‘One can never have enough saucepans’ – the duties of an 18th century cook

Justus Juncker - cook
By Justus Juncker

Well, so far we have looked at household maid and the laundry maid, so we now move on to take a look at what would have been expected of the cook according to Mrs Parkes. Her description of the role provides an interesting insight into the way in which the employer viewed the role of the cook and her possible honesty and integrity as well as how frugally the household food budget could be managed – perhaps a lesson in for us in today’s ‘times of austerity’.

The cook should be healthy and strong, and particularly clean in her person. Her hands, though they  may be rough from the nature of her employment, yet, should have a clean appearance.

Her honesty and sobriety must be unquestionable, because there will be so many things tempting her to betray her trust and this she may do for a length of time without discovery.

She can neither be clean nor neat in her work if she does not have a sufficient number of saucepans, kettles, and a variety of other utensils but which must bear a proper proportion to the quantity of cooking which she has to perform.

Roller towels, kitchen table-cloths, and towels, should be given out to her each week, in sufficient number, to afford her the means of being clean, without extravagance.

In those houses in which there is much cooking, and in large families, a kitchen-maid is generally kept, to whom devolves the preparing of the servants meals, and the cleaning the kitchen and the various cooking utensils; but, in smaller families, this additional servant is unnecessary, the work being easily performed by the cook.

The kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned twice during the week, and well swept each day: besides which, the broom and mop should always be at hand to remove any thing that may have fallen on the floor, while the business of cooking is going on. A dirty floor, fire-place, unpolished utensils, with basins, jugs, or other articles left lying about, are symptoms of a slovenly cook, and are sufficient to excite suspicions of her nicety in things of greater importance to your comfort.

The cleaning of the kitchen, pantry, passages, and kitchen stairs, should always be over before breakfast, so that it may not interfere with the usual business of the day.

(c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Elizabeth Hickman (d.1784), Cook to the Corporation by unknown artist (c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If there is no housekeeper, the cook should, early in the day go into the kitchen and look around to see if all this has been properly done. You can then give your orders for the day, and inquire what is required from your store-room. The other servants should, also, come at the same time to ask for such things as they may need.

After each day’s cooking is over, the grate and hearth should be cleared, a small fire made up, and the boiler and kettle filled up and set on to boil. She should then, when there is no scullion, proceed to wash her dishes, having previously prepared two tubs, one with clean hot water, and the other with cold; in which latter the plates and dishes should be well rinsed, before they are put onto the rack to dry.

The saucepans and kettles which have been used should be then scoured, but not too roughly, either with wood ashes, or with fine sand, then well rinsed out, wiped dry, and turned down on a clean dry shelf. If tin saucepans are not well dried, they quickly rust, and are then spoiled.

The upper rim of saucepans should be kept bright; but the outside, where the fire reaches and burns, it is useless to attempt keeping bright; and indeed the rubbing and scouring they would require, would soon wear them out.

For the same reason, the saucepans should not be scoured with a very heavy hand, which wears off the inside tinning without cleaning them the better. Iron and tin saucepans are properly superseding the use of copper; for although metallic copper be not poisonous, yet, if a copper vessel be left by a careless servant in a damp state exposed to the air, it cannot be used with safety until it be scoured. When copper pans are not well tinned, the Verdigris, or rust of copper, very soon appears, and this is, as you know, highly poisonous; particularly, if anything, in the smallest degree, be suffered to stand in it till it becomes cold.

Plucking the Turkey exhibited 1776 Henry Walton 1746-1813 Purchased 1912 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02870
Plucking the Turkey exhibited 1776 Henry Walton 1746-1813 Purchased 1912 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02870

When you are in the country, you will find your poor neighbours very thankful for the water in which meat has been boiled, which they will thicken with Pease and other vegetables, and thus obtain from it a comfortable and nourishing meal.

This your cook will, perhaps, consider as her perquisite, unless you make a point of reserving it for the use just mentioned. The value of it to the cook may not be even one penny, while to the poor it gives a portion of strength and comfort.

If you desire it always to be poured into an earthen vessel kept for that purpose, and placed in your larder, you will then see it in your daily visits to your kitchen, and will be able to direct to whom it shall be given. It would greatly add to the benefit, if your cook were to prepare it, as the poor are very deficient in the art of cooking.

The pease-soup eater, or, Pain and laughter, by John Dixon. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
The pease-soup eater, or, Pain and laughter, by John Dixon. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

In those families where economy is obliged to be studied (and in my opinion it should be studied even in affluent families, for waste and extravagance can in no case be excused), the broth which boiled meat has produced, is frequently thickened into soup for the servants’ table. Good Pease soup may also be made for the same use, from the bones of roast beef, and the bones of the legs and shoulders of mutton. Those which have been cut from meat before it was cooked, should be stewed down for gravy, which a clever cook will, by a little contrivance, have constantly at hand.

