"Letters To A Young Housekeeper"

Letters To A Young Housekeeper by Mrs. Bayard Taylor (Marie Hansen-Taylor)

I was a little bit disappointed in this one. I hoped the letters would deal with all the various aspects of running a home but they addressed only cooking. It was nevertheless interesting and fun to read, if a bit monotonous at times.

I'm guessing these 24 letters were written in the 1860's or thereabouts. Taylor was born in 1829, so 1860 or 1870 would make sense; I couldn't find much information. Wikipedia has a page on her husband, poet and travel writer Bayard Taylor, but nothing on Marie. The letters were written to a young friend who was setting up housekeeping and who, apparently, had little experience preparing meals.

Mrs. Taylor speaks with authority on the subject. She is firm in her belief that variety in meals is important: "If you wish your husband to be nervously debilitated by and by, disheartened and the reverse of cheerful, give him breakfasts without substance and dinners without variety. Be they cooked as well as you please, that will not tend to mend matters in the long run." She also encourages economy, but not at the expense of quality: "To provide for your meals buy the best of materials; it is the cheapest because it goes furthest in nourishing".

 She begins her instruction with how to prepare various meats, including beef, mutton, venison and poultry. Pigeon seems to have been a fairly common item on the table. I'm glad that trend has passed. Subsequent letters discuss soups, sauces, gelatin dishes, rice, macaroni, vegetables, fish, salads, eggs, light desserts, cakes and preserves. The final letter suggests menus for a dinner party.  She's quite knowledgeable about the science and history of cooking, and mentions several recipes acquired in European travels. Most of the recipes are labour intensive; it's hard to imagine how she had time to do anything other than cook.

Butter, cream and eggs are used often and without much restraint, though she does at least mention restraint at one point. A recipe for Vienna Cake calls for a pound of butter, 14 eggs and a pound of sugar. We are told to mix in the eggs one at a time, then "Stir for half an hour." Seriously? I am going to try one of her cake recipes but there won't be any 30 minute stirring marathons unless the Kitchen Aid does it.

It was interesting to see how food preparation and attitudes toward certain foods have changed over the last century. I would never have guessed there was a time when carrots were considered fine for soups and stews but not for serving as a vegetable. Pork was thought adequate for the family table but not for dinner guests. 

This book offers an interesting look at the life of a home cook in a different time. It won't appeal to every reader but if you like that kind of thing it's worth looking at. I downloaded a free e-reader version that turned out to be a mess; there were headings mixed up with the text, lots of broken up sentences and words out of place all over the pages. Hopefully you'll find a better version. I am so never giving up real books.


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