Cocooned under duvets and blankets, the bed piled high with books, packets of seeds, boxes of tissues and Josef the cat, I cough and sneeze my way through a winter cold. In the night, when I can’t sleep I slip into the world of Victorian England through the eyes of Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management. Whilst I have been ill, the house has fallen into untidy chaos, the ashes need taking out from the fire, and I haven’t blacked the fireplace since I was about 22 (yes, I really did used to do that). Surely Isabella Beeton’s guide to every aspect of good household management in Victorian Britain can help me in my hour of need?
I wade through chapters describing how to cook dinner for 18 people in September, how to singe poultry, how to keep beef, how to apply leeches, how to clean the banisters and, now we get to the crux of the problem, how to issue instructions to my Parlour Maid.
Now I know why I am ill and run down ! I have been trying to run a house, cope with two demanding cats and a large garden and all without domestic help. According to Isabella, good household management requires a Butler, a Footman, a Second Footman, a Coachman, a Groom, a Stable Boy, a Lady’s Maid, a Parlour Maid, a Housemaid, a Dairy Maid, and Laundry Maid. And if the full compliment of staff can not be afforded, then at the very least, I need a General Servant.
Feeling by now even more exhausted, but a little peckish I turn to Mrs Beeton for some ideas about what to eat when feeling unwell. Published in 1861, this book is full of recipes to aid the recovery of the convalescing patient and I can’t wait to see what she suggests. But dishes such as Calf’s Foot Blancmange, Eel Broth, Gruel, Stewed Rabbits in Milk or a beverage made from boiled Irish moss make me feel positively bilious! Weak as I am from coughing I feel like summoning my Lady’s Maid, or the Butler, the odd job man, even the postman would do! Anyone who might save me from Mrs Beeton’s stewed rabbits in milk! This Victorian night time reading is turning into a nightmare!
I decide to get out of bed and make myself a soothing drink with my homemade Raspberry Vinegar made from my Grandmother, Dora’s recipe. When I was a child she would warm the rich, red mixture for me on the Rayburn as I sat on the wooden stool beside her. And with my toes on her colourful, handmade rag-rug, she would hand me a little cup of this magical, sharp and sweet mixture which soothed, warmed and calmed my sore and tickly throat then, as it still does now.
I pour a generous amount into a favourite glass, as I would a cordial and top it up with hot water and extra honey and I let the memories and pleasure of being in my Grandma’s kitchen and being taken care of flood back.
For when we are ill, we all feel like little children again and want to be taken care of, don’t we?
I’ve misplaced my Parlor Maid which is a shame because I would really like her to make me some of that raspberry vinegar – looks fantastic! Is there a recipe on your blog??
You made me laugh! I will add the recipe shortly. It can seem very expensive to make if you don’t grow your own Raspberries, but it is so easy to make and so delicious. Children love it! I will let you know when the recipe is on my blog. Thanks so much for visiting. Karen
Raspberry Vinegar ! What a lovely piece of writing ! Thank you for that.
Thanks so much John, I have a bottle you could try if you would like one.
That vinegar sounds absolutely delicious. Might help my everlasting cough! Xx
I am so concerned about your troublesome cough. Coughing is exhausting. I have a bottle of Raspberry Vinegar with your name on it and will drop it down to Cowslip next week. x
Yes we are like children when we are sick. Such a precious memory of how you were so lovingly tended as a child. I have those of my own I cherish and so enjoy recalling. All children should be so loved and cared for.
I enjoyed your glimpse into Victorian household management and shuddered with you at the remedies recommended for tending the ill. Ewwwww! Glad you had a more simple and palatable alternative. “-)
I pray your speedy recovery Karen. You’ll know you’re getting better when you simply must get out and manage the mess.
Thank you so much Jan. The book has made such fascinating reading and of course, there are sensible and edible recipes and dishes featured in there as well. But what was so surprising was how much life has changed since that time and not always for the better. As women , we have far more labour saving devices now and yet so many still do not make time to cook proper food for their families.