There are very few cooks who are not extravagant in coals. A good fire is essential while cooking is going on, which may, perhaps, bring them into the habit of keeping a large one at other times of the day, and which every mistress or housekeeper should endeavour to prevent.

Your cook should never suffer her fire to get very low; for she wastes both much coals and time by this negligence. A fire should be regularly supplied with coals, which would prevent it from ever being so smoky as to be unfit for use at a few minutes’ notice and it should be generally known that smoke is merely unconsumed coal. If it get low, when anything is required to be prepared quickly, the cook has no resource, but to apply the bellows furiously, so that, before the fire burns properly, much coal must have been wasted. The ashes should be riddled from the cinders, and these reserved to throw on the back of the kitchen fire, after cooking is over ; or they will serve to burn in stoves and ovens, when once the fire under them has been lighted. When there is roasting going on, the meat-screen assists the fire, and prevents the necessity of having so large a one as it would require without a screen. Also, when boiling alone is going on, the fire need not be unusually large.

(c) Bradford Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Bradford Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Much was done by Count Rumford to improve fire-places, and economize fuel and I recommend to your attention his essays on this subject. It is usual, but I do not think it a good plan, to allow the cook what are called ‘perquisites dripping’ (today we would refer to this as ‘perks of the job’), for instance if that be soap-fat and ashes are sometimes allowed as perquisites to servants, but for the reasons above stated, are to be deprecated and prevented.

Some cooks have even been known to meltdown butter, and the ends of candles, in order to add to these kitchen perquisites. Temptation, therefore, should be as much avoided as possible; but where there is a dishonest spirit and a want of principle, no precautions will avail. Still, if allowing wages, equivalent to the value of these perquisites, would diminish the contest between honest and dishonest principles, how much better it would be, both for the mistress and her servant, if this part of her domestic economy were to vary from the general system!

The Comforts of a Rumford Stove - Gilray
The Comforts of a Rumford Stove – Gilray

While on this topic, I ought not to omit mentioning some other of the practices of which town servants are accused, in order that you may be on your guard, should you be so unlucky as to be the mistress of an unprincipled servant.

As servants are supposed to influence their employers in directing their custom to any shop they please, the tradespeople find it, too often, for their interest to bribe them, either with Christmas-boxes, or to give them a discount upon the bills paid by their masters. It is well if this discount is not, in the first instance, drawn from the customer’s purse, by some extra charge and thus a system of dishonesty carried on as detrimental to the morality of tradesman and servant, as to the interest of the customer.

Sometimes, connivances have been discovered between petty tradespeople and servants, by which, articles that never entered the house have been charged in the bills The articles thus placed to the credit of the customer, are technically termed “the dead man’s portion;” and the produce obtained is divided between the defrauding parties.

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It is very unpleasant to entertain doubts as to the integrity of those we employ about us, and on whom we must necessarily rely in some degree. The best check however, against these practices, is to permit your servants as seldom as possible to have anything to do with your bills and to carry on all your dealings with your tradespeople in person.

Also I recommend you to acquire as early as you can, a knowledge of the quantity which, of each of the common articles of housekeeping, must necessarily be consumed in your family.

When you have ascertained that, you may judge each week for yourself, whether dishonesty or extravagance has been practised in your house, always, however, taking into the account the circumstances of the week, which may have increased this consumption.

Extravagance is frequently found accompanied by dishonest intentions proceeding chiefly from careless indifference to the interest of master and mistress. From whatever cause it proceeds, vigilance is absolutely necessary, either in the housekeeper or her mistress.

It is part of the cook’s duty to take such charge of meat, beer, bread, butter, cheese, and all the articles of common consumption, as shall prevent any degree of waste. Not the most vigilant mistress or housekeeper can attend sufficiently to this point; the cook, therefore, must be in a great measure responsible.

The greatest check the mistress of a family can have over her cook, is to show her that she has a thorough knowledge of the quantity of each article that must necessarily be consumed, according to the size of her family, and that when this quantity has been exceeded, she expects to have it accounted for. Accumulations of small pieces of bread ought never to take place, with a clever cook, who will always insist upon having those fragments eaten by the servants before fresh pieces are cut from the loaf.

When there are any pieces left, she can pour boiling milk over them, and prepare a common bread pudding for the early dinner.

