see also Thomas Archer in The Pauper, The Thief and the Convict - click here
LEARNING TO COOK WITH THE POOR.
IN FIVE PARTS. PART I. AT AN ARTISAN'S HOME.
A BRIGHT thought, an inspiration even,
flashed upon Parisina.
"To see if we can teach an artisan's wife to cook, she cried, "shall we not go and see her cooking?"
"It is admirable," Parisina was told. "Let it be done."
The next thing was to consider how an artisan's wife could be reached. She was not wanted to be prepared, and thereby to be on parade. Yet must she be subject to no sense of impertinent intrusion; of wounds dealt, anywhere, to pride or sensibility. The matter had tough points to it.
"I think I can get over them all," Parisina, somewhat complacently, concluded. "I know a working bookbinder; a widow. By the craft of her hands she earns her own living, she helps to earn her epileptic daughter's, she has done the same for years. Shall her small castle be the first to be scaled?"
It was arranged; and an excursion took place to the heart of Mid-London, and to a court in it, pinched, narrow, high; sown with dull grays and blacks from fog and rain; forbidding, heart-grieving, unwholesome. Taking a particular house in this court, we entered an apartment fourteen feet square, perhaps, nine feet high; a cubic space that filled the purposes of bedroom, parlour, kitchen, workshop, scullery. It was crowded with shelves of closely-stowed bundles and baskets and band-boxes; with gowns and other garments hung up on nails; with work-tools and work-appliances; with packets of books bound; with packets of books come in for binding. It was blocked up by a huge bookbinding-press, with its iron wheel; by a long cutting-counter on tressels; by a sack of paper strips (for careful sorting and subsequent sale); by a poor bed, eked out by chairs to make it wide enough for its two occupants. As for the domestic life of it, it was there in a cupboard, containing crockery, ironmongery, glass, linen, cooking-implements, food; in a fragile table half a yard wide and a yard long; in two or three chairs; in some time-stained portraits and ornaments upon the mantel-shelf; in a water-tap and sink; and in a fire that was lighted in a very fair, well-bobbed, convenient kitchen-range.
"Ah!" cried Parisina, keen on these last points. "You have a tap and sink, and you have a kitchen-range with an oven! Why, you can cook anything you like, capitally! It's not usual, is it?"
"It's usual in this house," answered the bookbinder, quietly. "There's six sets of us living here, and I think we all have it, except in one room, may be. And a oven is a great felicity, I must say. A very great felicity."
There was a little pause. Then our bookbinder continued, ruminatingly, and with a touch of humour struggling to the surface:
"Yes, a oven is a great felicity. And it's the most so - at those times, when you've got anything to cook !"
The little pleasantry answered Parisina's purpose excellently. "Come now," she said, "don't mind anything or anybody, but be so good as to cook what you were going to cook for to-day's dinner, exactly as if you were alone. Now, will you?"
There came restraint; with a graver face; with downcast eyes.
"You have only to think nobody is here," urged Parisina, eagerly persuasive.
A quick look passed between mother and daughter; there were two grave faces; there was not yet the courage to reply.
"Come now; just say, as a beginning, what you were going to have ?"
This brought it out.
"No dinner at all, to-day," confessed the mother.
"No; no dinner at all, to-day," repeated the daughter.
And, having got this confession off their minds, the poor souls looked quite beaming.
It was an odd check to the undertaking. Beyond all doubt, in Learning to Cook, a first essential was that there should be something on which to learn; and here was a day stumbled upon in the calendar, on which cooking never had a thought!
However, there was a way out of it. Parisina, with her impulsiveness and precipitation, made haste to show it.
"I shall go out and get a dinner," she cried. "I daresay I shall find a butcher's close by; I'll not be long."
There was opposition, of course. But Parisina insisted, dashed out for a little shopping, and speedily returned.
"Here are two mutton-chops," said Parisina. "Now, please; what will you do?"
A little consideration followed; during which the chops were turned from side to side, their points were duly scrutinised and mastered.
"Well!" was the bookbinder's dictum, at last, "as these chops is rather thick, and as I have a oven, I think I should decide to bake them. I should slice up some cold potatoes (supposing I had any) and lay them at the bottom of my little pan; then I should lay the chops at the top, upon them, and in a quarter of an hour they would be done beautiful. I lose my dripping that way, I know, because, of course, it all goes into my potatoes; but then we've got the nourishment in the potatoes, and don't you think that's much the same?"
The question required consideration, and some subsequent reflection; the thing being a good bit of a twist and turn-out from the culinary groove usual. Mutton-chops baked! Was it orthodox, from any point of view? Yes, in close kitchen-ranges (those used for "demonstration" at South Kensington, and longed for by the most capable and natty housewives) all joints of meat are baked perforce: to toast and to roast being both almost impossible. Was there, then, anything in the baking of a mutton-chop that placed it in the "wilful waste and woful want" category, and that ought to be brought to a full stop?
Parisina, to settle it, made prompt inquiry: "Isn't there a more economical way of cooking? Doesn't baking waste?"
"Well!" was the answer, "if I had to send out to a baker's it would cost three halfpence - though even that is cheaper, many times, than lighting a fire to us poor people - and I shouldn't think of it. I couldn't I But having a oven - which it adds greatly to your comfort - I don't know but what baking isn't as good as anything. You see, if I put my chops on to my little gridiron I should lose all my fat - it would go into the fire. If I put them in the frying-pan - well, that's rather too much fat for me and my daughter: she's delicate, you see, having sometimes twenty fits a day. So I don't see that there's much else left, do you? Besides, when my dinner is in my oven, I can go on with my work. Except a turn now and then, it wants no attention, and that of itself is something."
Agreed. The arguments were to the point, and we owned ourselves, so far, convinced.
"Now, your fire, as it is now," was the next question; "would that be big enough to do your baking?"
"No," answered the bookbinder. "You see, I didn't expect to have any cooking to-day" - with a grateful look at the chops, as she put them on a small, clean dish - "so my fire is only big enough to keep my glue-pot going, which I'm obliged always to have ready for my work. So," she added, "I shouldn't cook these to-day, if I were left to myself. I should plan my firing, and, may be, cook them to-morrow."
They were not to be cooked that day, on any account. They were to be left for free choice, for appetite, and opportunity. It would be better to have a new trial, in a new direction.
"Would fish, now, be a good thing to do at once, with your fire pretty nearly as it is, and with strange eyes looking on?"
Yes, fish would be a good thing, and so would a pound of potatoes to cook with them. There was only the second shopping to be done, therefore, and cooking began.
"It is a plaice, you see," said the bookbinder, holding the fish up for the admiration of her daughter, "and it's a very nice one. But I'll do my potatoes first, they'll take the longest to cook, and then all will be ready at once. I shall peel them - see - keeping the peel as thin as I can; and as each one is peeled I shall drop it, like this, into this bowl of water. Now I shall throw that water away, and draw fresh - see - and I shall wash them again. It will be better, too, as we want our cooking done soon, to cut them in half, they will only take half the time to do. Now I take a third water - always three waters for potatoes, as I have a sink - and wash them again; and now I put them in the saucepan, with a little pinch of salt, I shut down the lid, I put them on - there! - and they've only got to boil."
There was a smile - the smile of accomplishment - on the bookbinder's face, but there was bafflement on Parisina's. The potatoes were being cooked as properly as if they had been in the kitchen of the richest person in the land; and yet they were out there, in a by-court, in a back-room, and the cook was only a wretchedly-poor old artisan widow! However (the thought flashed in), let things go on till we came to the tackling of the plaice. It was to be fried, the bookbinder said, for she had a little dripping; and when fish-frying was entered upon, we should come to a department that would try resources and skill both. Therefore we reserved comment, and waited for the next move.
"And now for my plaice," went on the bookbinder. "It is cleaned - the fishmonger has done that - so I've only got to cut it, like this, into smaller pieces ; because, as it is, it is too big for my pan. And, there! I'll just give them that much of a wash; I'll shake the water off, so; and to make them as dry as possible, I'll wrap them up, in this way, in this clean cloth. There! And now I'll leave them while I get my pan ready, and put in my fat. It must be hot, you know, first; and it'll take two or three minutes to do it."
Twofold became Parisina's bafflement and wonder. It was hard to hold the rein tight enough to keep her from vocal ebullition. She would like to know, she felt, and afterwards confessed, where she could see plaice prepared, better than she was seeing it prepared. But she retained her discretion; she was prevailed upon still to be talked to, and to use her eyes.
"I mustn't take my potato-saucepan off yet a while," chatted on the bookbinder. "I must let it get fairly on the boil, and then I can put it on the side, and it will keep boiling very well. And I can set my frying-pan on far enough, as it is, to heat my fat. There. So now I'll put my plates in the oven to get hot; there they are. And I'll be getting my flour out, to flour my fish; for I must flour it, you know, before I put it in the pan."
"Now, did you notice my flour-bin?" asked the good woman, as she turned from her cupboard. "There it is." It was a small preserved ginger jar. "And that's my salt-box. A round glass bottle. "We poor people, you see, have to put up with funny things; but somehow we manage. We can only get flour, and so on, in small quantities at a time, you know (for things would turn sour in our small rooms, with no pantries); and even a pound of flour comes to twopence farthing! And as I say, it's~ the getting things that's our trouble, not the knowing where to put them. We can get over that, dear " - with a turn to her daughter, to confirm her - "and nicely, can't we?"
The acquiescence came, with a smile, though with some sadness; and then the daughter smiled out something more. "Mother," she said, gently, invalid as she was, "where's your cloth? It's not like you to be doing what you are doing now!"
Truth to say, the mother was, at this stage, departing a degree or two from high rule and superiority. She shall be her own explanation.
"Ah well, my dear," ran her cheery cry, "a good cook's never at a loss for a duster, when she wears a apron!" and the vegetable-dish she had just reached, for her potatoes, had the end of the whisk she was beginning to give it, and was set down 2. upon the table with triumph.
"Now," she said, going on, "my potatoes is getting quite right, and I can draw them away a little, and put on my pan. Next, I'll unroll my fish out of the cloth - there it is. I'll flour all my pieces, thickly - so; a good sprinkle, and put them in. They won't all go, you see; no, my pan's small. But I'll do my thick bits first, and then the small ones won't take many minutes, whilst we're eating these. As the fat's all boiling, even the biggest will not take so very long. A few minutes, at most."
And what was to be done with the few minutes, seeing that all preliminary preparations were concluded? Parisina was not likely to be at a loss. With a hundred questions bubbling, she was delighted to be allowed to bring one or two of them out.
"You would have had no dinner at all, you say, to-day," she began, "unless this I trouble had been given you; but would you mind saying what it was you had yesterday?"
The signal, instantly, for the restraint again; the graver manner; and lowered eyes.
"No dinner then, either," came out, finally.
"Well then," pursued the last questioner, "what was it the day before?"
"Oh come! But I'll go on with my audacity, now I have begun it. What is it likely to be to-morrow?"
"Just the same. Nothing different."
All other inquiry seemed stamped out by this hard truth. Yet - at last - like a trained surgeon who must handle the injured limb, Parisina rallied herself to renew the attack. She was gentle, as became her.
"Then," she ventured out, "on these days when - when you have no time for dinner, I suppose you get a little lunch ?"
"Yes," said the bookbinder. "We take a slice of bread; and, mostly, I go out and get some cheese."
"Ah. And how much do you find it economical to buy at once?
"Nonsense! That cannot be enough !"
A contrast to the returning liveliness of this, was the quiet endurance of the widow. "Well, twopennyworth would be better," she said. "But good cheese is dear; and me and my daughter would rather have a little we could relish, than a big piece that we shouldn't care to eat. And then," which brought her back to be bright again, "you must recollect that most days we treat ourselves to a egg a piece for tea. We get penny eggs that do; but, even there, we should get better if we could afford five, farthings."
"Then breakfasts? Since we are looking in so very closely, what have you to say of breakfasts?"
"They are the same every day. We just have coffee; and we have bread, and a little butter."
"Well, at suppers we feel that work is over, and that we can just rest a bit; and we generally toast ourselves a slice of bread, and we butter it; or perhaps, for a treat, we have a rasher of bacon, and put it in the oven. And then I must say, too, that at suppers we're extravagant. It's then we can read the paper a bit, or any book we have; and I must say, then, we do always have a glass of beer."
Ah dear! Yet., in another minute, so many-sided was Parisina's mind, another thought flashed upon her. Were these artisans using the food they did get, and the food-money they did spend, to the best advantage? She put it straight.
"You see," she began, "the two eggs that you have to eke out your tea, are two-pence, and the cheese you get as a substitute for dinner is a penny; threepence. Now, couldn't you buy meat with that threepence, and cook it into a savoury stew? There are plenty of pieces of meat to be seen for sale in butchers' windows?"
"Pieces of meat?" and the bookbinder looked round from her plaice-slices, to which she was giving a skilful turn. "Oh! You mean block ornaments! No, thank you. They're the outside cuttings, they are, and the edges, and the trimmings that have been handled and fingered, and handled and fingered again. Me and my daughter's not very particular; but what little meat we do have, we like to have fresh and good, and we'd rather go without than buy that other !"
To have to hear such high and mighty heresy! such open, flagrant justification for the tirades against the extravagant wilfulness of the poor, and the most vehement denunciations ! Of course, if people are too dainty to eat what is within their means, too fine to bend to circumstances, too-
Speech to this effect would have gushed out, turbulently, had not Parisina been held. She was once more to listen, she was warned; for the widow was turning from her watchful shakes of her fish to put in a word she had been too emphatic to put in before.
"Mind you," it was, "we do have stews, at times, and very nice they are. And we have soups; and I'll tell you how I make them. I should get a piece of the leg of beef, say two pounds; and as that's eightpence a pound, that's one shilling and fourpence. Then I should buy a penny-worth of pot-herbs (which they give you mixed; a little carrot, and a little turnip, and a little onion); and I should scrape the carrot, because, that way, they're as nice again, and I should put in a little allspice, and thicken with rice, or sago, or pearl-barley. Then that would be good soup - nourishing. And it would come out a good quart; and would feed a little family, of father, and mother, and four or five children, with plenty of bread and potatoes."
"Costing one shilling and five pence; and mounting up, with the rice, and bread, and potatoes you mention, to, I daresay, two shillings; which would be, for six people, exactly fourpence a head! Now, you and your daughter only spend three-pence between you, so that won't do. But couldn't you buy these meat-pieces - these block ornaments, I beg your pardon - and make a soup or stew that should come to the price you do feel justified in spending?"
"No," said the bookbinder, with the firmness of knowing all about it. "Those pieces are sold at eightpence a pound; the best are ninepence and tenpence; half a pound of the eightpenny would be very little, cooked anyway, for two of us, me and my daughter, and I don't see how it's to be done. I wish it could, for my part, and I wish somebody would show me."
The bookbinder shook her head, as she stooped and used her adroit fork in her frying-pan again; and, for that matter, there was a pretty good shake given to Parisina's. Arithmetic had cooled her. With new meat, suitable for soups and stews, to be had for eightpence a pound, it no longer seemed fastidious to decline giving the same price for meat that was dirty. It was a sad outlook, though, for people who could only afford three halfpence a piece for a dinner. Parisina sighed with sympathy.
"Well, was the next question, "the day you do have meat then is -"
"Sunday," and the widow took her potato-saucepan off the hob, emptied it of the water, and put it back again, that the potatoes might lie in it, hot and dry, now they were nearly done. "And except that we have the little bit that's left cold on a Monday, we never think of meat on any other day. Now, last Sunday, as I dare-say you'd like to know, I bought a pound and nine ounces of beef, one shilling and twopence; and I bought three pounds of potatoes, fourpence halfpenny-one shilling and sixpence halfpenny altogether. I put my potatoes under my beef, I put them all in my pan, in my oven; they were done in an hour and a quarter, and we had a splendid dinner. As there was more potatoes than we could eat, we warmed them up on Monday, and they helped out the bit of beef left upon the bone; and there we were."
A short history; but, without doubt, a complete one. Let the cost be soberly looked at. One shilling and sixpence for two days' dinners - (irrespective of the bread that must have been the accompaniment) - is fourpence halfpenny for each poor woman. But fourpence halfpenny a day is more than can be afforded. To lessen this too great cost, then, only three halfpence a day is spent on the midday meals of the other five days making up the week - reckoning the penny egg that fortifies the tea, but not reckoning the supper, to which "snack," anyway, most folks would think themselves entitled - and three halfpence a day comes, for the two people, to one shilling and threepence in the five days, and amounts, with the one shilling and sixpence halfpenny, before mentioned, to a gross total per week of two shillings and ninepence halfpenny. Now the average of this two shillings and ninepence halfpenny is nearly fivepence a day, or twopence halfpenny a woman; and is it a good plan to have a savoury roast (or bake) on one day of the week, its shade on the second, and a make. shift on all the rest? But Parisina was wise enough - from previous experience - to make no judgment, but to go on with the few questions that should lead up to it.
"The meat that you have for Sundays is not always beef, I suppose, is it?"
"No. It might be a bit of the breast of mutton; or a hand of pork; or sausages, which I should bake in batter; or a bit of neck of mutton to boil; or a bit which I should cover with batter, and bake, and call toad-in-the-hole. But they all cost about the same, except the sausages, which is cheaper. For the rest, it's all according."
"And do you know a cheap supper that would be nice?"
"Yes. There's a Spanish onion - three halfpence. I quarter it, boil it, strain off the water, chop it up, put a little butter and pepper and salt to it; and then we eat it with bread. And it's very good. But such things as sheep's reeds, bullocks' honeycombs, chitterlings, tripe, muggets, sheep's brain, faggots, and them, they never seemed to take my fancy."
Parisina's ear was caught by this unfamiliar list, and it gave her eye a sparkle. But there was no time for more.
"Ah, see!" cried the bookbinder. "My plaice is done now, lovely. And now I'll take my pieces out with my fork - because I've no fish-slice, you know - and I'll put the others in the pan, so that they may be gently doing. The next thing's my potatoes. There they are; and now they're turned out on my dish, like balls of flour, as the saying is. Now, the dinner don't look bad, or badly cooked, do it?"
It looked excellent. A clean cloth had been spread upon the little table, some clean plates were upon it, the cutlery was old and eccentric, but it was as clean as the rest; and the only thing was to hope that the eating would be as enjoyable, and to walk away.
Parisina burst into eager speech, though, before the court was well out of view.
"Muggets !" she said. "Faggots, chitterlings, honeycombs, reeds! There must be something seen of these, before our lessons are concluded. Let us see if we can find them."
LEARNING TO COOK WITH THE POOR.
IN FIVE PARTS. PART II. A LESSON FROM A BOY.
SOME delay occurred, in the digging down to that particular substratum of food that
had caught Parisina's imagination. Notification reached her that a boy of fourteen,
the bookbinder's grandson, and motherless,
did the whole of the cooking for his father, himself, and three other motherless
children. So Parisina decided that there must be a visit to this boy, and the visit
"Now" - and no name could have suited the young workman so-well as "Willie;" for he did will; though, if he could have been called " Good-will," it would even have expressed his character still better - "tell me; does it matter to you in the slightest what you have to-day for dinner?"
"No!" And amusement and a half-awakened comprehension were visible, both in the boy's bright face and manner.
"Is your father here? Had you better ask him?"
"Father's gone out to-work for the day. He won't be home till between eight and nine to-night; and he always leaves me to manage everything. I can do just what I like; or what's convenient."
"Then the best thing will be a meat-pudding. Just say what you want for it."
"Well " - and Willie was slow, for his considering-cap was on, and he had to be careful - "a pound and a half of blade-bone of beef, please; a pound of flour; a quarter of a pound of mutton-suet. A little bit of mutton, as well, gives it a better flavour, if you don't mind; just half a pound of the breast-bone; and then there'll be three pounds of the five-farthing potatoes; and that's all."
As nobody did mind the extra half pound of mutton to give a flavour, all the ingredients named were obtained (at a total cost of two shillings and twopence-halfpenny), and placed at Willie's disposal. Willie, however, was nurse, as well as cook, in his modest establishment; and before he could turn to the table and attend to his cookery, there was a small Nellie of six years of age, there was a smaller Walter of four, to equip for their morning run about the streets. When jackets were buttoned, too, and hats tied - finishing with a last touch of a wisp of necktie under each little upturned chin - Willie had to administer a bribe.
"There, keep out," he said. "Go and play, for ever such a long time, and I'll give you a farthing each to buy a puff-puff!
The bait was taken. The little faces lightened, the little fingers clutched the coin (which turned out to he a penny, though, to be hononrably divided), and the little folks were gone.
"There now!" said their young director, after he had watched them toddle, hand-in-hand, through his newspaper shop - he being tradesman, as well as cook and nurse and general housekeeper and superintendent; his locale, a poor street in a North-London suburb - "my first thing is to get my kitchen-table in, and to clear up here a bit, to make room for it."
To make room was a desideratum, undoubtedly. Willie's back parlour was eight feet by ten, possibly; with a fireplace stuck trianglewise in one corner, cutting off a great portion of it; with the bed, in which both he and his father slept - three feet wide at the widest ! - spread out opposite, a perpetual accessory; with almost every other inch of the area occupied by a large round table, covered with a fixed brown-leather cloth. But the new piece of culinary furniture was managed capitally. It had a great deal of sound but very little size, Willie having some fun in him; and as it was only a short plank, about as big as a good knife-board, it was easily laid on the near end of the brown-leather table, after some cups and plates had been shifted up together preparatorily; and there was Willie, ready to begin.
"We scour this kitchen-table once a week, regular," he said; "oftener, if it wants just more than a wash; for I shouldn't like it dirty, as long as soap and water can keep it clean. And, now - let me see! I shall want my dish to put my meat in as I cut it up, and my knife to cut it."
Willie's sole cupboard being a shelf stretched, high up, the whole length of his and his father's bed, his requisites were very handy, and he had quickly reached them.
"Ah! " he said, looking at the meat critically. "They haven't served you well over your beef. I've seen better. And they've charged a penny a pound more than they'd have charged us. That's it, you see: me not being able to go myself. But when father's out I daren't leave the shop, or this little parlour; no, not a minute. There, look, now!"
It was proof positive that leaving was impossible. A young man was crossing the door of it; and Willie had to fling down his knife and the debated purchase, to pass through - a shopman - and see what was required.
"Well! " when he came back, "done much business?"
"Two half-pennies for a penny."
"No? And did you give them?"
"Yes." Without a shadow of annoyance; simply as if it were ordinary life-routine (as, no doubt, it was), and as if it were out of all question to make remonstrance. "Now, then," he said, with a resumption of his cookery, almost at the same moment, "cut all the meat up you see in middling-sized pieces, like that. Keep cutting, right through, so; and lay the bits aside. I'll take off this bit of skin, I will; it's of no use; won't turn to gravy, nor nothing. Ah! knife wants sharpening! Come along."
The invitation was only to the knife; and the journey it was invited to take was only the short step between the table and the fender. Then Willie stooped, and made a raid among the fire-irons, as if they were a stack of weapons, and he was searching for the one he knew to be of the truest temper.
"This is the steel! " he cried, upright again. And he was whetting his knife up and down the poker magically, full of glee at the contrivance, and with his bright face all the brighter for it. "That's the favourite knife," he said, when he was fronting the table once more. "That was mother's." It was lying among some other things that had evidently done duty for breakfast. " It cut bread for twenty-three years, it did. This one," as he jerked his hand up, to show the one he was using better, "has done a deal of cutting in its time too."
It had soon done the meat-cutting under his deft touch, at any rate; and after the pieces had been picked up off the "kitchen-table" and laid by in the dish, it had to be taken up again to chop up the mutton-suet.
The young cook swept what he had chopped into the basin into which he was going to put his flour, and he jumped up again to his shelf briskly.
"I'm thinking the pound of flour will be hardly enough," ran his cogitation, with the reflectiveness of a full-grown professor. "There's a good bit of meat, now I've come to cut it up - quite a good bit; and it ought to be thoroughly covered. Yes; I'll use some of our own flour as well, and then I shall be certain."
"Isn't it a pity to go to your own store?" was submitted, as a high glass canister was brought down - of the sort seen holding "bulls' eyes" in shop windows. "Might not there be another visit to the baker's, to buy a little more?"
"No, thank you," was the culinary decision. "I've plenty here; see "-and, indeed, the natty canister was well filled up - "for I've always got to keep a stock you know, to make paste of, to paste my placards on to my boards. Besides, I shall only want a little, after all."
The next operation was to pour the flour into the basin over the suet; and the next to rush through the glass door again, on the advent of a customer. It was a tell clerical gentleman, correct, impressive, with much sombreness and dignity.
"Sell him anything?" For in a minute Willie had once more opened and shut the glass door, and was returned.
"No. Hadn't got it."
"What did he want, then?"
"You see," was the remark of the young cook, stopping a moment to tell a secret of his commerce, "we don't keep such papers unless they're ordered. We should only have them left. And look at the penny papers, even! We have to sell two hundred and forty to get a pound; and, if we have one left over, we lose the profit of three!"
Mercantile and arithmetical Willie! Mastering the matters it was good for him to master, whether they appertained to shop-keeping or they appertained to cookery. And here he was, occupied with his pudding again, instantly.
He mixed his flour and suet thoroughly; he poured water into the mixture; he stirred it round and round with his knife, till he had brought it to the proper adhesiveness and stiffness; he laid a pastry-board on the top of his "kitchen-table" - it was perfectly clean, as were all his other things; he emptied his lump of paste upon it ; he reached his pastry- roller; he was perfect in his manner of rolling it out. After a turn or two, too, he drew his knife through the easy bulk of his paste-lump, cutting it in ha if; and he put one half of it aside.
"This is for the bottom of my basin," he said, after he had rolled out, thin, the piece he was still handling. "I used to see mother doing it, and it's by watching her I learnt."
"Mother" was copied with all skilfulness; with so much, it would have been impossible, to have said such a trick was missing, or to have pointed to a wrong trick, and have suggested another in its place. The circular piece of paste was transferred to the intended basin; it was laid down into it, deep; its edges were allowed to fall over the basin-rim, in quite the orthodox way. Then the meat-pieces were taken out of the dish into which they had been put; were laid in good style in the cavity prepared to receive them; were saluted with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper; were kept from unartistic abutment by the prompt and perfectly skilful upturning of the falling paste-edges into the form of a dyke or wall. The other half of the paste was taken in hand immediately after this. It was laid upon the board; it was floured a bit, and rolled a bit; it was hoisted at last on to the paste-bound meat-head, and was pressed down upon it cunningly.
"Now for my cloth," said Willie, reaching one and spreading it out; "and now my string."
But he had to go into his shop, among his business appliances, for this last. And it must not be supposed that he had been separated from his shop during his last minutes of pudding-preparation and pudding-fulfilment. . He had been perpetually called off into it. There had been a Telegraph wanted, a "Nooze," a Musical Budget, a Boys' Own, a penny Gates Ajar, a Warbler, some envelopes - a lively trade, making him abandon his cookery at every possible stage. He had had, too, to attend to his little Nellie and his little Walter. A bitter north wind kept driving the poor little mites to the shelter of indoors; the restlessness of childhood kept driving the poor little mites out. Then the wind kept blowing to one leaf of the shop-door, with a little person obliged to be coaxed out to go and open it; and the same wind, blowing again, would blow down one of the pasted placard-boards, rendering it necessary that I a little person should be coaxed out to go and pick it up. Altogether, Willie, in his cookery, was hampered, and hindered, and hung about with, a host of the burdens that most working-people, in their cookery, are hampered and hindered and hung about with; and, at last, he was brought to a full stop by something that could not be overcome by patience, temper, and submission. He had tied up his pudding, he had given the proper deft knot to the ends of the pudding-cloth, he had turned to his fireplace to drop his pudding down into his saucepan, and then his parlour-stove, a triangular, obstinate, inefficient old thing, wouldn't draw - wouldn't be roused into heat and glow - would only show a black face to everything, and wreathe itself round with puny, sullen smoke!
"That's always the way with that old stove!" cried Willie. "And then, just as father and me's going to bed, it takes it into its head to burn up cheerfully, and it seems a shame to put it out!"
And yet Willie had made every preparation. From the beginning, he had had on his large tin pudding saucepan (holding a gallon and a half; his pudding being of gigantic proportions, it must be owned), he had had a smaller pan upon the inconvenient slope-walled hob, to be ready for his potatoes, when he had them peeled; he had even put a little kettle handy in the fender, to be urged into hotness from its top, or sideways, or somehow, from which he was to supply the pudding saucepan as the water in it, from the boiling, gradually steamed away. It was bricks that beat him, oblique chimney-coursing, defective construction; but he broke out into his proper vein agreeably.
"You come off," he said to the pudding-pan, moving it down into the fender.
"You may stay," he said to the other, letting it remain upon the hob. "And now," to the general company, as he made a brisk attack on as much as there was of the fire, and put something on it, "here's a comical thing! Six a penny! With a little patience, one of them would light a fire without any wood at all! Fire-blazers they call them; or, perhaps, that's I what I call them, and I don't know their right name!"
The article applied (whatever it may have been) did not act as a fire-blazer, except for giving a fizz and a wink for a shadowy moment, and then dying dead out again; so possibly Willie had really that much error in him, and was wrong in his designation. At any rate, he had to send his eldest girl, Eliza (aged ten, perhaps, and home then from some newspaper delivering), to a little out-house for some sticks, and he had to put these in, and on his recalcitrant fire; and then he hoisted his big tin saucepan up again, amidst the crackle and the flame, and went on with the next item in his arrangements.
It was peeling the potatoes. The girl Eliza - heard, subsequently, softened by younger lips into Wiser - brought a clean crockery pan of cold water. Willie dropped the potatoes into it, and there he let them stay, to bide their time. He was content with one water to wash them in, earning, that way, a blotch on his fair escutcheon. But his tiny back-parlour was not furnished with a sink, down which he could pour panful after panful of dirty water as he thought well; his sister Wiser staggered under the weight of the one pan as it was, requiring the inconvenient door to be held open for her, lest the water should pour down upon the floor; he could not be going backwards and forwards himself, because of shop-duty.
He was called off by a customer before he could do any more, Wiser being also temporarily absent; and in the blank of the interim, or as an interlude, a question was put a propos to the little six-years Nellie. She had been driven into the parlour again, poor little one, as it happened, by lack of enthralling out-door amusement, and she was looking up with rapt and pretty eyes.
"And can you cook, dearie? From seeing brother?"
It took Nellie aback. But in a minute after, it was to be understood, from Nellie's manner, that Nellie thought she could.
"Well; and you see brother has been getting ready the potatoes. What will he do with them next; do you know?"
"Put 'em in a tortpan!" which Nellie brought out quickly; inspired by being sure, she was so very sure.
"Yes. And," after a little more, "how long do you think brother will let the potatoes and the tortpan be?"
"A torter of an hour!" with the utmost precision and gravity; with quite a splash of pomp.
From which it was quite certain (ran Parisina's whisper) that little children do want cookery lessons, supposing, that is, they are only near enough to the cradle when the children can be caught, and the lessons can be given.
Willie returned at the moment. Willie was delighted to find his fire looking briskly up, with the several waters he had on it and by it, uttering promissory sounds; and after a few minutes' more watching and tending, Willie was still more delighted to find his pudding-pan ready for his pudding, and to be able to pop his pudding in.
"I haven't made one of this sort this six months," went his cheery comment. "You see I can't make puddings regular, being obliged to be in and out, in and out, always to the shop. I'm forced only to cook such things as I can cook quick; and then to keep everything I want just on this shelf here, where I can get it quick, as well. It makes one feel unsettled like, that's the worst of it," came then, with something like a sigh. "I don't sometimes feel settled enough somehow even to read."
Was it not a faithful sketch of the troubles of the poor, of the many disadvantages they labour under? And, in truth, Willie's settlements, or leisure moments, had the smallest possible space. The facts were that, though the first part of his cookery was over, with his choppings and peelings done, and he was really able to be seated by the fire, it was only for him to watch the pot, to keep tipping the little kettle back upon some obtrusive piece of coal, to cut a "cat" out of a piece of firewood for little Walter, to persuade the child to go out and play with it, to have the child come back one minute after, lamenting that the first "tip " of his new plaything had sent it flying right down the next-door rails. There was only time for talk, indeed; and that in fragments; but as there were many things on which Willie could throw good light, talk was suggested, and talk took place.
"Well, we buy a piece, of about three pounds, of eightpenny bacon on a Saturday," went Willie's part of it. "That's our week's stock, and is kept up there on the shelf, handy. We have this for breakfasts, and the same every morning, with bread and dripping and coffee; because I get up about half-past six always, I light the fire, I open the shop, I go out with the morning newspapers - as father's at home then, and can do the rest; and by the time I come in, a little after eight o'clock, I'm real hungry."
It gave the figures for one of Parisina's rapid calculations. Three pounds of bacon a week, for six people, would cost four-pence each on the average, or a little over a halfpenny a morning. Hum; well; it might be allowed. But, in spite of this magnanimous surrender, a question was brought out, closely, respecting butter.
Willie echoed the word with a little contempt in him. "No! We don't like butter well enough to eat much of it," he said. "We buy dripping. That's seven-pence and eightpence a pound, whilst butter's thirteen and fourteen; and when we're eating dripping, we know what we're eating; and we have it for tea, too; seldom anything more."
Which gave more excuse for the half-a-pound a piece a week of bacon than even had been thought; and with this comfortably settled, the talk went on.
"Sunday's dinner?" said Willie. "Ah, our Sunday's dinner don't give me much trouble. We send it out to be baked. We can't roast here well; we've got no oven - which is why we can't never have baked rice puddings, fruit tarts, and such, unless we send them out; and yet we do like a joint on Sundays, when we haven't been having much, perhaps, all the week. So we get on Saturday nights a piece of beef, or a piece of mutton, about five pounds weight, costing about three shillings and sixpence; and we have five pounds of potatoes underneath it; and then, as we shouldn't have any saucepans on the fire, because the meat and potatoes were gone to the bakehouse, I should get twopennyworth of greens of some sort., and I should cook those at home. Can't have them any other day, you see; there's no room. It's hard work managing, even, as it is."
It was; and Willie had to be his own interruption here, for he saw it was time to put on his potatoes, and he had to get up to do it.