Thank you for your kind message.
So sorry to hear that you are sick with a cold and coughing. I would recommend a wonderful hot chicken-soup with lots of fresh vegetables. That’s the best a grandma would cook for a sick child. Get well soon, Karen. Looking forward to your wonderful posts, regards Mitza
Thank you so much Mitza
I knew it……I’m missing a parlor maid. Hope you are mended by now.
I am having a little giggle at your comment x
I waited with bated breath to see what Mrs Beeton would recommend to eat when feeling poorly but alas, my one and only blancmange was sad enough back in the day without adding calves feet to it, which sadly appear to be lacking in my freezer at present. However, I do so love my Raspberry Vinegar (almost as much as I love Raspberry Brandy) but had never considered it a drink which I shall attempt shortly!
Oh yes, Blancmange was a part of my childhood. We had special moulds for it, although I remember the texture and it always seemed as if it had cornflour in it.
I am so pleased to hear that you are devotee of Raspberry Vinegar. How do you use it? Raspberry Brandy sounds gorgeous!
I fear I’m not very clever at all with my use of Raspberry Vinegar, it’s only ever on salads. Sad, aren’t I? lol 🙂
Great that you use it at all. Shame you cant pop round because I have made a cupboard full of bottles all of varying levels of sweetness and we could have a tasting!
Now you’re just teasing Karen – how delightful would that be, lol, an afternoon of tastings. Careful though, I’m in the process of packing bags, I may just change my destination! 🙂
Have a great trip!
Dang! I was wondering why my house didn’t stay tidy and meals weren’t cooked for me daily, I don’t have all my domestic help handy! I like Isabelle’s style! And that raspberry vinegar looks delicious!
I know. How do we manage?! Thanks so much for writing. I don’t know how we fit it all in, do you? Mrs Beeton would have had a blogging Maid!
I don’t really know either. But what I do know is that we are awesome, doing everything we do and still finding a way to share it with the world. We might not have maids, but we got awesomeness!!
I love that! And you are right, we should all give ourselves a little pat on the back for being AWESOME!
That sounds delicious! Now I’m almost sorry my couch is gone haha 🙂 You’re doing an amazing job with everything, on your own, even when you are sick! Sending a virtual high five!
Hope you feel better soon, Karen! Looking forward to reading the recipe for raspberry vinegar – intrigued! x
Thank you so much . Nice to think you could try it out and have your own this coming Autumn. x
This is a wonderful post (apart from that detail about you being sick!) Mrs. Beeton’s book sounds like an excellent portal into a different time and place–and a nice diversion from coughing and sniffling. There was a drink made in America, I think in Colonial times, called raspberry shrub, that mixed raspberry vinegar, simple syrup and sparkling water (or something stronger!). But I never heard of it served warm, as a comfort food!
A wonderful post. Mrs. Beeton had a lot of good advice back then, but the leeches I could do without. Did the raspberry vinegar help? I’ve been waging a mighty battle against a bad cold myself, but methinks my adversary is made of stronger stuff than I am.
I am very concerned to hear that you are unwell Cynthia. Some of these viruses really do take some beating. Perhaps you have to give in and accept that you need to stop totally and rest? I am ashamed to say that I struggled with my bad cold because I really felt the lack of someone to get me a drink or fill my hot water bottle. Of course I can do everything for myself, but I did long for some comforting care. Suddenly, I realised that I was alone. Time for those cats of mine to step up, I think!
Raspberry vinegar!! So much better than what I was presented in my youth…a concoction of onion, apple treacle, many spices and port, simmered for hours. It looked like blood but it worked wonders ;0) Sorry to have missed a few posts : somehow your blog unfollows..very strange but it has happened before. I will keep a better eye on it! xo Johanna
I am trying so hard to imagine what you Mother’s cold medicine was like.
I know exactly what you mean about the system breaking down and blogs getting unfollowed. It happens to me. And we all have so much to keep on top of…………x