Thursday, 14 April 2011

How to Entertain Without A Maid

Elizabeth Josephine Craig (16 February 1883 - 7 June 1980) was a Scottish journalist, home economist and one of the most notable British modern writers on cookery of the twentieth century, whose career lasted some sixty years.

I have a copy of her 1936 Cookery Illustrated and Household Management, and it is a wonderful glimpse of another time. She is writing to the world described in "One Pair Of Hands" by Monica Dickens, which came from her her experiences as a cook and general servant. Here is an extract from when Monica Dickens first started in domestic service:

As a matter of fact, I've got someone in the office at this very moment who might suit." She wrote down the number, and held out to me, saying: "Ring up this lady. She wants a cook immediately. In fact, you would have to start tomorrow by cooking a dinner for ten people. Could you manage that, I wonder?"

"Oh, yes," said I - never having cooked for more than four in my life. I thanked her, paid a shilling, and dashed out to the nearest telephone box. I collected my wits, powdered my nose, took a deep breath, and dialed the number. A voice at the other end informed me that I was speaking to Miss Cattermole. I assured her, that I was just what she was looking for. I asked her what tomorrow's menu was to be."Just a small, simple dinner: lobster cocktails, soup, turbot, pheasants with vegetables, fruit salad, and a savoury."  In a rather shaken voice, I promised to turn up in good time, and rang off.

This is also the world also described and criticised by Celia Fremlinin "The Seven Chars of Chelsea", where she notes the kind of domestic servant who "may remain safe and secure all her life long, out of hearing of the battles and storms that the rest of the working-class are facing . . . she will be living in the world of feudalism, whose battles are long past; while the others of her class are living in the fighting, struggling world of capitalism. (Seven Chars, p. 150)

It is a world long past, but what I find so intriguing about the account is that while it appears to come from the same humourist tradition as Monica Dickens, it is not - Elizabeth Craig simply had no idea about the world of the working class, and the idea that there could be people who might want to read cookery books but who didn't have and could never afford maids simply doesn't cross her mind. It is an Agatha Christie world, where the maid is always on hand - it is extraordinary how many maids are in "The Moving Finger".

Of course, there are new forms of domestic servitude. While maids are few and far between in Jersey, the pressures of work and finance has sent women into the workplace, and they employ poorer women as cleaners to come round and do the housework that they no longer have time for. We may laugh at "how to entertain without a maid", but the modern equivalent would be, even with labour saving gadgets, "how to clean a house without a weekly cleaner".

But at least that's paid, and there are statutory minimum wages, unlike in Malaysia where "The Diplomat" in 2011 notes that:

Almost overnight, the number of women leaving Cambodia to work in Malaysia has skyrocketed, but the crucial regulations and oversight meant to keep the women safe haven't kept pace. At best, the industry's harshest critics say, foreign maids in Malaysia are treated like second-class citizens and denied minimum labour rights afforded to other workers. At its worst, the job can become a form of modern-day debt bondage... Many of Malaysia's basic rules under its Employment Act that cover rest days, work hours, termination, holidays and maternity leave explicitly don't apply to foreign maids, known as 'domestic servants' under the law.

But back to the world of 1936, and how to entertain - without a maid...


When entertaining at breakfast without a maid, have the table set with a bright breakfast cloth, a bread and butter plate and a knife and fork for bacon and eggs and a butter knife for each. If grapefruit be served, have it at each place with pointed spoon on the side before announcing breakfast. Set everything in place before you sit down so that you have not to rise in the middle of the meal and go to the kitchen. When boiled eggs are wanted, you can prepare them at table, or bring them in before you announce breakfast is ready. The host can serve the bacon and eggs, you can pour out coffee or tea, and have a tray wagon close beside you, so that you can move used dishes on to it, in order to keep the table tidy throughout the meal, without having to leave the room. Better still to keep to the old-fashioned English way of having whatever hot dish is served arranged on a hot plate on the sideboard along with plates, and let every one help themselves.

When it comes to lunch or supper, arrange the table so as to save trouble when the meal is in progress. If offering soup, have it placed ready in individual bouillon cups before you sit down. Eliminate carving and serving as much as possible by making individual fish or meat creams, or dishes en cocotte, the savoury course. When a fish mayonnaise is on the menu, arrange individual ones in the kitchen, and leave them in the refrigerator while the first course is being taken. You can make creams, custard, fruit fools, jellies, junket, salads, and steamed puddings also all individual. The point is that if the courses are served individually, it does away with serving dishes and so simplifies washing up.

But it is absolutely necessary to have a tray wagon, For on it you can have the coffee tray, and-underneath is space for all the used dishes, which can be placed there when the second course is arranged on the table. The side flaps can take the sweets or the biscuits and cheese.

Clear all soiled dishes on to the tray wagon between each course, and have whatever cold dishes are to be served ready there to place on the table afterwards. Between the main course and dessert you could rise and brush any crumbs oft the table with the aid of a clean napkin and a plate.

When there are few to cater for it is a good idea to make the breakfast or luncheon omelet, the mushroom toasts and other savouries at a side table. But that means an electric toaster and a chafing dish. Only cooking at table saves your steps for then you do not have to run to the kitchen to stir on occasion and lift whatever is cooking.

Do not attempt at any time to entertain elaborately without the help of a maid. Give informal little parties like bridge and tennis parties, and make it the fashion for guests to help themselves or help each other. You will find your entertainments go well: if they strike this informal note.

But before you try to do so you must first learn to plan a menu easily prepared from dishes that require no last minute touches, and arrange the. table and the food to that you do not need to run out to the kitchen between each course..

Nothing is more disturbing to guests than to have a hostess always excusing herself in order to mix the salad dressing, whip the cream, or take the ice from the freezer. Every meal should be leisurely, not one hustle from beginning to end, as it is if you entertain without a maid without first taking the trouble to learn how to do it in as charming a fashion as possible.

No comments: