Monday, June 17, 2013

Plucky Housewife


I would like to introduce you to my latest great, ancient, and wonderfully decrepit book find!  This one is a doozey.  I have mentioned how I love the leather or clothbound vintage hardcovers, but I did not divulge that the deeper love I feel is for is cradled between those two tattered cracking binders held in place by remnants of dried glue and unraveling threads.

The writing.

The script.  The ebb and flow of language and intentions.  The forthright attitude and unabashed fortitude to mean what is said and say what is meant.  The clever vernacular which deftly portrays the thoughts of the author to paper.  And much of this is one's natural gift, not schooled or trained or boxed into a mundane literary expectation.  Our literary predecessors mastered, of their own volition, a raw craft in its frivolity by finely grating one's element of authorship.  And then, there are some brightly written, well-meaning, lavish expository pieces that speak for the times and themselves.

Readers, meet Practical Housekeeping.

At some point in our lives, whether we marry or not or have children or not, we become a keeper of our homes be they one room or ten.  I ventured to put myself to the test to see if I was plucky housewife material according to my house-wivery ancestors.
What constitutes a plucky housewife?
What criteria meets the standard for a plucky housewife?
How may one be assured they have acquired the prestige of a plucky housewife?
Well, one must read the book on it.  After all, it is, "not a hap-hazard collection of recipes, gathered at random from doubtful sources, but has been made up, without sparing time, labor, or expense, from the choicest bits of the best experience of hundred who have long travelled the daily round of household duties, not reluctantly like drudges, but lovingly, with heart and hand fully enlisted in the work."
Revealed in the preface, plucky housewives are, "Those housewives, especially, whose purses are not over-plethoric will, it is believed, find its pages full of timely and hopeful suggestion in their efforts to make the balance of the household ledger appear on the right side, without lessening the excellence of the table or robbing home of any comfort or attraction."  What a practical philosophy from which to derive the mastery of household engineering.
 "Fortunately, it is becoming fashionable to economize, and housekeepers are rarely finding it a pleasant pastime to search out and stop wastes in household expenses, and to exercise the thousand little economies which thoughtful and careful women understand so readily and practice with such grace."  I much prefer this eloquent phraseology to the brassy words cheap and frugal.
The contributing authors then lend their expertise to describe in full detail the art of bread-making, breakfast and tea cakes, fragments of various cooking endeavors, how to give a dinner (make sure all your wait staff and menus are in order the day before), healthy rain water (as it is stated to be the purest once filtered), accidents and sudden sickness, etc.
There is a chapter titled, "Hints for the Well."  Allow me to quote the opening lines,
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Always rest before and after a hearty meal.
Do not eat too much.  Do not eat late at night.
Food, especially bread, should never be eaten hot.
Children should never be dressed in tight clothes.
Never sit in a damp or chilly room without a fire.
Supper just before going to bed is highly injurious.  If hungry, a bit of bread or cracker will check the craving without spoiling sleep.
Never empty a room where a person is sick with an infectious disease with an empty stomach.
When really sick, send for a good physician; and as you value your health and life, have nothing to do with quacks or patent medications.
The condiments pepper, ginger, etc. are less injurious in summer.  Fat beef, bacon and hearty food may be eaten more freely in winter."
In case you've always wondered about your dietary intake and scheduling, "Adults need to eat at regular intervals two or three times a day, allowing time for each meal to be fully digested before another is taken.  It would spoil a loaf of bread, half baked, to poke a lump of cold dough into the middle of it."
Oh, and don't sleep in the same garb that you wore during the day, see, because, "Three pints of moisture, filled with the waste of the body are given off every twenty-four hours, and mostly absorbed by clothing."  Ick.  Guess I better stop slumbering in my moisture and waste encrusted clothes.
To give due credit, the book does touch on some very useful and modern tactics of household maintenance to work with, once you grow thick skin from the comparison of the savvy French versus wasteful and indulgent Americans, and for not descendants of aristocrats, or how not to be lazy pregnant women.  I learned that an, "ingenious or thoughtful housekeeper will often manage to make one utensil  do the work of three or four."  Huh.  My drawer of spatulas for every scale of food-flipping are simply unnecessary.  Broken pancakes and rumpled omelets await me.
And, apparently I own several "kitchen luxuries" such as my pancake lifter, a waffle iron, dish drainer, fluted cake pan, and apple corer.  Lest ye think me spoiled, I lack many luxuries like a real Bain Marie, larding needles or a good lantern (as opposed to a bad one which is "as useful when needed as a broken umbrella"). 
Concluding my synopsis of the adhered to credentials for mastering homestead bliss, I hereby declare that I, in good faith and effort, simply do not measure up in all facets of noted and practiced requisites to bear full entitlement to or prestige of the title.  Suppose I have a few more stripes to earn.  However, I concede my rank neither with frustration nor self-pity, but, offer my condolences quite befittingly 
Pardon me, I must now grab a spot of tea, slip into a comfy chair and dive back in to this gnarly little read so that I, too, may become pluckier and more practical in my housekeeping.