"Well," he said, as he set the saucepan in its right place again, "there's my Monday's dinner now for me to tell you. We should have the cold meat that was left from Sunday; and I should take all the potatoes and greens that were left, and fry them. Tuesday I might have a little bit of boiled mutton, with some more potatoes, and I might make a few ball dumplings to eat with them. Then Wednesday I should only get half a sheep's liver to fry - fivepence. Our dinner would be of bread pudding, made out of all the pieces saved together from the week. I should soak the bread from over night; squeeze it dry; chop up six ounces of suet with it, and put in a pound of currants at fourpence, and a biggish handful of sugar, because sugar's cheap now, and the children like it. Then, Thursday, we might have a bit of a stew, put properly on with vegetables, and some boiled potatoes. Friday, I should get a pound of steak, perhaps; come to a shilling, and be dear, because there'd be none left for father when he came home from work at night, and on most of the other days there would. I should make a plain suet pudding of a Friday, too, I daresay, with just a pound of flour and a quarter of a pound of suet, as I've done just now. And then of Saturdays - oh, of Saturdays we can't bother for dinner! We're too busy. We have bread and cheese; and then, perhaps, for tea we cut off a slice of the joint we're going to have for the next day, Sunday, and we cook that."
"When it is already to last for the Monday's dinner cold, as well as the Sunday's dinner hot, and it only weighed five pounds at the beginning!"
"Yes," said Willie, in his submissive content, "we make it do, somehow. Besides, when all the work's over, for Saturday's work's heavy, we have a good cocoa supper."
"And is there much else that you have, besides what you say?"
"No; because there isn't much else, you see, that we can have. And of course what we can't do ourselves, we have to do without!"
Ay, there was the point. Minus this faculty of doing without, where would the poor be? Our programme was just to wait the rest of the time the pudding and potatoes would take to get done; and we waited accordingly.
"Kittle has to do his duty," cried Willie, in the midst of it; it was as he was raising the pudding-pan lid, to replace such of the water babbling round his pudding as had steamed away. "Must have hot water, you see, for all sorts of things; so kittle's on all day - it's never off. "
Yes; and Willie most excellently matched his "kittle." There was no doubt about it. Our last view of him was with his cloth laid, his plates spread, his three children round about him at the table; with the top round of his pudding cut neatly off, showing the steamy, savoury moat inside, and his three children waiting anxiously for their help. His potatoes had to be served out of the saucepan, poor young housekeeper; a vegetable dish being another of the things he was obliged to "do without;" but the food would be none the less nourishing for the inelegance; and it was just another item noticed, to add to the long list being laid up in Parisina's heart, as we walked away.
LEARNING TO COOK WITH THE POOR.
IN FIVE PARTS. PART III. AT A MOTHER'S.
A CALL was made next upon a married
woman. She was young, poor thing; she
was active, however pale and spare circumstances had made her; she was the wife of
a tall, broad-chested carter, earning twenty-
four shillings a week. She was chosen, because those wages were thought a fair type
of the London labourers' means and resources; because the woman spending them
was thought a fair type of the women who
have to spend, and who are expected to
be excellent economists, no matter what
their previous calling may have been.
Moreover, the woman was the mother of
five children - only one of these being old
enough to begin to go to work and add
five or six shillings to her week's income;
and she had to feed them all, to clothe
them all, to cook, to wash, to clean up, to
make, to mend, to manage, for every one -
all on the portion of twenty-four shillings
weekly her "Jim" chose to allow her.
She had a home in a small old cottage, of two low-ceilinged, hovel-like rooms, entrance into which was obtained by going down brick steps, straight into the ill-paved tool-place, or scullery, that was its best reception-room and chief apartment; and so quick an admission rendered it easy to enter equally as readily and unconventionally into special business.
"Some meat-pieces now," was the way Parisina began, "those called, we have been told, block-ornaments; some were in the window of a butcher's shop in the main street here, just along; they were lying heaped up, and marked eightpence. Might some of those be bought, with whatever else you use with them; and would you show how they are generally cooked?"
Consent being readily given, the block. ornaments were quickly lying upon the charred old table. They did not weigh quite a pound, so only came to sevenpence. They were flanked by a couple of pounds of potatoes, and by a pennyworth of pot-vegetables, mixed; tenpence, the total expenditure.
"I should tell you," said the good woman - she shall be called after her husband, Mrs. Jim - "that there ought to have been onions in this pen'north, to make my stew as other people make it; but my Jim, he can't bear onions, let me cook 'em any way I may; so both Harry and Dick, whenever they go a errand for me, have got used by now to say 'no onions,' and to bring me a little extra carrot instead. Well, I scrape the carrot, you see, after I just give it this light wash, so; and then I slice it. There it is, ready for my stew-pan; and as it's ready, I may just as well at once put it in."
As she brought forward her pan, a remark was made about the number and sort of her utensils. She was just as frank over this; just as open and explanatory.
"I'm pretty well off, considering," she said; "I've got four saucepans altogether. where's this big tin one I shall do my stew in," (it was a giant; of the gallon-and-a- half sort, like Willie's) ; "there's this little one; and there's those two, up on the shelf there, middling. Yes, and I've got this old fish-kettle, so I have; only when I hold it up to the light, see, there are great holes in it, and I have to fill them up with rag, every now and then, when I'm going to use it. And there's my kettle, of course; there's my strainer; there's my knives and forks; there's a few pie-dishes, and basins, and cups and saucers, and jam-pots, and plates; there's my dripping-pan - because I can roast here, though it's an awkward stove, it is, with no oven and no boiler for hot water - and here's my skein of cotton, with a hook to it, that's my jack."
"And no scales, no screen, no sieves, no salamander, no egg-whisk," said Parisina, as she bounded right on to her hobby - "no gas-stove, no gas-roaster, no vegetable-cutters, no sauté-pans, no jelly-moulds, no ice-pans, stock-pans, cream-pans, copper-pans, bains marie -"
But Parisina was stopped at this point. "Besides," said Mrs. Jim, amused, comprehending some, even if she had no understanding for the whole, "what's the use of me having many more things than what I've got? I'd have no room to keep 'em; for I've only got my mantel-piece and that one shelf, and this old cupboard where I put my coals and hang up my broom; and as for cooking, how could I put much more than I do put, upon this little bit of a old awkward grate?"
That was true. That was acknowledged as another reason for severe simplicity in foods and their preparation; for that necessity and faculty of "doing without." It made it more needful than ever to keep a sharp look-out as to how things were done; as to how black-handled knives, of bad build and remote age, did duty for keenest edge and best construction; as to how cracks and broken rims stood in the stead of polished articles, brand-new; how feeble fire-power, finally, had coaxing and tending, to urge it to do, dilatorily, what a brave and glittering kitchen-range could have effected easily and straight off. Let nothing that Mrs. Jim did be missed or slighted.
"Well," Mrs. Jim said next, as she placed herself again at the table, "I'll do my turnips now. I must peel them, so; I cut them up; I drop them into my saucepan, alongside of my carrots. And now that that much is done, I'll see about my meat. I'll just wash it in this bowl of cold water. It's quite good, if you notice. This piece, see, is a little mutton cutlet; this is a bit of flap of mutton; these are pieces of the leg of beef. They'll all come out beautiful, as nice as new, you'll see, when they're in the stew. And they make lovely soup to it, or gravy. There; I put in the water; I throw in this pepper and salt; I shut down my lid; I pop it by the fire; and if we look at it in an hour, it wants no more, and it'll be done; excellent. But I intend to look at it, though, as it happens," said Mrs. Jim, in continuance, "for I'm going to do my potatoes now; and in general, when I have a stew, I put my potatoes into it, to make the gravy nice and thick, with the flour of them. So now, here my potatoes are; and the first thing is to give them a peel. - What, Lizzie, eh? " - to her little daughter, aged four, the only one of her progeny remaining upon the premises- "ah! Lizzie must peel a potato, because mother's peeling a potato, must she? Well, there you are; have that little one, and do it nicely. Dear, dear, how they will do what they see mother do, these little ones!"
They will; and, accordingly, there was Lizzie peeling, and there was "mother" peeling, each in the ratio of her experience and capacity. When "mother" had finished about her fourth potato, Lizzie came up to present her, single small one, with a screwed-up face and a choking cry.
"Why, what's wrong? What's the matter? You've cut your finger, have you? Poor Lizzie! Why, you're not half a woman to peel potatoes along of mother, after all! Though she ain't done it so bad, have she, for such a little one? But never mind, don't cry! Mother'll tear off this little bit a of rag, see; and she'll tie it round it, so; and it'll soon be better. There! run away."
So the small Lizzie's Learning to Cook was ended, and Mrs. Jim was again the only demonstrator on whom it was needful to keep an eye.
"Now, when my stew's all done," she said, "and now my potatoes are peeled and washed, I shall put them into it, in a minute, it will make a good dinner for Jim and me and the little 'uns nicely. And it's just about what we should have had, too, if you hadn't been here, and things had all gone regular. For I'll tell you how I manage, all the week through and how pretty nearly everybody else manages that I know; and one week very nigh like another week, when it comes to that I'll begin with the Sunday's breakfast because it seems like the beginning, somehow and it's the day we have a treat. Well we have tea; and Jim and me has bread and butter, while we give the little 'uns bread and treacle. The treat's in the water-cress; which we have a penn'orth of, whenever we can. For dinner, we have a piece of beef, to roast, coming to about half-a-crown; and three-penn'orth of greens, and three pounds of potatoes. We might have a plum-pudding, too. For it, I should get half a quartern of flour, a half a pound of currants, and a quarter of a pound of mutton suet. And then for tea; why, the tea's the same every day; always. It's tea and bread and butter for Jim and me; and for the children, bread and dripping. As for the strength of the tea, it isn't very strong; and as for milk, I can't afford more than two penn'orth a day for the whole of us, breakfast and tea too, and even two penn'orth a day comes to one shilling and twopence a week, if you reckon. And that's a good bit, don't you see, if you think of one thing and another, isn't it?"
It was such a very good bit, helped by I the thought of one thing, and the thought of - a considerable - other, that Parisina was getting mazed. She longed to ask how many of Jim's twenty-four shillings were handed over to Mrs. Jim, for these seven mouths to be fed upon. And her longing could not be suppressed either it was brought impulsively out.
"Well," Mrs. Jim replied, "he a very good, Jim is, and he always gives me twenty-two shillings of his wages, and never keeps no more than two shillings for himself. He hands it me regular, when he's in work."
"And when he's out of work?"
"Oh! don't talk of when he's out of work! How we manage then, I couldn't tell you! It's just a bit here, and a bit there, and a few pence earned for this thing, and a few pence earned for that - a odd job, maybe - and a little bit given by one, and a little bit given by another, just anyhow, whichever way we can!"
"And out of your twenty-two shillings you pay rent?"
"Yes. With us, the husbands never have nothing to do with rent. They give us what they can, supposing they don't drink it, as some men do I know; and then we have to manage. And with me, out of my twenty-two shillings, there's first my rent, four shillings; there's e hundred of coke and half a hundred of coal, two shillings and threepence together; there's my paraffin, which comes to a halfpenny a night regular; there', my one shilling and twopence for milk there's my regular supply of tea, a shilling; and my two and a half pounds of threepenny brown sugar. That comes to - how much? For you can tell quicker than me, being more used to it?"
"To nine and fourpence."
"Well; leaving me -"
"Twelve and eightpence for everything else. And, as you happened to say just now, you took in three loaves a day-three loaves come to elevenpence farthing, or six shillings and sixpence three farthings a week, leaving your twelve shillings and eightpence reduced only to six shillings and a penny farthing."
Mrs. Jim gave another little smile. "Well, it is strange how we manage, certainly," she said, "and it's no wonder you're surprised. But there's the little bit my boy Harry brings to help me, though I haven't had that above six or seven weeks, I must say. And now, look here! Here's another way to earn! This will make you laugh, I can tell you."
It was a breathless, red-haired, red-eyed little rascal - a Joe, of six - bringing in an empty basket.
"He won't give me no more nor five fardens! " was what broke out from the young Joe, pipingly; his comic face the more comical for a wide grin. "He said that was all there was!"
"You see," explained Mrs. Jim, "young Joe saw a bed-tick thrown out of a window down The Burdens there, as we call those back cottages; thrown out I daresay because it was too - too - dirty to be slept upon any longer; and Joe and me we've ripped off the tick, which wasn't of no use, and we've took out the rags as was inside, and Joe he's been and sold 'em!"
Joe was breathless and bright still, to repeat the matter with which he was yet charged. "Yes, mother," he went on, "and here's the five fardens, and the man says he won't give no more, 'cos -"
"Well, well," and Mrs. Jim took the five farthings, and was putting them away. "Yes ?" for Joe still stood there, grinning. "Oh! you want the farden for yourself, do you? Well, there you are! Be off!" whereupon Joe evaporated, radiantly, and the talk proceeded. "The penny'll buy me a egg for my tea," said Mrs. Jim, "and somehow I do feel just now sometimes as though I wanted it; for I can't eat dinner some days - not such dinner as we get, and as I'm going now to tell you; and if I don't get a egg for my tea, I don't feel somehow, with only bread and butter, as though I'd had anything."
"And now," continued Mrs. Jim, making known that she would go on with her narrative methodically, "I'll fake Mondays, because on Mondays we have what cold meat there's left from Sunday - it isn't much - with three pounds more boiled potatoes and a treacle pudding. Then there's Tuesday. Tuesday we might have a pound and a half of the pieces you've seen and I might make some little dumplings of half a quartern of flour, threepence half-penny; and a quarter of a pound of suet, three halfpence; and not put 'em in the stew till half an hour before it's done. Wednesday, I might have a pound of bullock's liver, fourpence; cut it up small; sprinkle it with flour; and fry it in a quarter of a pound of dripping, a penny three farthings. I'd get some gravy to that, too, by sprink ling flour into my boiling dripping in the pan after I'd taken the liver out and by putting in a tea-cup of water Three pounds of potatoes with this, of course, just as before; and as, after all, this would be but a poor dinner, I should have a nice big, boiled rice-pudding for the children instead of their tea. I should get a pound of rice, twopence; a half a pound of sugar, three halfpence; and I should boil a piece of salt the size of a walnut along of the rice, to give it a flavour."
"And now," went on Mrs. Jim, when she had taken breath and the needful reflection, "it's Thursday, we'll say, and I might have a pound and a half of beef sausages, at sixpence, and fry them in dripping, with my three pounds of potatoes, just as before; and I might have jam for the children's tea that day, instead of more dripping; a quarter of a pound, three halfpence. So, we've got on now as far as Friday; and an Friday we shouldn't have no meat for the children, only just half a pound of steak - come to sixpence - for my Jim and me, and a pound and a half of potatoes. There'd be more potatoes than him and me would want, so the children would have some of them; and, to make up, I'd have in a extra loaf, and a quarter of a pound of marmalade - three halfpence, the same price as jam. We've only got Saturdays now; and Saturday's another day we're not very rich; and on Saturdays we might have, perhaps, two faggots, cold, for three halfpence the two, the potatoes, and a penn'orth of pease-pudding. It isn't much, you know, but -"
But Parisina had at last struck upon a food of which she knew nothing.
"Faggots!" she demanded. "Explain, please, before you say any more, what a faggot is?"
"Did you never see one!" and Mrs. Jim, in her way, was quite as much amazed.
"Never! And do let one be bought, please, if you can. Can you?"
Why, yes, of course. Shops were handy, messengers were handy, a look up the steps, and out at the door, being sure to reveal one or two of Mrs. Jim's youngsters within call; and a certain Dick being selected, because he was a step older than Joe, a yellow basin was thrust into Dick's hand, the money was given, and in a twinkling Dick returned.
At the bottom of the basin there was a dark deposit, soft and pounded, about the size of an orange; and Parisina looked at it inquisitively.
"Taste it!" urged Mrs. Jim. "It's very nice! Here's a fork! Do!"
Parisina had a decided objection. "Need I?" she cried, with a sharp drawback of refusal. And then there was a wrench and a resolution, and the taste was done.
The thing was not bad. It had smoothness and pungency, and the two undoubtedly made savour. It was made, Mrs. Jim explained, by pork-butchers, of the pieces of pig and bullock left over from other things; and they chopped it, fine, with their machines, and mixed it with onions, chopped, and other herbs. It was most used, Mrs. Jim went on to say, as a little nicety for supper; and that mainly because it was always hot at eight o'clock at night, and was sent for at that time sharp, as the pork-butchers had some gravy ready then on purpose, and would pour a nice drop over it."
"Well, and on Saturdays, now, when faggots might be the dinner, do you make your dinner of faggot too?"
"No;" with a quiet shake of Mrs. Jim's head. "I've no appetite for such things. I never had. I should make myself a cup of tea; and very likely a piece of toast."
"Ah! And are there any other cooked foods that you send out for, and don't prepare yourself?"
"Yes. But they're more for suppers like, all of them; for just Jim and me; when work's done, and when we feel nice hungry - that is, too tired and worn only to eat just dry bread and cheese. We might have, at these times, just two penn'orth of hot fried fish; that's very tasty. Or a quarter of a pound of German sausage; or a quarter of a pound of brawn; or a quarter of a pound of spiced beef. They all come to about the same-from twopence to threepence. Or we might do with a penn'orth of spring onions to eat with our bread and cheese; or we might buy a two-penny dried haddock, and me boil it. On Saturday nights our supper's better than this, I ought to tell you. Jim's regular tired then, being so late, you see; and we do treat ourselves to perhaps half a pound of steak-sixpence. And as for beer, yes; Jim sometimes do have a half a pint. And - oh yes; he gives me some of it; he's all right, is Jim. But I don't pay for no beer. Beer's out of Jim's own money - his two shillings that he keeps."
"And what else does he consider he ought to pay for out of this two shillings?"
"Well, there's a half a pint he might like, and a penn'orth of bread and cheese, when he has a job takes him all the way to the City, or past, and it's night before he gets home. Then, too, he'll sometimes treat the children to a egg apiece, or a orange, if he sees them cheap. Or he might bring in a bunch of radishes, or a penn'orth of winks."
"Ah, winks! " cried Parisina, effervescent again. "And whelks, now; does he ever buy whelks?"
"No," answered Mrs. Jim, reflectively, "I don't know as he ever did. And I don't know as I ever tasted a whelk myself. And I don't know as they're eaten for a meal, much, by anybody. I think they're just as people stands at the corners of streets, for a taste and a trot like; nothing more."
"Well, what else is there out of your husband's wonderful two shillings?"
Mrs. Jim gave a little laugh. "Why, there's his boots," she said. "And he'll sometimes help me over the children's boots, too, when I ran extra short."
"To be sure! And there are clothes! How about all your clothes?"
"Clothes!" echoed Mrs. Jim, echoing her laugh into the bargain. "Dear! We don't never think about clothes! how can we? We just muddle on the best way we can, with what we've got; and then if I can, when I ain't got a young baby, do half-a-day's charing now and then, and earn a shilling or so myself, I can buy some little bit of a thing. Or perhaps somebody will give me an old gown or another; and in that way we manage."
So there it was, again. A long, long vista, into a region for which there was positively no allowance in the weekly shillings; for which there was no provision except that incalculably valuable institution, of "doing without ! " In truth, the more Parisina looked into the lives of the poor, the more she fired and sighed, the more she admired and fell into despair.
"Well," she continued, after an interval of reflection, "before we say good-bye to one another, have you any more dishes that you can remember?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Jim, as frank and open as ever, as easy and hopeful. "We might sometimes have, of Sundays, instead of beef, a hock of bacon, about six pounds, at sixpence-halfpenny; and that's very economical, for it would last three days, counting one day when I'd make soup of the' liquor for the children. Then there's a hand and spring of pork, for a change; or a pig's head, two shillings and eightpence, with twopence for baking, which lasts three days as well. Or there's the tenpenny pieces of meat, that's got no bone, and that I should make into a pudding. Or there's - yes, I mustn't forget - there's a sheep's head, about as cheap as anything, because it'll only cost elevenpence, and yet'll last two days, nicely. It wants management, though, to make it last two days, of course; and I'll tell you my plan. I wash it, and I put it in salt and water for an hour. Next, I take out the tongue, because that's for Jim's dinner, next day; and I sprinkle it with salt, and put it away. Then I get my penn'orth of pot-herbs ready, which'll have some parsley, and I put my head and my herbs into two quarts of water, and set it all on to boil. I shall save my potatoes, of course; and I shall make little dumplings of my pound of flour and quarter of a pound of suet; and there they'll all boil together, and in two hours will be done beautifully. As for the next day, that's done by the broth of it being hotted up for the children, and by the tongue that's put away for Jim. And it's a pity, that it is, that sheep's head can't be had all the year through. But nobody eats it in May, you know. That's because in May every sheep's head has a maggot, and it's not good."
It was an extraordinary piece of natural history, this. It would have been well if from personal knowledge it could have refuted, but there was no personal knowledge, unluckily; and though there was an attempt at reasoning from analogy, Mrs. Jim had no acquaintance with reasoning from analogy.
"There's just one thing more come into my mind that I can tell you," Mrs. Jim said, in another minute, "that I can show you, if, as you. say, you'll be passing by here again, about four o'clock, which is my children's tea-time - that's a bread-pudding, made out of all the bits and chips o'crusts that is too dry and hard to be eaten plain."
This was exactly what Parisina desired, and the offer was gladly accepted.
"Well then," said Mrs. Jim, quite pleased, "here's my bread-pieces, that have been soaking ever since over night. Here's some more of 'em, dry; so you can see, better than any telling, how they're the crusts cut off rounds for toast, pieces left from dinner, and such - given to me, just as they are, from a house where I sometimes do a bit of work. Well, I shall squeeze these soaked pieces, directly we've done dinner; and I shall get a pound and a half of flour to add to them, to make them bind. I shall have half a pound of currants too, twopence; three-quarters of a pound of sugar, twopence farthing; and half a pound of dripping, threepence half-penny. I shall mix them all up together, tie them tight in a cloth, set it all on to boil, and let it boil, fast, for two hours and a half. But you'll see how it looks when you come back. We can leave all the rest then."
The rest was not much, there being little scope for it; but it was quite satisfactory. The giant tin saucepan - its second using that day - had just been taken off the fire, at the appointed time, and was yielding up its monstrous bulgy ball of whiteness, saturated and full of peril with its strong heat and steam.
"Here it is," was Mrs. Jim's cry, as she turned over the scalding cloth-flaps, wincingly, to get and release the string. "Here's my dish; over it goes; I mustn't be too quick, though; and there! now you can see!"
"Ah!" she put in, quickly, as she saw keen eyes looking at a gray patchy substance she was removing from the broad, round, pudding-top, "that's not dirt! That's nothing wrong! It's only because there was a hole or two in my cloth; and when you've got holes in your cloth, you've only got to put paper over them, well greased, and it's just as if there was no hole at all. Here it is, see! look! Here's my pudding, quite nice, now I've peeled off the paper, and here's the holes the paper covered. Perhaps that's a wrinkle for you - is it?"
