Thursday, October 22, 2009
Herstoryan's Hearth: The Making of a Housewife (1906)
Excerpt from Curtis, Isabel Gordon. The Making of a Housewife. New York: Stokes, 1906. pp 10-11
*Note: This is one of my most favorite books! I inherited my copy from my grandmother which was her mother's and quite possibly her grandmother's book. It is an instruction manuel that reads as a heartwarming story of a young wife learning the "dignity of household labor." It is a wonderful window into the daily operations of our foremothers' lives.
"You are just learning to be a housekeeper, then?" said Mrs. Griswold, kindly.
"Yes, just learning. My home since childhood was with my grandmother in a big city hotel, except when I went to boarding-school and college. I don't believe I had been inside two kitchens in my life till I entered my own."
"You must let me help you," said Mrs. Griswold, heartily. "Polly says you're the neighborliest neighbor we ever had. You must let me be the neighborliest neighbor to you."
"Thank you so much. May I ask you questions about bread? I've read cook-books, but--"
"Cook-books won't teach you everything there is to learn about bread. I'm convinced of that. The author of a cook-book knows the science of yeast's leavening labor; she knows flours as well as a miller does; she has arrived at her knowledge of bread-making by years of experience and a multitude of by-ways which could not be put into a hundred-page volume. She boils down this knowledge into a recipe and directions which we follow time after time, making bread better each day, and puzzling out for ourselves the things the author of the cook-book could not tell us."
"Did you ever have a bread failure?" asked Margaret.
"Many and many a failure. I shall never forget one which happened when I was young and inexperienced, as you are. We had gone to housekeeping in a little flat at the top of a big apartment house. I set bread one day, but I had not patience to allow it to rise. I imagined the yeast was poor, so before I went to bed I added another yeast-cake, kneaded it, and set it in the pantry window. It was very hot weather, I remember. Early next morning the janitor came to ask what was dripping from our window. Down the red brick wall - five stories down - trickled a stream of bubbling white dough. My bread-pan held nothing but a few dough balloons. I remember my husband paid the janitor two dollars to scrape off the mess."