This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
And even as lately as at the beginning of the last century (1810) a bowl of coloured glass containing water was placed before each guest, at the end of dinner, and the women as well as the men stooped over it, sucked up some of the water, rinsed out the mouth, and swilled the water back again into the bowl. Such behaviour represented the extreme of table refinement amongst our most cultivated persons less than a hundred years ago. There is Biblical authority for telling how men, in ancient days, used to wipe the dishes (2 Kings xxi. 13): "And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down".
This would seem to show that of old the kitchen was not exclusively woman's kingdom.
Lately a spirited comparison between English and American Cookery has been made in some of our leading journals. In Brooklyn Life, thus recently sang an unfortunate husband over the water: -
"She's joined a class, and learn't to cook, Oh! woe! oh! deepest woe! She gets it out of a terrible book, And her biscuits eat like dough,
Like dough, And her biscuits eat like dough!
I have to smile, and swallow her pies:
Oh! would that I were dead! Her puddings boiled are a sad surprise,
And I can't describe her bread, Her bread,
And I can't describe her bread!
Poor little woman! She does her best,
To make me a happy man: But I wish she'd love me, and leave the rest,
To our good old Mary Ann, 'ry Ann,
To our good old Mary Ann".
In the St. James' Gazette (June, 1902) Marie Louise, the Belgian wife of an Englishman, asks: "Will England ever get its daughters to understand that Cooking is an Art (with a capital A), and a most interesting and pleasurable Art if properly taught and practised? Alas! I doubt if things will ever alter in such respect, for English girls are not built that way; no matter of which class - upper, middle, or lower - they are not eager to learn, and therefore it is not only the Americans who are the sufferers here, but England's own children become weaker and weaker every generation through that dire malady, indigestion." Dickens lets us know that in his day things were different: "Mr. Pickwick's landlady in Goswell Street was a comely woman, of bustling manners, and agreeable appearance, with a natural genius for cooking, improved by study, and long practice, into an exquisite talent." Nowadays, as quoth the Art of Cookery (1708): -
"The gentry take their cooks, tho' never tryed; It seems no more to these than ' up, and ride.'"
Henry the Eighth of England rewarded his cook by the gift of a manor for having composed a pudding of special merit. What a contrast do the following lines, pathetically true, present to-day: -
"A woman there was, and she wrote for the press,
(As you, or I might do), She told how to cut, and fit a dress, And how to stew many a savoury mess; But she never had done it herself, I guess!
(Which none of her readers knew! )
Oh! the hours we spent, and the flour we spent,
And the sugar we wasted like sand,
At the 'hest of a woman who never had cooked, (And now we know she never could cook, And never did understand! )
The frugal repast which Horace, the Roman Poet, provided for a neighbour whom he had invited, or for a guest whom rough times had constrained to seek a refuge with him, consisted, not of rare fishes procured from the city, but, more sensibly, of a fine pullet, and a plump kid, with dessert to follow, of grapes, figs, and nuts.
"At mihi cum longum post tempus venerat hospes, Sive operum vacuo longum conviva per imbrem Vicinus, bene erat, non piscibus urbe petitis, Sed pullo, atque hoedo; cum pensilis uva secundas, Et nux ornabat mensas cum duplice ficu".
It is to be noted that the object aimed at in cooking food is twofold: First, from an aesthetic point of view, to improve its appearance when it comes to table, and to develop in it new flavours; second, with a hygienic purpose, to partially sterilize the food, thereby enabling it to remain longer sweet, and good. No animal parasite found in meat is capable of withstanding a temperature of 70° Centigrade (158° Fahrt), therefore all ordinary forms of cooking will render meat free from this source of infection. Stewing is in many respects the ideal method for cooking meat; it coagulates the proteids without over-hardening them, whilst none of the flavouring ingredients are lost, seeing that the juice is eaten with the meat. But it is a mistake to suppose that cooking increases the digestibility of all foods; this is true only with respect to vegetable foods; that of animal viands is, as already stated, diminished rather than increased by cooking.
"The fundamental principle of all Is what ingenious books the relish call. For, when the market sends in loads of food, "Tis this in nice perfection makes it good".
"Before each meal is served, or after it has been cooked, and eaten, the housewife,"so a recent American authority teaches, "should add up the different amounts of proteid, fat, and carbohydrates found in the food! Computing cards should be put into requisition at each meal; then when the day is over you can find out whether you have taken too much of one kind of food, or not enough of another." With reference to this new scientific device the Chicago Tribune humorously puts the matter thus: -
"Mother's slow at figures, but she always has to count The proteids, to make sure we receive the right amount; She keeps a pad of paper, and a pencil, near the sink, And estimates our victuals - all the things we eat, and drink; She lists our carbohydrates, and she scribbles down the fat, And our specific gravity - she closely watches that.
Mother's slow at figures, so our breakfast's always late;
The proteids, and the hydrates make the task for her too great;
We never get a luncheon, since she figures on till noon,
And finds we've overdone it, and that nearly makes her swoon;
Mother's always tabulating every pennyweight we eat;
Except the meals we smuggle from the cook-shop down the street.