Yes. So it was a wrinkle to see Mrs. Jim's four youngest urchins seated up at the table, with saucers before them and leaden spoons, and to see them get helped to steaming allotments of their novel tea. It was another wrinkle, too, to find Mrs. Jim's other and eldest boy, Harry, rush in from the shop-work he had just been put to, with appetite eager, and hurried words.
"Pudding, mother! " he cried. "Give me some, quick ! A large lump, in this paper, to stuff in my pocket, and a lump to eat, in my hand! Quick, mother, do! I've got to be off for the Pall Malls, the most partick'ler things there is. I can't stay!"
There must be given a supplement, also, to these experiences of, and at, Mrs. Jim's.
It came in a sheet of notepaper, folded in an envelope, addressed in pencil, and delivered by the joint hands of Joe and Dick. Opening it, there was to be read, in Mrs. Jim's own, frank, nice way:
"Another dish for the poor, verry good. Four melts and skirt, twopence halfpenny each, put to three pints of watter, omens, salt, and peper. Stewed for one hour and a half; ad a little thicken. Three pounds of pottos. Makes a good dinner for seven, and little bread. If fryed don't go so far."
It left Parisina just as it found her; with much to feel for and to consider.
LEARNING TO COOK WITH THE POOR.
IN FIVE PARTS. PART IV. WITH A CHARWOMAN.
"Do you know anything of the dish,
melts and skirts? And do you ever have
"Yes; that I do. I make my dinner of them, now and then; and very good they are. I should fry them in my frying-pan; or put them in my little dutch-oven; or, maybe, I should make them into a stew. It's very good, either way. And you pay twopence halfpenny for one; or, if you go to the slaughter-house, they'll let you have three for sixpence."
"Then it might be a good plan to send for a melt and a skirt at once?"
The proposition was agreed to instantly; was acted upon immediately; and a messenger despatched. Alas, there was disappointment! The butchers were melt-less, skirt-less; the butchers had no chance of being anything but melt-less, skirt-less, all the day through.
"Well, never mind," came as consolation. "If you know what liver is, it's much the same as what melts and skirts is. It's a inside. And I've thought of another way to cook it, I forgot just now. Leastways, to cook bullock's melt; which costs fourpence. You just get herbs, and chop them up; then you lay your herbs on your melt, and you roll it round and round, and round and round, and you tie it. Which is very good baked; or very good boiled; or which you can fry. Either."
The speaker was a poor little old char-woman; charred enough, poor soul, with nearly seventy years of toil; wrinkled and shaky; a widow, of course. Her abode was a poor little back parlour, in a poor little back street; a one-windowed little dwelling, looking on to ladders and clothes-lines, and hung rags and broomsticks, with a dismal back-view of other back parlours not many arms'-lengths away. It was a gloomy, close, little residence; with drab paper and drab paint; with bed occupying the most of it; with all of its owner's possessions obliged to be enclosed in its four walls. As far her stove, the locus for the chemistry she was to perform, to make food nourishing for her poor old body, let Parisina say what she thought about it.
"Dear me!" she cried, "you cannot cook anything there, surely! A little semicircular, low-set thing, like a stove in a modern, fashionable, little breakfast-room; down there within an inch or two of the hearth, and with not a bit of hob at all! What can make landlords and builders so thoughtless and so absurd?"
But the old charwoman was accustomed to finding things badly supplied, and badly planned and fitted. Nearly three-quarters of a century of making do, and of doing without, had drilled her into tolerable expertness; and she was quite hopeful.
"Well, I manage to manage," she said, "and I get on. It isn't much an old woman like me wants, and I contrive. Now yesterday, as was Sunday, I had a bit of bacon fried for dinner; it were half- a-pound; and I had two eggs. I didn't need to have fried so much, only then I bad a little bit ready for my supper, which my fire would have been out at night when I come home. And there were some left for to-day, too, which I warmed up, and which I've just had, with a penn'orth of turnip-tops, to make a change, boiled."
To make a change; boiled! The beginning being half-a-pound of bacon and two eggs for three meals; the end a penn'orth of vegetable to give the three variety!
"You were a wondering how I managed the frying-pan," the poor old soul went on. "Well, I do manage. And a saucepan, too, for the matter of that; for my bit of stew, or my bit of greens, or my pound of potatoes. But it isn't much else as I can do, I must say. For to roast, you can't; to put on the gridiron to broil, you can't, no way, there's nowhere to rest it; and to bake, why, of course, you must send out to the bake'us. Ah! " - and the quivering old head quivered a little more - "there's a deal more to think of in cooking, than how to cook it! There's where you are, and where you're going, and what time you'll be home, and what'll become of your fire when you're gone! Now, think of Sundays. I'm bound to have my frying-pan to give me my dinner then. For I must get to my church pretty soon after my breakfast, to light my fires; and then I've got to put down my cushions, and unroll my mats, and set straight my hassocks, and dust my desks, and lay out my books - for some of my ladies is that partick'ler, if they don't find their own books in their own seats, you don't know! - and when I come in for my bit of dinner between the services, my fire is out, as you may suppose; and I must light it, and I must fry, because that's the quickest!"
"Will it be too much trouble for you to do a little cooking now, to show how you manage with your grate?" suggested Parisina at this point.
The wrinkled old face broke into a radiance of smiles. "Well to be sure!" was their vocal accompaniment. "Did ever anybody hear?"
The smiles went round; but in the end the old lady's were taken as acceptance, and a question followed: " Say then, please, what you would best like to cook? What haven't you had lately, and would take your fancy?"
There was a little coquetting, naturally; and a little pause.
"Shall it be a small piece of veal?"
"Well, no," said the old lady, encouraged to say exactly what she thought. "And I'll tell you for why. I've got a bit of cold veal, here, see," and it was displayed; genuine bone-end and "scrap" as it was; taken out of the handy cupboard. For, of course, the charwoman's pantry was part of her sleeping-room; of course the sight and the smell of her coming meal of veal would regale her every time she opened her cup-board door. "It were give to me this morning where I do a bit of work, and I thought to stew it up with a bit of potato to-morrow for my dinner."
All right. Then something else. Sausages?"
This did not seem quite the thing either, and another suggestion was substituted.
"Fish? But not if you don't like, mind!"
"Well, not fish then, neither; since I may say it. And I'll tell you for why, again. I don't mostly have a dinner on a Saturday." - How all the poor souls' experiences coincided ! - "I just mostly have a bit of something with my tea; and last Saturday I had a smoked haddock; which I give twopence halfpenny for it; and I've even got a taste of it left now, see."
Application to the cupboard again, and a second most shrivelled "scrap" exhibited.
"All right. Then rump-steak? mutton-chop?"
Mutton-chop was the choice, and, after a rapid passage to the butcher's and back again, was duly produced. The smallest preparation was wanted for the cooking, then; no mystery, no elaborate paraphernalia. The old charwoman stooped down to her cupboard; fumbled a bit upon the floor of it; then looked up, ready.
"I must use my big frying-pan,! was her sole overture or prelude. "I've lent my little 'un to one of my fellow-lodgers upstairs, and she ain't done with it, I suppose, as she ain't brought it back. You see," she added, "we must lend to one another, poor people like us. For when one of us has got what another one wants, it would be rayther unneighbourly to refuse, wouldn't it? Although it do git a bit troublesome at times, I must say."
The little touch brought in a sad-sweet recollection. Was there not once a much poverty-burdened Oliver Goldsmith, who was thus beset by fellow-lodgers, and who good-humonredly had to lend?
"You see," proceeded the old woman, "you just take your chop, and put it in your pan; and then you just lay your pan the best it'll go. It's as easy as easy; as plain as plain. There now; that's how you put it; and except for a turn now and then, which you'll see I'll be sure to give, there's nothing more. In a quarter of an hour, it'll be done."
In a quarter of a week, one would have thought, looking at the small handful of black coal, alight only at the side the old woman had put her pan, and alight there only in very sulky, sluggish fashion. But to see how the thing could be done as the thing was, was the point; not to perceive how much better it might be, if things were different.
"Then you don't put any dripping in your pan? Nothing for the chop to fry in?"
"It don't want it," said the old lady, looking a little bit surprised. "There's fat on the chop, you see; and as that melts, it's plenty, and it'll do it itself. For the matter of that, there'll be more than it'll want; and I'll be able to pour some of it away."
"And waste it," thought Parisina, "to support the popular theory. I'll ask."
"And should you save that fat? Or wouldn't it be of any use?"
"Save it?" echoed the old lady. "Why, in course I should!"
Well, yes; perhaps she would; on consideration; seeing that she had saved that appetising bouche of haddock, that luscious bone-end of veal!
"And I'll tell you," went on the old lady, "what, most like, I should do with that fat. It'll come to, I daresay, half a teacupful; and if I didn't eat it instead of butter on my bread, I should put it by till I had some fish. That might be o' Wednesday, perhaps; and then I might buy a plaice, I could get one for fourpence - for when poor people like us go to market, with our few halfpence in our pocket, it's very different to when better-most folks go to shops, with their red books and their credit - and I should fry the plaice in my fat, and I should boil myself, as well, a pound of potatoes. Then that would make me a dinner; and a good dinner; with plenty left over for my supper, too."
"And would buying fish like that, and frying fish for yourself like that, be cheaper than buying it already fried, at the shops?"
"Oh yes. For though I do often buy myself a penn'orth for my supper, when I come home from work and have got no fire, or may be two penn'orth, if I'm pretty well off, it ain't much, after all. It's little better than a taste."
"It's very good, I suppose?"
"It's beautiful. And fried that nicely; which it's all fried in batter; just a batter of flour and water. And you can get fried potatoes, too; a penn'orth, or as much as you like; and it's all hot at eight o'clock at night; exactly the right time, you know."
And as it was exactly the right time for the early frizzlings of the chop fat, this suggested another inquiry.
"Do you ever make pie-crust of the fat you get?"
"Yes," answered the old lady; "I do. I might get two penn'orth o' rhubub; when it's the season for rhubub; I were always very fond of it; and I should get two penn'orth of flour, and a quarter of a pound of sugar, and I should make me a nice pie. It would last me three or four days, too (always in that sleeping atmosphere, with odour and edibility again always in nose and mind!), "for I should have to pay three halfpence for baking it, at the bake'us; so it wouldn't be economical to make a pie that would only do for me for once; because I should have to pay the same money, three halfpence, for baking that all the same."
True. Which might be an argument for the establishment of public ovens; unless there is wisdom enough to take it as an argument for compelling landlords of lodging-houses to give their lodgers suitable grates and water-apparatus. However, to the proper questioning again.
"Do you have stew sometimes, and soup?"
"Yes. For a change, off and on, and in with the rest. And I'll tell you. For a stew, I might get a lamb's head, cost me ninepence, and a penn'orth of turnips, and a ha'porth of onions; and it would last me two days, with the next day hotted, and be very good. Or I might get a bit of a scrag of mutton, and a pound of potatoes, a penny; and let it boil. But it all comes to about the same price, when it really is a dinner, and not a make-shift. For supposing I got me a pork-chop, fourpence halfpenny, as I might, and my potatoes, another penny, isn't that the same thing as if I had my lamb's head, as lasts me two days, and, with my vegetables to stew it, costs me tenpence halfpenny ?"
We had no objection to make to the soundness of the arithmetic, and looked on quietly.