There is frequent waste in the consumption of beer, owing to too much of it being generally drawn at a time. When this happens to be the case, a thoughtful cook will remember that a crust of stale bread put into it, and the jug covered over, will, for a short time, prevent it from becoming very flat.

A good cook will always be careful that the spits are wiped clean while they are hot, and left ready for the next day’s use. The jack should be oiled and cleaned occasionally, or the dust will clog the wheels, prevent it going well, and will make it necessary to have it taken down and more thoroughly cleaned.

It is bad management in a cook ever to be without hot water, especially if she live in a family where there are young children, for whom it is in frequent, and, sometimes, immediate demand.

The salt-box and candle-box should both be kept very clean. The former should be hung near the fire, as common salt attracts water from the air and dissolves and the latter as far from the fire as it can be, in a dry place.

Silver spoons should never be used in the kitchen, unless for preparing preserves; wooden and iron spoons are as cleanly, and may be used without fear of scratching or bending them.

The cook should not permit the dust-hole to remain long without having it emptied, and no cabbage leaves or green vegetable matter should be allowed to be thrown into it. These soon ferment, and the sulphureted hydrogen gas, which is extricated, causes an intolerable stench.

Of course we simply couldn’t resit a final image courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library!

lwlpr10240

 

Sources:

Domestic duties:, or instructions to young married ladies on the management of their households

Washday Blues – Duties of a Georgian Laundrymaid

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Last week we took a look at the duties of a housemaid (click the link to find out more), but if the house was large enough to warrant it, then a laundry maid would also have been employed, if not, then the role would have simply been added to the already onerous duties of the housemaid. The average annual salary for a laundry maid in 1750 was £5 (approx £450 in today’s money). In 1685 Hannah Woolley wrote a book which explained exactly what the duties of servants was; this book could still be purchased in the 1750’s for a mere 1 shilling.

The Compleat Servant Maid

The information below is taken from another fascinating book written by a Mrs William Parkes who gives clear instructions as to what an employer should expect their laundry maid to be able to do.

Before laundry is sent to be washed, laundry should be examined, and if any part require to be repaired, it should be kept back.

The housemaid/laundry maid should keep an account of the number of the articles that are sent to the laundry, and count them over on their return, to see that all are right, and well aired and should replace them in the linen-press. In putting by the fresh-washed linen, care should be taken to place it so that the whole stock may come into use in regular succession, by placing it, for instance, under the rest of the linen, or at the back of the press.

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If the linen be put damp into the linen-closet, it will be mildewed, and stains produced which cannot easily be removed. A good maid will manage her work in so methodical a manner, that she will never either feel or appear to be hurried. Every day in the week will have its allotted portion of the weekly cleaning; by which means no one day will be surcharged with work, so as to occasion bustle or annoyance in the family. The drawing-room, the dining-room, and the library, she should contrive to clean thoroughly at those times in which the family are absent.

I would certainly advise you to procure one who has been accustomed to the business of the laundry, as that is not a department which you can yourself superintend ; nor can a housekeeper do so to any great extent, without neglecting some of her other avocations. Your eyes will quickly tell you if she wash the linen clean, and get up fine muslin tolerably well. If this should not be the case, you must, certainly, notice it directly, or the colour of your linen will be injured.

Young woman ironing – Louis-Léopold Boilly, Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One thing you must remember, that your laundry should have every convenience to facilitate the work. The wash-house should be well supplied with soft water, boilers, and tubs. A washing machine saves labour, but I believe that the clothes are not so well washed as by the hand; and some imagine that it wears out the linen, and tears it.

In the laundry there should be a good stove (for the double purpose of heating the irons and airing the linen), and also a mangle.

Muslins and light things should be washed in clean water, as their colour cannot be preserved if any other apparel have been, previously, washed in the water. I am convinced that the laundry-maid would much more easily preserve the good colour of her linen, and-linen spare her own hands, if she changed the water more frequently, although it might occasion a greater expenditure of soap. Flannels are sometimes washed in cold water, mixed with ox or sheep gall; but this is the old-fashioned mode, and many ladies now prefer to have them washed in clean hot water. The colour of flannel is entirely lost if it be washed in water in which anything else has been previously rinsed.

A_laundry_maid_leaning_out_of_a_sash_window_to_wring_out_a_Wellcome_L0051348
Courtesy of Wellcome Trust

Besides the essential articles of soap, blue, and starch, the laundry-maid should always have a supply of salt of lemon, citrate of potash, and bleaching liquid, with which to remove inkspots, iron-moulds, or other stains from the linen before it is washed.

