Tuesday, October 30, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Chicken Flavoured Stir Fry
Hot Chocolate

Chicken flavoured because I would be breaking the Trades Descriptions Act if I called it anything else - there was so little chicken in it. Why the measley portions? It is all down to Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and his campaign to stop us buying battery chickens in favour of organic, free range ones. We want to join in, we really do, but organic chicken is just beyond our budget at the moment. Unless of course we buy it when it is marked down for quick sale, which is what we did here. It was clear that this was a bird that had never ingested a growth hormone, wee little thing that it was. As my mother would have said: "You could stick it in your ear!" I poached it with some vegetables in a little water - not as delicious as roasting it but you lose less meat to shrinkage that way (and it is less tempting to nibble at - I can't resist roast chicken). I then stripped every bit of usable meat off of the bones, a grisly task. How much did I get: a paltry 375 grams (about 3/4 of a pound). At full price this would have set us back £6.10. We paid £3.29. Still an expensive option. The children ate some tonight, just as it was, I made the stir fry and I will try to squeeze two more dishes out of it. But it really will not go very far. I can't even say that the meat itself had a better flavour than we are used to, although it did make the most delicious stock (I added the bones back to the poaching liquid for extra flavour). Ah well, at least the bird had a better existence than a battery bird, and for that we are glad.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table V

"MARY" has a somewhat unhappy home, and thinks the burning of the Yuletide logs and other customs at this season of the year a mockery, when there is no real harmony by the fireside.

Whose fault is it, Mary? Ask yourself the question over and over again, and let the Yule log teach you a lesson. That fancied slight, that imaginary wrong, that careless habit, that nagging temper, that hasty word, throw them all on the Yule log, and let them burn away like the dying wood ashes. So shall the sweet music of the chimney-corner once more be yours.

" Aunt Flo " will glad to answer be from time to time any enquiries in this column, if letters are sent to "Aunt Flo," 9, Paternoster Row, London, E.C.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table IV

“PEEVISH OLD MAID" - Judging from your letter you have chosen a wrong nom de plume. There are no old, maids nowadays - at least, few of the scandal-loving, bitter-tongued creatures we once associated with the name, and marriage may take place at any age, so do not despair. One of the happiest unions I ever knew was that of a dear old aunt, who married at fifty-four. If you wish to lose your peevishness and keep young, don't be self-centred, but take up some interesting work in which you can show affection and self-denial.

Love is the instinct of every woman's heart; it is a God-given gift, so it is not wrong to feel you wish some one would love you. If, as I guess, you are strug­gling against some hopeless or unrequited attachment, make both a physical and spiritual effort to interest yourself in the lives of those around you - be they man, woman, or child. Rest assured then that, in some form or other, as God sees best, you will be loved and you will be happy. Sunshine will be round you to the end of life.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table III

"MOTHERLY PRIDE" must take a lesson in moral courage. Don't attempt to do as Mrs. Robinson, who has a private income, independent of her husband, while you have to ask George for every penny. You say you don't like your children to go to Christmas holiday entertainments there without making some return, yet you feel the Robinsons would despise your shabby house and plain way of living. If they did, they would not be worth reckoning as friends; but I think most likely you are mistaken.

Don't attempt an evening party; it is a great expense, meaning meat supper, evening frocks, etc. Ask the Robinson children to meet yours from three to six, have a nice tea with hot cakes, etc., plan a programme of various games beforehand, so that the children are amused all the time, and give some little inexpensive toys or prizes to excite interest. You will find the Robinsons will have enjoyed the party far more than many of the stiff formal ones they go to during the season, and George will not be cross at the outlay.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table II

“NETTA" is a nursery governess of small means, an orphan, too, with few friends, so has to spend her Christ­mas holiday with her employers, who are not absolutely unkind, but expect her to constantly amuse the children, who have had mumps this Christmas, and been unable to go to any parties. Netta's resources are exhausted, and she often feels lonely, and cross, and irritable.

Poor Netta! It won't improve matters to be cross and irritable. If the mood lasts, you will lose all influence over the children; yours is a sacred trust; you must not tamper with it. Throw yourself heart and soul into making their forced imprisonment lighter, and you will cease to feel lonely.

There are governesses in far worse plight - forced to leave their employer's roof in holiday time, and spend their scanty savings in board and lodging. You may have few friends, but remember you have always Him who hath said, " I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."