"Ah!" sighed the poor old charwoman, heavily, as she turned her chop over, and the little splash of it and splatter were followed by a hotter hiss and frizzle, "it isn't how a old woman like me can manage, it's how they gits on as is left widders with children! I, you know, has a half-a-day's work now and then, which gives me either my dinner or my tea, as well as my bit of money; and I have my quarter of a pound of tea a week, at two shillings, that's sixpence, and with a egg, I needn't so often have a dinner, and I can do; but there's my daughter, with her four little ones-her husband were a cabman, he were, and died a' bronchitis. I do often and often, and days I and days, I do, if you like, grieve for her! Yes! It's how my daughter manages; and I'll tell you some of it. She'll boil a pound o' rice, twopence; and she'll have a penn'orth of treacle to sweeten. And it'll do very well for 'em, poor dears! And then she'll make a suety pudding, with currants in it, that does just as nicely. She'll make that of a pound of flour, two. pence farthing; two-penn'orth of currants; and a penn'orth of mutton suet. And such as that's their dinner, over and over again, often!"
"Not meat every day then?"
"No," with more sighs, and the head shaken. "No. Those days she do have meat, which is mostly Sundays, she'll have a pound of pickled pork, maybe, tenpence, with two penn'orth o' vegetables, and a little currant pudding I told you of, just as before. Then that's a treat, that is; and though there's five of 'em, my daughter and her four, and a pound of meat can't be said to be very much, they think a deal of it, and consider they've done fine."
"Is there any other dinner you can just remember?"
"Yes. There's a half.a-pound of bacon and a half-a-pound of liver, tenpence the two; which my daughter will fry, with two pounds of potatoes, and make go as far as she can. And then there's beef sausages. She'll get a pound of those, sixpence, and two penn'orth of potatoes, which you can get, three pounds for two-pence, I ought to say, in those streets round about where she has to live, because it's her parish; and in that sort of way she pulls through. And then of course there's always bread to make up, on every day; and bread's cheap enough, just now, luckily. Besides, they allow her so much bread, along of her bit of money from the parish every week; so it isn't often she's short of that.
Now this was the lowest-priced dietary of which particulars had yet been obtained. The average cost of the dinners met with that really were dinners (usually eaten on Sundays) had hitherto been about five-pence; but this poor widow's best feed, of ten pennyworth of meat, two penny-worth of potatoes, and a pudding, divided amongst herself and her four children, barely reached threepence halfpenny, whilst her second-best feed, of six penny. worth of meat, and two pennyworth of vegetables, came to a little less than seven farthings, and her ordinary diet of rice or suet pudding amounted to not even so much as a penny. Was it not enough to make the charwoman sigh, and to make her sighs have distinct and powerful echoing? Could a woman fed on such rations keep up at working power? And could her children fight the fight with London fogs, with insufficient clothes, with upward growth, with fever? Surely there could be but one road out of it, whilst human blood ought to have a certain composition, and human bone and muscle exist according to certain laws.
"Ah!" went the charwoman, in perfect tune to these reflections, "my daughter's only got three of them now, just for a bit; far that youngest, poor dear, that blessed heart! he got out to the parapet from the window, he did - for it's up in the attic my daughter has to live - and he fell right off, thirty feet, on to a ledge, and bounded into the road; and he's a-lying now in the hospital, a perfect merricle, with the top of his head as soft as dough, with ice on it, and his nuss so kind to him - she gives him sugar on his broad-and-butter - and he like a lamb! And not three years old yet, the blessed heart, nor nearly!"
Well, then, what a great good mercy it is that hospitals are! What a further mercy it is that hospitals must be a delicious haven, and illness an entire treat, Parisina was quick to see. The delight of fair linen, of clean skin, of tended hair; the delight of swept apartments, of walls unencumbered with packets, boxes, baskets, bundles, with hooks and litter, nails and shelves; the delight, too, of wide windows; of a sweep of sky to be seen from them; of quiet attendance, of fit food, of a fit portion of it, of the power to lie still in repose. The cloud to this was the knowledge that it was only a pause; that there must be a return to the whirling machinery of life; since flesh would heal, since fever would abate, since convalescence would come, and the small, poor home with all its discomforts must be moved into again!
At the moment, Parisina was recalled from the digression into the dingy confines of the old charwoman's small back parlour, for the old lady gave out her supposition that the chop was done.
"There," she said, lifting up the hissing frying-pan from the small fire, and putting the chop out of it on to a plate, "I think now that as many as please can look at that, and can look at it as long as they please, and can only say as it's done beautiful. Just see. "
It looked thoroughly good, undoubtedly. It was an evident certificate as to the power of the frying-pan; and an evident series of reasons why the poor have perpetual recourse to it. The fire that had turned this piece of meat from its red and waxy rawness into its tempting edibility, was so poor and feeble that it could not possibly have done its work by broiling on the top, or, by toasting, in the front. Few economies are economic on all sides around; and if the use of the frying-pan has the small drawback of a little waste of the food itself, are the poor to be blamed because they set their eyes on the great gain by less consumption of fuel, and the less consumption of time?
"Now, you see," said the old lady, finishing up her work, "I pour off my fat, just as I said; and see, it does about half fill my teacup, just as I thought."
Yes. And then a word was said in praise of her forethought for having heated a plate.
"Why, of course," she answered. "It's easy enough, ain't it, to lay a plate in the fender? Turn the back up, and you keep its face clean; and even if you don't, why you can wipe it with a duster? Them as has ovens can do it the right way; them as haven't must do the best they can. And, of course, whilst your meat's cooking, your plate's getting ready, too; and there you are!"
The old lady was left then to the solace of the chop she had cooked; and left somewhat abruptly, so that she might eat it whilst it was hot; and it is perhaps unnecessary to say that the moment she had been left there came some comments.
"Dear me! " these were - the cornmentator requiring no further indication - "I cannot help contrasting this poor old soul with another. They have only two points of resemblance, either: the fact that they are both solitary old women in lodgings, the fact that they are both under the necessity of eating dinners. Ah, but dinners are such a heavy trouble to the one who is not the one we have just seen! She cannot pay for good cooking, poor gentlewoman, of gentle manners, of refined tastes, of pinched means! She cannot cook for herself; she cannot learn to cook; for could she have splashes and sloppings upon the neat carpet and elegancies of her drawing-room parlour? Could she chop, and strain, and stew, and pound, and grate, and soak, and simmer, without a cupboard of appliances, a roomful of litter, a heartful of dismay, a whole world of inconsistency and bouleversement to the polish and decorum of her ringed fingers and silver hair? For all that, every day ought to have its dinner and, poor lady! every day she looks for hers. Yet, though it was in her bond that her landlady should do her cooking for her, her landlady can beg for indulgence because it's 'wash,' because it's 'baby' because it's 'spring-cleaning,' and so escapes. The poor lady goes out and she visits first one confectioner and then another - thinking, possibly, to light upon a better flavour - and she will eat a sausageroll, or a pork-pie, or a visionary sandwich, or a jam-tart, or a Bath bun; or if rain locks her up at home, she will be content with potted meats, spread upon bread with potted lobster; with eggs, which she can boil for herself; with tins of mock-turtle soup, a shilling a tin, lasting twice; with tins of curried chicken, two and three-pence, that last thrice or more. Now is not this another branch of food for the people that would bear seeing into, and that requires reform?
Panama was absurd. But though Parsina was told so-the fact, from first to last, being dinned into her an amazing number of times-she seemed incapable of taking the truth in.
LEARNING TO COOK WITH THE POOR.
IN FIVE PARTS. PART V. GOING TO MARKET.
IT was quite clear, by this time, that
ignorance of cooking could not be set
down as the sole, or chief, cause of the
poor's poor feeding. An absolute skill in
cooking had been discovered. It was
equally clear it was not blind heedlessness,
waste, extravagance. A rigid economy
had been found; with a very fair power to
adapt and to forecast. Why, then, have
the poor to suffer so many privations, such
a mass of inconvenience? Why have they
perpetually to "do without;" to manage;
to exercise an adjustment of expenditure,
requiring positive genius to effect it successfully, and a long course of experience
for its fit development? Parsina had to
ruminate long before she could come to
any safe conclusion.
"Let us postpone judgment," she said, at length. "I am positively giddy and bewildered, with the depth and the breadth of what we have been looking into. I see such intricacy; such divers causes; and so many! We will see the poor at market, as the last out-look needful; by that, some new light may come. Let us be off."
In a poor neighbourhood, therefore, at a busy hour of the morning, behold us quietly watching.
"What'll you have? Come along!" cried, cheerily, a particularly cheery and fine young butcher, from the midst of his well-filled shop. " S crag, do you say? All right. Sell you one at five a pound. Big one. Choose where you like."
Choice required anxious hesitation and deliberation, however; required earnest employment of much sight, much touch, and smell. During the selection there was a brisk fire of minor sales.
"Penn'orth of liver, my dear? Here you are. Four of pieces, Billy? Come on. Half-a-pound breast of mutton? Four. pence; all right. Sheep's head? Good sheep's head this morning, sixpence; here. How much for that heart? Fourpence; and a nice one; thank you. Pound and a half of clod of beef? Here ; shilling the lot. Half-a-pound bullock's liver? This way; three halfpence. Six penn'orth mutton-chops. In one big, or two small? Piece of steak, thick and fat, come to four- pence ?" - mimicking a child who asked to the letter, just as she had been told, as children will. "And four penn'orth cheap pieces?" - mimicking again, but kind withal, and cheery still.
"Got any tender steak?" was his echo, the next moment, of the inquiry of a shrewd woman, nice and natty-looking and young - and he shall be called Mr. Cheery, as the best name for him. "Course I've got tender steak! Always have, haven't I? Now, ma'am, pound and a half sixpenny pieces? Wait for your change, then. Two pounds of ninepenny? Here you are; cheap; much obliged. Now then! Let's have your money, if you've got any! Don't go away and take it with you! How much does that scrag-end weigh? Pound and nine ounces, nine and a half; that's the money; all right. And how much that lot? Threepence, if you clear it all out; and do; it'll make you a nice little bit of a fry."
The purchasers were all very poor; the purchases were all very poor, to match, as will have been observed. The significance in the matter was, that these preparations for cooking exactly tallied with the cookings that had been seen. This was another locality, with another set of people, of other trades; yet custom was still running high on heads, and hearts, and livers; and pieces, alias block-ornaments, were in full demand. If prejudice exists, too, against these ornaments, let it be removed. They were thoroughly good shoulders and other joints; chopped up vigorously by Mr. Cheery, and tossed triumphantly into his emptying trays, at any chance "wait" that gave him the available time. Meanwhile the buyers handled, and picked, and thumbed, and turned. They were limited as to money, poor souls, they were not limited as to liking; they aimed at buying what would fit both idea and price. Alas, they were wrong often; in spite of long instruction. Mr. Cheery had an instance of it when a selection out of the fivepenny tray was brought in by a thin old woman, and laid by her in the scales.
"Three-and-a-half this lot," he cried; meaning that they came to threepence halfpenny. Then, as they did come to three-and-a-half, they could not be afforded; out of their smallness even, something must be taken, and was taken, till the remainder was reduced to half a pound precisely, and came to a penny less.
"Want a nice chop to make up?" Mr Cheery cried, repeating the demand of a happier buyer who had not chosen quite enough. "And three of steak, separate? Here they all are; nicely. Four of steak, and you want it tender? Very good; money; thanks. And three of tender steak, and ha'porth of lights? "-again in feigned shrill treble to imitate a child. "Here you are, little one; run away. And four of steak, ma'am? Yes. And two threes of steak was it, please, for you?"
It was; and the two threes were rapidly sliced off, weighed, and handed over.
"Ah," Mr. Cheery said, having, at last, brief leisure for explanation, "most of those threes and fours of steak get cooked under the laundry-stoves. One girl, this morning, had fourteen threes. Yes; for fourteen different women, who'd have got her to get them for them, and who'd cook them in their dinner-hour. Are they married women most?" With a smile.