The quantity of soap used in a week’s wash may be reckoned at the rate of half a pound per head; which includes the washing of the household linen as well. The quantity of starch depends, of course, upon the number of articles to be starched. Sometimes it is fashionable to have muslin dresses starched and when table linen is worn and thin, a little starch improves their appearance, by giving them something of the consistency of new linen.

 

The Laundress Jean-Baptiste Greuze courtesy of Getty Museum
The Laundress Jean-Baptiste Greuze courtesy of John Paul Getty Museum

Some laundry-maids are so careless as to tear the linen in stirring it while boiling, making use of any rough stick they can find; and, also, sometimes to permit the water in the copper to get very low, by which means the linen is liable to be scorched by the fire. Such negligence should always be reproved. Soap is an article very easily wasted by a careless servant, and it requires some vigilance, either in the housekeeper or in the mistress of a family, to prevent it. When the quantity used weekly has been ascertained, it should be weighed out for each washing, nor should the laundry-maid be permitted to.

lwlpr21540 washing mill
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Needless to say occasionally accidents happened!

Dowager Lady Walpole
Lloyd’s Evening Post , October 10, 1764 – October 12, 1764

 

Earl of Shelburn
General Evening Post, July 28, 1739 – July 31, 1739

Our final offering on the subject of laundry maids comes from the Daily Advertiser , Thursday, September 27, 1744.

Corpulent

Sources

https://archive.org/stream/domesticdutiesor00park_0#page/n0/mode/2up

http://www.arleyhallarchives.co.uk/staff.htm

http://www.pascalbonenfant.com/18c/wages.html

Public Advertiser,  Friday, November 11, 1757

Life below stairs – the duties of a Georgian housemaid

lwlpr14293 - maid of all work
‘Maid of all work’ – courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Many of our posts take a look at the upper echelons of Georgian society, so this time we thought it might be interesting to look at what it would have been like to have worked ‘below stairs’ as a housemaid in a Georgian household: it’s not quite Downton Abbey though!

Although these duties weren’t written until towards the end of the Georgian era, the workload would more than likely have been the same for the previous hundred years or more. Having taken a look, our conclusion is that it’s certainly not a job for us, what do you think? To learn about the duties of a laundrymaid click on the link.

lwlpr02996 - Statute Hall for hiring servants
Statute Hall for hiring servants

Qualifications

A housemaid should be active, clean, and neat in her person. Be an early riser, of a respectful and steady deportment, and possessed of a temper that will not be easily ruffled. She must be able to see without much appearance of discomposure her labours often increased by the carelessness and thoughtlessness of others.

Many a dirty foot will obtrude itself upon her clean floors; and the well-polished furniture will demand her strength and patience, when spotted or soiled by some reckless hand.

lwlpr09742 - maid servant being scolded
Maid servant being scolded, courtesy of Lewis Walpole

Duties

The sitting rooms in daily use are first to be prepared. Upon entering the room in the morning, the housemaid should immediately open the windows to admit the fresh air. She should then remove the fender and rug from the fire-place, and cover, with a coarse cloth, the marble hearth, while the ashes and cinders are collected together and removed. The grate and fire-irons are afterwards to be carefully cleaned. If the grate have bright bars, it should be rubbed with fine emery paper, which will remove the burnt appearance of the bars. Fine polished fire-irons, if not suffered to rust, will only require to be well rubbed with a leather.

The carpet should be swept with the carpet broom not oftener than once a week, as more frequent use of the broom would wear the carpet too fast but, each day, it should be swept with a good hair broom, after it has been sprinkled with moist tea leaves. Sofas, and any other nice furniture, should be covered over with a large calico cloth, kept for that purpose, before the sweeping commences; and window curtains should be hung up as high as they can be out of the way of the dust. After the carpet is swept, the dust must be removed, either with a soft round brush, or with a very clean linen duster, from the panels of the doors, the windows and window- frames, ledges, and skirting boards. The frames of pictures and looking-glasses should never be touched with linen, but the dust should be cleared from them with a painter’s brush, or a bunch of feathers.

Where footmen are kept, the charge of rubbing mahogany furniture devolves on them, otherwise it becomes the care of the housemaid. The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day and on the mahogany tables a little cold drawn linseed oil should be rubbed in once or twice a week, which will, in time, give them a durable varnish, such as will prevent their being spotted or injured by being accidentally wetted. Bees-wax should not be used, as it gives a disagreeable stickiness to everything, and ultimately becomes opaque. When there are any spots or stains upon a table, they must be washed off with warm water before the oil is put on.

