The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning or saving money. – Mrs. Child, The American Frugal Housewife
I’m not big on new years retrospectives or resolutions: I find it counterproductive to make grand decisions which I’ll inevitably not live up to – instead I’ve been trying to take on bite-sized resolutions all through the year. But maybe the idea of taking on small resolutions is itself a big resolution…Ack! Well, before I get tangled up in philosophical conundra, I’ll get back to the original reason for this post: my current mini-resolution is to post more, and to restart my “Sunday Tips” section. My mom gave my a copy of The American Frugal Housewife, from which the above quote is taken, for Christmas (along with a couple of other books which will probably show up soon). This book was published in 1833 by Mrs. Child:
“There is no substitute for butter in important food elements, notwithstanding statements to the contrary. Butter should on no account be dispensed with in an economy diet.” – The Gold Cook Book, by Master Chef Louis P. De Gouy
Master Chef De Gouy’s 1947 classic cookbook is, as you might expect, quite liberal in mandates for use of butter. De Gouy was a French-trained chef who practiced his art mainly in mid-century grand hotels (the preface to the 15th anniversary edition I have was penned by Oscar of the Waldorf).
Many of the books I collect reflect the growing influence of [highly butter-based] French cuisine in American kitchens. The books which fill the rest of my shelves – baking books – are obviously equally fat-centric. Very often, I give up on fat amounts entirely and just focus on going from lard to butter.
Equally often, however, I just give in and use whatever the recipe calls for. I have friends who cut butter in cakes and cookies with wonderful results – but I like my sweets and cooking adventures to be treats – exceptional, not-every-day. So, you may have noticed I keep my baking to once a week or so (and give away many of the products) and that I try healthier main course recipes more often than I do full-cream, roux-based, pork-filled concoctions. However alluring those dishes might be. I try to keep things to 21st century health levels most of the time…so when I go to the other extreme I go all the way. On that note…I’m going to go look through the Gold Cook Book’s sauce section…and pick out the next in line.
“This is the proper season for baking – wasps buzzing dizzily in last flecks of autumn sunlight, children rattling in leaf piles, the days slower in pace and growing nippy. Ovens that have been grudgingly lighted only when necessary during the sweltering months now are lit with a pop of joy that relief has come. The comfortable baking days are here again . . .” – Edward Harris Heth
This observation is so true (I’m in the middle of my fall baking frenzy), and so beautifully written. I hope I have time soon to read through then entirety of Heth’s “Country Kitchen Cook Book,” which I picked up last week along with a couple of other finds. The recipes in this book are interspersed with essays and musings on food, seasons, and rhythms of rural American life. Immediately fascinated with this pre-Alice Waters local food advocate, I started Googling…and found that Mr. Heth had quite this interesting life. Apparently he grew up in Wisconsin, moved to New York in the 1930s to pursue a career in writing. He moved back to Wisconsin in the 1940s (he seems to have had a breakdown of some sort) and settled in a farmhouse in Wales. With his partner Bill. They lived in Wales until the 1960s: Bill was a successful ceramist, and Heth wrote on food and Wisconsin (sort of a Midwestern M.F.K. Fischer). The couple passed away within 2 years of each other; Heth, sadly, seems to have taken his own life after Bill died. You can read more here.
Barbecue (Fr.) Originally the method of cooking (roasting) an animal whole; to dress and roast whole; a social entertainment where the food is cooked outside in the open. – Mrs. Beeton
This just has is all: history, historical take on history, etymology…and atmosphere. A few years back, during my undergraduate archaeology days (before a) I realized I had little desire to do a 9-year PhD, and then b) wound up in law school) I spent a summer digging in Greece and living with the rest of the excavation team in a small village on the Aegean coast. This village didn’t have any real restaurants – just a few bars which served amazing mezze and gyros – but every weekend the local butcher would set up tables on the patio next to his shop and serve lamb. Or rather, serve a lamb. A whole lamb would be stuck on a spit and roasted in an open brick hearth and bits would be hacked off as people ordered. Our dig’s Polish ceramics expert once ordered the head; the butcher happily served it up, eyeballs and all.
If only I had the outdoor space to do a whole-animal roast. I’d totally use the offal to try Mrs. Beeton’s haggis recipe, and have people over for some really old-school revelry. Sadly, I don’t even have the indoor space to prepare something like that: my kitchen is luxurious by Manhattan standards (it has a real doorway!) but I still only have about 1.5 yards of counter space, total, and this amazing article by Bill Buford details the pitfalls of whole-animal butchery in The City…
Getting back to American Barbecue: I really posted this because it reminded me that I’m going to Dinosaur BBQ Tuesday and that I am REALLY excited to dig into a Tres Hombres platter (“A spirited serving of Bar-B-Que pork, Texas Beef Brisket (sliced) & Bar-B-Que ribs”). This will probably feed me for 2 days. Maybe I’ll even look into my Army Wives Casserole Book to figure out what to do with the leftovers…
“In September and October the household returns to normal after the holidays. Apples and pears will be gathered and stored carefully, winter clothes and bedding got out, summer things washed and put away. This is the time for lagging of pipes and draughtproofing of windows and generally making the house snug for the winter.” – Mrs. Beeton
Two things about this passage struck me: 1) the concern for energy efficiency, 2) the idea of changing your household routine with the seasons. I live in a New York apartment with zero storage and spend all winter beset by overheated radiators and huge drafty windows. I tend to try to transition my wardrobe and bedding between seasons by layering, and there’s not much I can do about the windows and heating without calling my super. Perhaps, though, I’ll try my hand in the coming weeks at some easily storageable apple byproducts. Mrs. Beeton has assorted recipes for pickles, hard cider, and homemade wine…