When I shop estate sales, I don't always take the time to leaf through the books for sale. Earlier this month I attended a sale in Owosso, Michigan, which was a 40-minute drive from my home that turned into over an hour because I got lost. As I drove around town on my unintentional tour of Owosso (which is a lovely little town, by the way), trying to figure out who to blame besides myself for the confusion, I decided to take my time once I got to the sale.
I'm so glad I spent some time at the bookshelf! I discovered Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management and brought it home. It certainly deserves some appreciation, and I'm more than happy to give it. Just look at the thickness of this tome! Mrs. Beeton has a lot of information to share:
Just as I've done all my life when inspecting a book, first I see if it has pictures. Yes, Mrs. Beeton has some wonderful color plates of various foods, making them look very appetizing:
Wonderful looking vegetables, piled high on their serving platters:
Then she gets into some rather bizarre recipes. Eel is the same as "conger". How would you like some eel pie, or eel stewed in milk? Calf's brains with black butter sauce, anyone? How about fried calf's feet? White Soup from Tinned Rabbit? And then there's Cold Cabinet Pudding. Hmmm....I hope that's not made from an old piece of furniture!
I don't know about you, but I don't like to stare down at an animal's face at the dinner table:
Did Mrs. Beeton fricassee the Easter Bunny? I hope not....
Suddenly I've decided to become a vegetarian. I wouldn't mind one of Mrs. Beeton's salads. A work of art, each one of them!
Have you ever seen cheese look this beautiful?
And how about some crackers to go with the cheese? Mrs. Beeton calls them "biscuits", because she's British. Check out the center biscuit with the little face. How cute is that?
Of course the Fancy Cakes and Sweets are going to be beautiful:
I always imagined being sick back in the day would be a nightmare. Not at Mrs. Beeton's house!
But Mrs. Beeton isn't just about food. She begins at the beginning, with a chapter called "The Mistress." There she covers the functions of the mistress of the house, including "home virtues", hospitality, good temper, proper dress and fashion, wages for the house servants, and the social norms for visiting friends, leaving calling cards, and hosting parties. Mrs. Beeton wrote her book in 1859-61, so this is the era we're talking about, the Victorian era. There were many rules to be followed then. The introduction notes that Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was a favored wedding gift for half a century.
The lovely Isabella Mary Beeton:
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Mrs. Beeton even makes suggestions for social conversation: "One should never dwell unduly on the petty annoyances and trivial disappointments of the day. A wife should never allow a word about any faults of her husband to pass her lips."
Ads in the back of the book claim Vaseline is your friend for a hundred troubles, both internally and externally!
The previous owner of the book had pasted a cutout obituary of Isabella Mary Beeton inside the book. Sadly, she passed away at the young age of 28, just a couple years after completing her book. Curious about the cause, I discovered Mrs. Beeton died of "childbed fever", a bacterial infection she contracted the day after the birth of her fourth son. What a tragedy! You can read more about Mrs. Beeton at Wikipedia.
Yes, I enjoyed the rules of household management circa 1850's via Mrs. Beeton's book. I learned an important lesson, too. Take time to open old books, because there could be a wonderful discovery inside!