"Ah! Only they go out to wash, you see; they can earn ten or twelve shillings a week at that; and there they are."
"But have they any children ?" Pansina asked vehemently.
"Children?" The smile broke out again, and this time with something of contempt in it. "Ah, plenty! Only they have to stay in the streets, and have to shift for themselves mostly. Do you suppose there'd be so many accidents - run over, broken legs, and arms, and so on - if it was different? I know better! Not a bit!"
"Then," Parisina cried, rather as if working out a problem aloud, than as wishing to get quickly to the demonstration, "it can't be well for wives and mothers to go to work, can it? Wouldn't it be better for them to attend to home-duties, and stay at home?"
"Why, of course!" coincided Mr. Cheery with ready conviction. "For when the husbands come home at twelve o'clock for their dinner-hour, there's no fire, and no nothing; and, just like the youngsters, they have to shift the best they can!"
"And can that be comfortable? Can that help to keep them from public-houses, and satisfied with their homes? "
Mr. Cheery was amused. "Comfortable!"he echoed. "And the public-house! Whew!"
"You see," went on Parisina's open-air meditations, "it depends upon how much the husbands earn. If a man is only getting five-and-twenty shillings a week, I can scarcely see-"
"Ah, but these get thirty-eight," interrupted Mr. Cheery, "and forty-one and six, those weeks they work on Sundays, which they must do, off and on, each turn and turn. For it's gasworks round about here chiefly; and what would even churches and chapels themselves do, if they didn't get their gas on Sundays?"
This was touching the Sabbatanian question, on which there could be no entrance; Parisina being amply, and resolutely, occupied with her own. "But even with two sovereigns," she said, pityingly, "especially when one thinks of boots and shoes, and clothes, there must be great temptation to earn a little more; and-"
The argument had to be postponed, though. Mr. Cheery had become suddenly involved in a new access of business.
"Ah, you're a nice old lady!" his commercial badinage ran. "Wanting things for next to nothing, or a little lower. Come? Why don't you have a scrag? and cook it with some peas?"
The "nice old lady" gave a short parry. "Where are the peas to come from?" she asked, defiantly.
"Why, your old man ought to bring you some home from market," cried Mr. Cheery. "He's a greengrocer. Ah Morning, sir. Pound and a half of tripe, sir ? Yes, sir. Penn'orth of suet, my little dear? Make your pudding nicely, there's a good girl. Pound of steak? Yes; weighs pound and two ounces, and comes to a shilling. Three of pieces, young lady? Here you are. And what are you making a fuss about, eh? It's because there's a bit of fat, is it? You're all alike as far as I can see! And there," Mr. Cheery added, in a well-thrown aside, "the poorer they are, the less they like fat, and that I can declare!"
The scene changed. There was a clear- lighted, clean-scrubbed shop a few doors away from Mr. Cheery, in the midst, of course, the same requirements and the same society. Cooked meats were sold there; such meats being hot at noon precisely, and being subject then, and for forty or fifty minutes thereafter, to a brisk attack. The next actors to be observed held their performance there; and held it busily.
"Quarter of the mutton, please," cried the first of them. "Penn'orth peas; penn'orth p'tatoes."
"Half of the boiled pork," succeeded. "Penn'orth peas-pudding; penn'orth greens."
"I'll have pork too," was next. "And penn'orth pudding and greens, between them."
"Ha'porth of p'tatoes," piped a child; and had it, with nothing more.
"Two ounces of the heart; ha'porth each peas-pudding, greens, potatoes; and don't forget stuffing and the gravy," came next, and this order was followed by demands for a quarter of the heart, alone; for two ounces of the heart, and a ha'porth each of two vegetables; for two ounces of the mutton; for two ounces of the pork; for a quarter of the pork; for a quarter of the mutton; for a ha'porthof peas-pudding; for a quarter of the heart; for a whole eager series, till the din was no little confounding, and willow plates and yellow basins seemed to gyrate in a giddy whirl.
"How much the mutton, please?" was asked, with longing eyes. "Any greens left, missus? " with much disappointment at the hearing that all the greens were gone. "Got a mite of salt?" with a yellow basin, acting as a giant salt-cellar, good-naturedly handed up, and a sprinkling of the salt showered down upon two ounces of hot heart lying in a paper wrap.
Then a boy cried out watchfully, "Lean!" bringing the remark from the pleasant hostess, "What a one you are to have it lean!" - bringing the remembrance, too, of Mr. Cheery's commentary as to the dislike his clients had to fat. Then a thin old hag, with a shawl drawn over her head, moaned out, "Twopence for two ounces !" and had to go out of the shop unmeated, since her earnings - or her beggings - had not brought her enough to have that small price to spare. A fine young man, marching firmly in, straight up to where the dish of roasted shoulder of mutton was lying handily by the clean delf scales, had his own method. He caught hold of the dismembered knuckle-bone, hot and greasy as it was, - he asked, "How much that bit?" and held it high. It became his property; for the master said he should have it for twopence halfpenny - he was willing to give twopence halfpenny - he threw the coppers down, had a piece of paper handed to him, and walked away.
Two young women had some pleasant management about them. Each bought two ounces of roast heart, a ha'porth of new potatoes, a ha'porth of peas-pudding; each hired a yellow basin, leaving " twopence on the basin," as it was technically called, to be faithfully recouped when the basin was returned; and, as one of them carried a half-quartern loaf, it was easy to suppose they might make together a comfortable meal.
"All the women back to work yet?" asked the hostess of them as they turned to go.
"No," said one; whilst they both shook their heads, shrugged up their shoulders, and smiled. "Not half. They're not done holidaying yet; and it makes it ever so bad for the little uns; for the women can do with a drink of beer, but what's the use of beer to the poor children?"
To which an illustration came at that moment, aptly. Two "little 'uns," a girl and a boy, entered, in scarcely more than their seventh or eighth year, in rags, in dirt, in but one lightenment of their poverty - good-fellowship. They spent twopence farthing as a grand total, divided into three items - a penny, three farthings, a halfpenny. The penny was for peas- pudding; the three farthings were for a cold faggot; the halfpenny was for a nice heaped-up spoonful of cherry-sized new potatoes. Poor little children! They had a basin between them, which one held up; they had the blessing of ready pity and sympathy, for the kind hostess ladled them some nice hot gravy into this same basin gratis, letting it fall deftly over the whole of their poor purchase. And they went out with what they evidently thought a sumptuous dinner, and with eyes and gesture that showed they were very glad.
And in this way it was found that all went on. There were b-lack-puddings a penny each; there were saveloys, hot at night, and still only a penny; there were penny pies and twopenny pies, of pork, of veal, of ham; there were basins of peasoup, a penny a basin, twopence a basin, according to size; there were stewed eels in twopennyworths; beef-steak puddings two-pence each; spiced beef rolls, collar'd heads, cold meats of the ordinary kind, all at so much a pound, and to be had in the small quantity of two ounces. Inquiring farther afield, yet more information was obtained. Chitterlings, it was discovered, are sold at fourpence a pound, are soaked, cleansed, and gently boiled with onions and butter-sauce; tripe-cuttings, twopence halfpenny and threepence, are fried with bacon; pigs' fry, sixpence, is served with sage and onions; sheep's brains are fried and chopped up fine; bullocks' reeds, fourpence a pound, are stewed, as are sheep's reeds, a penny a piece; bullocks' honeycombs, sixpence, are stewed in milk. As condiments to these, and to help them out, there are penny bottles of capers, and of ketchup, and of Harvey's sauce; pennyworths of pickles; pennyworths of fat for the fry; pennyworths of all such uncooked vegetables as onions, radishes, cress, lettuce, and the like. Dripping, in the localities where these may be noted, is of universal sale; so is jam, for ladling out in half-pounds, or three ha'portlis; so is marmalade. The children who swarm about where these tempting delicacies are displayed, are won over to lay out their chance coppers (a farthing's worth being quite recognised) in portions of sweets named, alluringly, Boyton's belts, Weston's wonderful American walking balls, Shah's nuggets, royal wedding mixture, queen's bread, Prince of Wales's cattle, stickjaw, harmless serpents (with sugarplum eyes); titles that., in their enticement, enabled Parisina easily to understand how appetite is cloyed and checked; how "little 'uns! are kept satisfied with odd bits, in spare quantities, at irregular times; how "little 'uns," at last, lose health and strength; and how fever-hospitals are filled. Then - for Parisina would pursue inquiry, whilst pursuit was possible - it was found that there are many and many people in London who never buy food at all. They plant themselves (and will let no inducement uproot them) in the very core of the apple of the eye of the metropolis; where the air is thick with endowments, and charities, alms, grants, crumbling old churchwardens' legacies, and gifts; where the air is thick, too, with clubs and hotels and dining-rooms; and by presenting themselves at a stipulated place, at a stipulated hour, daily, with a basin, a jug, a cloth, these people can get quite as much broken food as will keep them. The needs of some of them cannot be quite so desperate as might be feared; for, at one of the charities (in a dense place too) on the days that royalty passes through the City, no applicants present themselves; they can, one and all, do without the customary food to go and stand in the crowd. But these are not the genuine working-classes; they are far enough away from them; and from the genuine working-classes (men, women, children, even babes) Parisina had no wish to swerve.
"It seems to me," she cried, and as she cried she sighed, "that the people we have been to, are just as if they were people at a perpetual picnic, where everybody has forgotten the corkscrew, where nothing is ever suited to its purpose, where something has always to be substituted for some other, where all is shift and 'scrimmage,' and scramble. And yet," she added, looking rueful, "at a picnic, people are furnished with dainties and delicacies, routine and method only being absent; but our poor friends have to put up with scraps and bits, with never absolutely enough at the best, and sometimes next to nothing at all! Picnic-folks, too, know that everything will soon be squared, and all inconveniences gone; but will this squaring, this time for the thrusting in of forgotten cork-screws into the hampers of my poor people, be a time that will ever come?"
Parisina was fanciful, possibly; but her meaning was clear. She wanted suitable fireplaces for the poor (which could be easily set, in existing dwellings); she wanted efficient water-supply, and efficient accommodation for carrying used water off. Suitable dwellings, too, were of course all-important. New houses of the right kind were absolutely being built; but the building new houses did not seem, to Parisina, to take the place of the necessity of making healthily habitable all the houses that are already built now. Taking the suitable-stove question alone, there are miles and miles of small streets existing in London, that will always be in London; there are miles and miles of small houses existing in these streets; there are miles and miles again of still smaller homes existing in. these houses; and a very short Act of Parliament rendering compulsory, in these, the substitution of proper for improper stoves, would confer deep benefit upon a full million of people living in them. It is hard for the lower stratum of the working-class to get food; it is doubly hard, when they have got it, that they should be circumscribed in the manner of cooking it, by the bad construction and insufficient size, of their lodging-stove; and though this might not be a very large conclusion for Parisina to have arrived at, it was safe, it was sure, there was a remedy for it, and the remedy was simple, possible, and cheap. For the rest, for the fact that women ought always to be at home, doing home-work-their homes, their husbands, their children, ever under their watchful care - it involved the question of men's wages (with the present high prices of rent and food) being insufficient to permit of it; and Parisina had to let it go. She could theorise, she could propound; but as for the cure, it was not close at hand, it was not to be done at a stroke, and Parisina felt awed by the magnitude of it, felt deep pity for the need of it, and could only sigh.
But because steps must be small, and progress must be slow, should Parisina stop? Is there not a fable that teaches better wisdom?
All the Year Round, 1877
see also Thomas Wright in The Pinch of Poverty - click here
see also Mrs. C.S.Peel in Early Victorian England - click here