.50
  3. Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide [Paperback] for £7.99 (amazon says there’s only THREE copies LEFT‼) 
  4. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management – Abridged edition for £4.50 on Blackwell Bookstore

And she even got one about NEEDLEWORK‼ Check this one: Beeton’s Book of Needlework for only £18.99 on Waterstones.

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