La Récureuse – The Scrubbing Woman, André Bouys. (1737)
La Récureuse – The Scrubbing Woman, André Bouys. (1737)

The chimney-ornaments, glass-lustres, or china, should be very carefully removed while the mantel-piece is either washed or dusted; and as the housemaid replaces them, she should, with a clean duster, wipe them free from the dust. The window-curtains are then to be dusted with a feather broom, and properly replaced on the hook.

About once a week the sills of the windows should be washed with soap and water, and the windows cleaned from the dust everywhere within reach.

lwlpr09523 Dinner just over
‘Dinner just over’ Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

The stairs and stair-carpets should next be swept down, if time will allow of this duty before breakfast, as it is not a pleasant thing to be done when the family are moving about. And whenever good opportunities occur, such as the chief part of the family being absent from home for a few hours, the housemaid should avail herself of these to take the stair carpets up, and have them well beaten and shaken, while she scours the stairs down, and rubs the brass wires bright. The wainscot-board should also be washed, and the banisters and hand-rail well rubbed.

As soon as the different members of the family are assembled at breakfast, the housemaid should repair to the bed-chambers, open the windows (unless the weather be damp), draw the curtains up to the head of the bed, and throw the bed-clothes upon two chairs placed at the foot of each bed, and leave the feather-beds open to the air.

When this has been done in all the rooms in use, she should then bring her chamber-bucket, with a jug of hot water, and with the proper towels, empty and clean out all the chamber-vessels in each room, and then instantly carry off, empty, and wash out the bucket, and turn it down in some appropriate place, that the water may completely run off from it. When quite dry, she will, of course, carry it to the closet appointed for her use, in which she keeps her brooms, brushes, and the rest of her cleaning apparatus. She should next carry water-jugs, one with soft water and another with pump-water, into every bed-room, and fill the water-ewers and decanters. The towels should be put before an open window to dry, or be changed; and the washing table put into complete order. The beds, which during this time have been left exposed to the air, have now to be made, and in this another of the female servants should be appointed to help her, as the feather ones cannot be well shaken, or the mattresses turned, by one person. It is very necessary that feather-beds should be well shaken, or the feathers will knot together, and render the bed hard and uncomfortable. Once or twice a week the paillasses should be turned, and every day the flock-mattresses and the beds. The sacking-cloth and bedstead should be dusted occasionally.

It is necessary to remind those who are called from other household work to assist in making the beds, that they should previously wash their hands, as nothing looks more untidy or disgusting, than the marks of dirty fingers upon the bed hangings, sheets, or counterpanes. With cleanly servant this can seldom occur. The beds being made, the curtains are to be shaken and laid upon the bolster, and a large calico coverlet should be thrown over the whole, and coarse towels over the washing and dressing-tables. If the bed carpets are small and loose, they should be taken up before the beds are made; but if they are fastened down, which is very customary now, damp tea-leaves should be strewed over them previous to their being swept with a stout hair brush. After the room is swept, a damp mop or flannel, passed under the beds, the chests of drawers and wardrobes collects the flue and dust, and this should be done every day, as the best mode of keeping bed-rooms free from troublesome insects of every kind. A clean mop should belong to the housemaid for this purpose. Nothing betrays an untidy housemaid more than the flue being suffered to accumulate beneath the beds. After the room is swept, the ledges, panels of doors, and window-frames are all to be dusted, and the furniture rubbed and dusted.

Twice during the week bedroom carpets should be taken up and shaken, and the floors under them swept free from dust, and occasionally scoured. In the country, scouring is not so frequently done as in town, but the floors are oftener dry-rubbed.

In winter, a bedroom should never be scoured, unless tho weather be mild and dry, for nothing is so likely to injure health as damp in a bed-room. As soon as a housemaid thinks she has finished a room, she ought to look around her, and examine if she has omitted anything, which will show care and attention, and prevent her mistress from being obliged to call her up, to admonish her of any neglect.

During the winter, when there are fires in the bed-rooms, the housemaid should, before sweeping the room, collect and carry away the ashes, clean the grate and fire-irons, and lay, with small pieces of wood, a neat fire, ready to be lighted either before dinner or at night, according to orders.

lwlpr09470 Swift's advice to servants
‘Swift’s advice to servants’ courtesy of Lewis Walpole

While the family are at dinner, the housemaid should again repair to the dressing and bedrooms, to put in order those things which have been used and disarranged at the dressing hour. Between the time of her own dinner and tea, she ought to be employed in sewing, perhaps in repairing the household linen, or in any work appointed for her.

Early in the evening the beds should be turned down, the windows shut, the curtains drawn, the fires, if required, lighted, and the rooms are prepared for the night.

lwlpr02989 - The pretty maid with her apron before the candle
The pretty maid with her apron before the candle – courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library