Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mrs Beeton

Ah, Mrs Beeton and her Book of Household Management. Such a delight to slip away from the everyday and let her ornate prose pull you back into a time that seems so much simpler than our own (but, to be fair, was at least as complex and distressing for those living through it).
Isabella Mary Mayson (March 12, 1836 – January 1865), universally known as Mrs Beeton, was the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and is the most famous cookery writer in British history.
Isabella was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London. Her father Benjamin Mason died when she was young and her mother Elizabeth Jerram remarried a Henry Dorling. She was sent to school in Heidelberg in Germany and afterward returned to her stepfather’s home in Epsom.
On a visit to London, she was introduced to Samuel Orchard Beeton, a publisher of books and popular magazines, whom she married on 10 July 1856.She began to write articles on cooking and household management for her husband’s publications.
In 1859–1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.
In October 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume.

I love reading the old recipes and  it bothers me sometimes that so many of the items Mrs. B takes for granted are so much more difficult for the cook to acquire today. Like wild duck and most game....
And Mrs. B's background information is so perfect. Writing about the husbandry of pigs, she writes:
But however few, or however many, young pigs there may be to the farrow, there is always one who is the dwarf of the family circle, a poor, little, shrivelled, half-starved anatomy, with a small melancholy voice, a staggering gait, a woe-begone countenance, and a thread of a tail, whose existence the complacent mother ignores, his plethoric brothers and sisters repudiate, and for whose emaciated jaws there is never a spare or supplemental teat, till one of the favoured gormandizers, overtaken by momentary oblivion, drops the lacteal fountain, and gives the little squeaking straggler the chance of a momentary mouthful. This miserable little object, which may be seen bringing up the rear of every litter, is called the Tony pig, or the Anthony; so named, it is presumed, from being the one always assigned to the Church, when tithe was taken in kind; and as St. Anthony was the patron of husbandry, his name was given in a sort of bitter derision to the starveling that constituted his dues; for whether there are ten or fifteen farrows to the litter, the Anthony is always the last of the family to come into the world.

Of course it makes sense to tithe the small runt to the church. And the  line "one of the favoured gormandizers, overtaken by momentary oblivion, drops the lacteal fountain, and gives the little squeaking straggler the chance of a momentary mouthful" just kills me. So much better than saying "the runt only gets access to a teat when one of the other piglets finishes and falls asleep." "Lacteal fountain"--so cool.
And one of the great things about the internet is how projects like this one become available. I don't think I could put enough people together from my own social circle to pursue a project like this, but with the new connectivity, you can put enough people together from wherever they are.

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