Teach your little invalids to think of other sick children. Have they made any scrap-books? Such nice ones can be made of scraps of coloured glazed calico, cut to uniform size, and covered with pictures out of ordinary illustrated papers. Paste these on to the calico, stitch the sheets together, make the cover of stout brown paper, bind it with a strip of colour, and decorate with used Christ­mas cards. The children will delight in cutting out the pictures, and the scrap­books will brighten some hospital or workhouse ward. Another time I will give you some more suggestions.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table I

(See previous entry for an introduction to Aunt Flo)

TIRED ANNIE has so much to do all day, making the house look trim, sewing for and amusing the children, and bearing with "Jane's" tiresome ways, that when night comes she is hardly able to speak to John. She can only fling herself in an easy chair, feeling intensely sleepy. John is finding his evenings dull, and lately has slipped out - to see a neighbour, whose influence is not altogether good. What must she do?

I'm very sorry for you, Annie; but John must not have dull evenings - and you must be your brightest and best at night - then he will not want to leave his home.

But you must set yourself straight first. What you want is an occasional dose of "rest cure.'' Body and mind are completely over-taxed - try what a whole day in bed (say once in ten days for the present) will do.

The house dusting must go; put Jane on her honour not to waste in the kitchen, give the children some quiet amusement, and recreate yourself while lying still with some wholesome work of fiction by well-known writers (I'm always very fond of George Eliot's books when tired and weary), or a pleasantly written biography.

These will carry you out of yourself, and suggest a fresh line of thought. Get up an hour before John returns, make a careful toilette so that he will have something pleasant to look at. You won't feel at all sleepy now; tell him how much that good rest has refreshed you, and you will find he highly approves.

There is no more depressing sight to a man after a hard day's office-work than a tired, peevish, untidy woman. It isn't fair to the bread-winner; it isn't right. Next month I will give you a hint how some pleasant evenings may be had. Remember, Aunt Flo has had some experience.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table With Aunt Flo.

Until beginning to read Victorian and Edwardian magazines some years ago, I would have imagined the 'agony aunt' or advice column a modern invention. Surely, Victorian ladies all had a network of 'Titus2' women they could call upon for advice. But it appears not and I would hazard a guess that such columns go back much further in time than the Victorian era too.

In 'The Family Friend' of 1905, there is a delightful example of the genre: 'Talk At The Tea-Table' with 'Aunt Flo'. No biographical details are given for Aunt Flo. Was she a real person or the creation of a number of writers. Both are equally possible but I would like to think that the editor of the 'The Family Friend' would be above such journalistic tricks and that she was the alter ego of one writer. Was the author a man or a woman? A woman I hope, although I have at the back of my mind those stories by PG Wodehouse where the hapless hero is reduced to writing under a feminine pseudonym for 'Peg's Paper' or some such frilly journal to earn a crust. The fact that the name was an assumed one was quite the done thing in those days, especially for a religious paper (for reasons of humility and privacy).

What is intriguing is the way that only the answers to the problems are published and not the original letters themselves. Again this is so common for the period. Advice columns in other periodicals take the same approach, even where the advice sought is of a purely practical nature ('hapless in Hendon seeks a pattern for a crocheted collar'; 'careless in Catford seeks remedy for gravy stains on linen' that sort of thing). This was, I think, obviously for reasons of confidentiality (and people were much more concerned with keeping the private, private then), to avoid the accusations of gossip and also to avoid creating an unhealthy interest in the problems and weaknesses of others. Far better to read the solution offered by a wiser soul and not the intimate details of the person with the problem themselves. Goodness, how times have changed.

So I will be offering up some of Aunt Flo's advice to you. I think that she is a delight and offers far more sensible advice that any of the 'aunts' writing in modern magazines. Certainly her advice is more wholesome. As with all things, eat the fruit and spit out the pips. There is certainly plenty of oddity mixed in with the common sense, but you may judge which is which for yourself (especially when it comes to health advice, household remedies and recipes)! I hope that you think her worth reading.

First Catch Your Fidget ...

Here, much later than promised is the recipe for Cheshire Fidget Pie. We haven't all been prostrate with food poisoning, it is just that real life has been somewhat 'real' this week! It really was quite delicious and as nice cold as hot. I guess that the taste of the pie would change according to the type of apple used. I'm not sure what variety ours were as we picked them up from the roadside as we walked down the hill last week (where they had fallen from a tree, I hasten to add, not someone's shopping basket!). If you didn't want to use bacon you could use minced chicken or potato. Sausage meat would be good too.

Cheshire Fidget Pie

8 oz shortcrust pastry (the original said only 5oz it wasn't enough for the dish I used)
1lb apples, peeled, cored and sliced (the recipe says cooking apples)
8oz onions, sliced
12oz bacon, chopped small
3-4 fl oz stock (I used vegetable stock granules and water)

Preheat oven to Gas 4, 350F, 180C

Make layers in a pie dish of apple, onion and bacon until all is used. Season between the layers with pepper and, if you want, a little salt. Pour over the stock. Cover the pie dish with the pastry. Bake for 2 hours or so. Enjoy.

(Adapted from: The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cook Book - Ed. Mary Watts. William Collins Sons & Co Ltd 1985)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Complete Farmhouse Cook Book

Today I rediscovered an old treasure - in the form of a cookery book. Don't you just love it when that happens. You are browsing your shelves, looking for something else entirely and you come across something that makes you exclaim: "How could I have forgotten I had this!"

My 'this' in question is a copy of 'The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cook Book', which I have had for at least 20 years and not properly looked at for at least 5, I would say. The book was published to tie in with a television series of the same name, which I dimly remember from childhood. I do know that it was in the days before television cooks became glamorous; the ladies who presented it looked comfortingly like real farmers' wives. I had forgotten until I read the blurb on the back of the book that most of the recipes were actually sent in by farmers' wives around the country. The result is a book that contains some very old and very regional recipes. I wonder whether some are ever cooked anywhere any more. They have wonderful titles: Sussex Heavies (which I think are pronounced as in heaving up a weight rather than 'heavy' as in the weight itself), Lemon Dainty, Shearing Cake, God's Kitchel Cake, How D'You Do Cake, Huffed Chicken.

A great proportion of the recipes embody the very essence of thrift, using produce that would have been easily available to the farmer's wife and making a small amount of meat go a long and satisfying way. One dish that took my eye is baking in the oven now: Cheshire Fidget Pie, made with layers of apple, onion and chopped bacon covered with a pastry crust. Why 'fidget' I wonder? We'll try it later today and I'll post the recipe if it is worth sharing.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sunday At Home 1865

"The Sunday At Home: A Family Magazine For Sabbath Reading" was published by The Religious Tract Society, of London: a robustly evangelical organisation and extremely influential in its day. The volume I have is for 1865 (the year the American Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated and Lister developed antiseptic surgery). Had you been a subscriber, here is what the first week's edition would have brought you (for the princely sum of one penny):

The Forty Acres; Or Dancing The Old Year Out And The New Year In, by the author of No.1, Paradise Row (a serialised story)

A Hymn For The New Year (Tune: Jerusalem The Golden)

A Winter Meditation (Cowper's 'Task' Book VI, The Winter Walk At Noon)

The Old Year And The New: Looking Back And Looking Forward (an exhortation)

Early Christian haunts In The Catacombs of Rome

The Pulpit In The Family: Eben-ezer; or, The Stone of Help (a sermon)

Sabbath Thoughts: Alleluia

Pages For The Young:
Marion, The Ballad Singer (Chapter 1 - The Working Party)
Scripture Enigma
Scripture Character
Questions on Bible Saints

The last three are Bible quizes or riddles but ones which presupposed an astonishing amount of Scriptural knowledge on the part of their young readers - or at least the ability to find the answers in the family Bible. One can imagine the solving of them being a family affair, with much excitement as the solution was pieced together. Rob and I attempted a couple of them. Great fun (and fortunately the solutions are offered in subsequent editions).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Victorian Sunday Books

I've posted before about how much I love vintage homemaking and recipe books but I'm not sure if I've ever blogged about another great favourite - Victorian Sunday Books. I've made that name up - I'm not really sure what to call them or if antiquarian booksellers have a special name for them (they do for most things). I'm thinking of the kind of book a happy and contented Victorian family would have settled down to read on the Sabbath and in particular the bound volumes of magazines designed for this purpose. They are still relatively easy to find in second hand bookshops and sales and, as they aren't really valuable at all in the financial sense or desirable to any but a small number of dedicated fans, not terribly expensive.

I think they offer a priceless look into the lives of Victorian Christians and a fascinating glimpse of the Church of that time. Of course, like magazines today, they reflect the aspirations of the readership at which they were aimed - or at least the aspirations that the publishers thought they ought to have! And how things have changed - particularly with regard to 'Lord's Day Observance'.

These books were written at a time when the notion that Sunday should be kept as a day apart was widely accepted and put into practise - not just in the public sphere but behind closed doors at home and in one's private life. Certain public activities were virtually impossible on a Sunday: shops were closed, offices and factories silent, fields empty. Recreational travel was difficult and frowned upon (at least in the early Victorian period) as indeed was public recreation of any kind. These restrictions even the non-religious had to put up with. But for Christians across the denominations (and to some extent across the classes too) keeping the Sabbath was a matter of private obligation and joyful sacrifice in one's home. The reading of Scripture, of religious books and improving, morally edifying works was thoroughly in keeping with the Victorian Sunday and something to be shared with the entire family. Hence these delightful volumes.

Over the years I've picked up a number of volumes with titles such as 'The Family Friend', 'The Sunday At Home', 'Words For Hearth And Home' ranging in date from 1865 through to 1905. The early volumes are weighted towards exposition of Scripture, sermons, Bible quizzes, essays on church history and missionary updates (fascinating and poignant accounts which make one long to know what happened to the people mentioned). Later volumes contain more household hints, domestic advice and geographical essays on the wonders of the British Empire ('The Dams of Canada'; 'Australia's Courageous Miners'). All feature a serialised story, fiction but of the improving sort, to keep their readership anticipating next week's instalment. Most have wonderful illustrations.

If you've never come across such volumes, I do encourage you keep a look out. They really are a captivating read. An edifying one too. They all contain a fair share of what to modern eyes does seem quirky and sometimes down right ridiculous, but with it comes stories of bravery and courage, faithfulness to God and sacrifice that should not be forgotten. Plus some very meaty articles on Scripture and church history that would never make a mainstream Christian publication these days. Even the occasional knitting pattern! Reading these books, for me, always makes me consider my own Sabbath practise too; an exercise never wasted.

Over the next few months I want to share some of my favourite excerpts with you. One of the volumes, for example, has an advice page where readers' problems are tackled by the redoubtable 'Aunt Flo'. Now she definitely deserves a wider audience!

Playing Catch Up

Thank you all so much for your sweet comments and good wishes. Things just don't seem to be getting back to normal around here. Or may be this is the new normal! The boys are well - if you discount one bout of 2am vomiting (Sunday night/Monday morning) and complaints of a sore throat (today). They still seem to have the most astonishing amount of energy - and honestly I'm not complaining. I thank God for their good health, knowing that it isn't something to be taken for granted. I'm struggling with migraines and would really value your prayers and wisdom. If any of you suffer from them, do you have any tips for either managing them or managing life with them. One thing I do know, I am almost guaranteed to have one if I've lost my temper, become extremely stressed out or ratty. As if one needed any additional incentive to obey God's word and walk in love.

Autumn is without a doubt my favourite season even though it is tinged with sadness for us here. Although maybe the memories of loss make it so beloved - not all sad memories bring sorrow with them, if that makes any sense. My mothers final illness began in September, six years ago and the landmarks of her last three months still frame the season for me. And this year we marked the first anniversary of our baby Esther's death and all the events leading up to it. Bittersweet memories. The weekend of her death itself, I had the most appalling migraine and cried my cry the night before visiting her grave stone. I had in my mind that the four of us would visit the church yard, lay a posy of flowers and spend a quiet moment, just a moment you understand, of reflection and prayer. Hmm. Sometimes I forget I have two rambunctious little boys. Don't know how that happens. The boys looked on the grave yard (which dates back to the late medieval period) as some sort of stony play kingdom. They hit it at a run, whooping like little savages. Every time we turned around we were peeling one or other of them off of the grave stones which they were attempting to ride like horses or scale like mountains. Isaac insisted on laying the posy on another grave altogether: "No Mummy, this one really!" and as we finally wrested it out of his hands, Elisha emerged from the undergrowth with the remains of a dead wood pigeon in his hands. Which he then attempted to eat or kiss, I'm not quite sure which! The boys then found some lumps of chalk (it rises to the surface of the land around here after a heavy rain) and proceed to wipe them over their faces and hands. How they quite manage to pack so much activity into such a short space of time I have no idea. Wiping tears of laughter from our eyes we decided to call it a day. You cannot be solomn around little boys.

I hasten to add that there wasn't anyone else in the grave yard at the time and that we will be following our visit with (yet another) lesson in graveyard ettiquette. On the way back home Isaac asked us if we thought that baby Esther would have liked the flowers. Would she have smiled, he asked. Yes, my sweetheart, I'm sure of it.