I came across this antiquated volume tucked back in among my collection of cookbooks. I vaguely recall someone, maybe my husband, thinking I would appreciate its quaint take on cookery and the role of women in that far-flown age. I did, but then
The Virginia House-wife
got lost behind the other larger books and forgotten. Yes, it’s definitely from another age.
To quote from the author, Mrs. Mary Randolph, also known as
The Methodical Cook
, as she calls herself, “The grand areanum of management lies in three simple rules: “Let everything be done at a proper time, keep everything in its proper place, and put everything to its proper use.”
“If the mistress of the family will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state…early rising is essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day…when the family breakfasts by detachments, the table remains a tedious time; the servants are kept from their morning’s meal…No work can be done until the breakfast is finished. The Virginia ladies who are proverbially good managers employ themselves while the servants are eating…arranging the cruets, the mustard, salt-sellers, pickle vases, and all that apparatus for the dinner table. “
“The husband who can ask a friend to partake of his dinner in full confidence of finding his wife unruffled by the petty vexations attendant on the neglect of household duties, who can usher his guest into the dining room assured of seeing that methodical nicety which is the essence of true elegance, will feel pride and exultation in the possession of a companion who gives to his home charms that gratify every wish of his soul…”
And so on regarding the attainment of perfection for married women. And you thought this was just a cookbook. No, it’s also a moral treatise on the expectations heaped on new housewives. But I detected one vital element that helps make this ideal state attainable, SERVANTS!
Amazon, that has everything, also has
The Virginia House-wife
and says it was originally published in 1825, so we have a later reprint from 1897. Of the book, it states, “
The Virginia House-Wife
was the most influential cookbook in nineteenth-century America. Considered the ultimate how-to cookbook, it rivals some of the currently popular cookbooks with its commonsense knowledge and advice which remains practical to this day.”
Well, maybe not ALL of its advice remains practical, but it’s chocked full of recipes and quite interesting to read over.
A Recipe for Old English Plum Pudding from
The Virginia House-Wife Cookbook:
Beat eight eggs very light, add to them a pound of flour sifted, and a pound of powdered sugar; when it looks quite light, put in a pound of suet finely shredded, a pint of milk, a nutmeg grated, and a gill of brandy; mix with a pound of dried currants, and a pound of raisins stoned and floured--tie in a thick cloth and boil it steadily for eight hours.
A variation of that theme is called just Plum Pudding:
Take a pound of best flour, sift it, and make it up before sunrise, with six eggs beaten light; a large spoonful of good yeast, and as much milk as will make it the consistency of bread (dough); let it rise well, knead into it a half pound of butter, put in a grated nutmeg, with one and a half pounds of raisins stoned and cut up; mix well together, wet the cloth, flour it, and tie it loosely, that the pudding may have room to rise. *Raisins for pudding or cakes should be rubbed in a little flour to prevent their settling to the bottom--see that it does not stick to them in lumps. *Cloths for boiling puddings should be made of German sheeting; an article less thick will admit water and injure the pudding.
She doesn't say anything more than this. I'm assuming this pudding is also to be boiled for the above mentioned eight hours. I never made either but thought they looked fascinating. In doing more investigation on English plum pudding, I came across a wonderful account and old recipe with more details. He says to cover the pot in which you're boiling the pudding and check to be sure it doesn't boil dry: