Never To Late To Learn
( Originally Published 1904 )
WHILST a young nation yet, we are already teaching the older nations some stirring object-lessons. The American is cast in no archaic mould, and nowhere does his progressive nature demonstrate this more forcibly than in domestic affairs. Our up-to-date flats are enthusiastically copied in London, Paris, and Vienna, and our domestic utensils, fully three-fourths of which were the outcome of Yankee ingenuity (and laziness), are bought wherever under the sun there is intelligence enough to appreciate them.
Although there is a continually menacing at-tempt on the part of " soulless " corporations to make old persons " back numbers," the up-to-date old man to-day is as alert after new ideas as his twenty-year-old son, and possesses, moreover, the judgment by which to assess the value of the latest discovery.
The more civilized mankind becomes, the more will it venerate honorable old age, and the more will it gain by its treatment of the stem which sheltered it when only a branch.
Every one knows that in spite of our goaheadiveness there are quite a few who allow themselves to fall behind in the race and who are forever complaining at being outstripped by others more vigilant than themselves.
The kitchen has its example of these dead-atthe-root specimens as certainly as have the drawing-room, the exchange, and the political camp.
The old cook who made things by a certain schedule " befoh the wah," and who insists upon maintaining that schedule to-day in spite of the occurrence of the Filippinis, the Marion Harlands, and the Mrs. Borers, is an antique whose place is in the family museum, unless some way can he found to inspire this once excellent servant with a desire to " catch on " to the new way of doing things. The mistress of a household who is handicapped with a case of this kind, must, if she cannot nerve herself to the point of getting rid of the faithful old veteran of a score or two years' service, suffer a serious disadvantage unless she carves out for herself a line of conduct in which tact and firmness are to play a dual part.
The tyranny of the kitchen has been the terror of many a tender-hearted housewife's existence, and the unnecessary martyrdom has even proved the entering wedge for serious family upheavals and divisions. The mistress who can overcome this hide-bound tendency on the part of her delegate in the sublunary regions will find that no thirst cultivated in--creases at a larger ratio than does the thirst for knowledge, and that once having kindled this thirst by means of clever diplomacy, and having fed it by leaving around some favorite recipes, she will be in no danger either of starving or of . having to oust an old and faithful family retainer. In cases where this course is not pursued the results are apt to be tragic. The younger members of the family, neither filled with the respect for the' autocrat of the commissariat nor content to subsist on viands of which they read in the early novels of Mrs. Mary J. Holmes or other writers of her period, protest until the complaining becomes a farce, and then, in sheer desperation, find excuses for starting an establishment of their own and commence the breaking up of the family circle.
Our newer citizens from Latin countries have introduced a thousand and one innovations in the way of cooking, which, upon trial, we often find most acceptable and which serve to increase the variety of our dishes, often with-out any perceptible addition in the way of expense. Among these is the putting of oil in the salad dressing, an improvement both from the hygienic and epicurean points of view. Yet- I have heard of cooks who would not tolerate such "new-fangled notions."
In the way of sauces there are so many new combinations, which both our Oriental and Latin friends have brought us, that the " old fogy " who will not take them up is a lamentable case of self-elimination and innocuous devolution.
That nothing keeps the individual young so much as activity of the mind has been shown in the cases of our greatest thinkers, men like Gladstone, who, until almost within the shadow of the great change, kept themselves in touch with the latest. scientific and political developments of their age.
The housewife or servant who gives way to the paralysis of reactionary impulses should awaken in time to the need of a Brown-Sequard treatment, or a course of the rejuvenating sour or butter milk, now said to be the grand recuperator of the moribund cellular tissue, and the true antidote for the serum of the great mortality microbe.
The woman whose principal solicitude is the 'spotless array of her pots and pans can scarcely be expected to possess the soul capable of concocting a new sauce, or discovering a new dessert or entremet capable of annihilating the digestive system, but the wise prompting of her mistress will soon purple-line her sordid visions of grease and soot with visions of gastronomical victories calculated to make the lives of her dining-room dependents a dream of culinary surprises and successes contributive to the joy of living. Nor will the effect need to be an extraordinary one, with the resources now at the command of the average cook.
A true woman's kingdom is her home, and her attention does not belong to the kitchen. Al-though the stomach is the main route by which the males of the family must be kept in good humor, the good housewife is considerably more than a good cook.
Who does not remember some matronly head of one of these same household kingdoms who was a marvel of resource in any and every emergency—an encyclopedia of information, sought for for advice by every one in the vicinity, and even relied upon by the doctor to help him out of a ticklish predicament owing to her ready wit and apparently inexhaustible store of small but intensely useful information?
These are the ideal lines upon which a young mother will endeavor to shape her career. Nothing which may be of future use will be allowed to escape her attention. It will be living to Iearn, day by day, and thereby accumulating from practical experience a fund of information which no course of lectures or reading can pro-vide.
Such a woman will prove a veritable angel in a panic. When Mrs. Nodsome's little boy, next , door, has, sweet little idiot, distinguished him-self by swallowing a cent, and every one is prophesying "appendicitis for him, the ready housewife will quietly send for a dose of castor oil, to which a few drops of opium have been added, and will see that the young hopeful, too frightened to resist, swallows it; thus probably warding off all the possible ill consequences of his careless action.
Perhaps Mrs. Nodsome, by a fatal error, will have swallowed some bug-poison, iodine, or other household specific for outside application. The ready housewife will not await the arrival of the doctor. She knows that the first thing he will do upon arrival will be to apply the stomach pump. She will anticipate the arrival of this apparatus by making the victim swallow hot soap suds, hot water, or hot mustard and water, sweet oil, whites of eggs, or any other thing having for its object the compulsory ejection by the stomach of its undesirable contents. Very often the ready housewife may save a life by her little knowledge added to her prompt action. That will be a diploma worth membership in a hundred alumni associations.
A woman of this kind, whom I am almost making a pen portrait of in my lecture, called upon a friend lately and found her in great distress. The clumsy parlor maid had just spilled a bottle of ink in the centre of a magnificent thousand-dollar Persian rug, only recently laid down in her drawing-room. " Bring me all the salt -that you have in the house; immediately," said her caller.
" Salt! " - The victim of the maid's madness .laughed derisively, but obeyed mechanically, and the' ugly blot was soon covered with the snowy substance a couple of inches deep.
In the morning .you will find, upon removing the salt, that your ink-stains have disappeared," said the ready housewife as she made her adieu to her still sceptical hostess. But the morning proved the truth of the salt cure; for the carpet had been saved by the timely use of the salt, which had eaten up the stains of the ink and left the carpet unstained.
There is so much handy information of this character constantly transpiring that one who runs may read," and by a little effort in thedirection of memorizing may accumulate an amount of practical. knowledge' which will, in course of time, assume really prodigious pro-portions. The dispensing of this information among one's servants becomes at once an interesting and practical means of utilizing it. The imparting of information is. seldom a one-sided proposition, as Dr. Johnson, the .greatest distributor of information, profitably discovered, and in revealing her discoveries to those in her domestic circle, the mistress will frequently, in turn, acquire many items of an equally note-worthy character.
Servants' waste is a proverbial expression, and something more than a proverbial annoyance. Economy in the kitchen should be sedulously studied, not with a view alone to saving expense, but with a desire to achieve the best results for the smallest expenditure of labor or money—in fact, to realize the scientific ideal of the minimum cost of production. When the matter is placed in this light before the domestics it is apt to be received more agreeably than when economy is simply put into operation without a logical reason, other than parsimony, being presented to " the help."
Economical methods can be acquired only by constant study of resources and the curtailment of unnecessary wants, and in " living to learn " the economies of petty housekeeping must be studied at close range, from day to day, by the ready housewife, whose alert perceptions will enable her to promptly analyze any proposition with a bearing upon the possibilities of her larder, her fuel bill, her wage list, or any of the hundred and one mickles which go to make up a muckle, and which eventually render the budget conformable to the resources of the ex-chequer.
A good plan for a young housekeeper to pursue is to keep a scrap-book, into which can be pasted useful clippings pertaining to the house-hold, culled from the hundreds of publications which aim to present hints of value to the house-wife. Many of these are merely worked over " saws," but much new material is constantly cropping up which can be culled by the intelligent and ambitious young householder, and which will sooner or later probably prove in-valuable to her, and also to those shiftless per-sons who prefer to borrow the fruits of others' industry to investing 'their own energy and capital in the securities issued by the Bank of Knowledge. Such clippings. can be studied at leisure and should be tested wherever some ridiculous point suggests doubt as to the veracity of the item.
Minding the much-quoted 'assertion that " familiarity breeds contempt," the woman of taste will instinctively maintain precisely that attitude of command and affability combined which go to the promotion of a feeling of respect and confidence between employe and employer. ' The ready housewife, understanding the inconvenience attached to a peremptory month's notice, will pause before making hasty remarks to a valuable and efficient cook, of a character likely to affect her good humor. Mistresses do well to, remember that their own troubles are not the only clouds which darken the domestic horizon-that satellites as well as suns have their periods of eclipse and their unpropitious moments—that sore hearts and broken chinaware often have a psychological connection possibly inspired by hasty and sometimes unjust strictures, even if the notice to-leave is delayed until a more convenient occasion. The clever housewife has a well trained, indestructible smile, designed entirely for the reception of guests, which she will find it equally politic to don when preparing to visit the kitchen.
This smile is more valuable than pearls or rubies, and with its magic aid the most remark-able tricks of legerdemain may be accomplished. The surly chef who has been awaiting an opportunity to " unbosom " finds herself checked by this engrossing smile as soon as she attempts to utter her carefully prepared anathemas. In another minute a few well chosen words have disarmed her completely, and the sky is clear for madame to announce her plans and obtain a willing ear as to her desires for the day's table. There is much to live and learn, as there is much to live, and forget, but the housewife ,can study nothing to greater advantage than the cultivation of the indestructible smile—a for-tune in itself, a fairy wand before which household troubles disappear like snowflakes on a sunny morning, and from which all the bright hues of the rainbow can be developed on the dullest days of the year.