Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Days of the Doily

One from the back catalogue today, from "Household Hints", an article which appeared in "Thinks!" back in the 1980s when I was assistant editor.

Incidentally, the same book cover graces a modern revamp -"Classic Household Hints: Over 500 Old and New Tips for a Happier Home" which is currently selling on Amazon. I imagine they've modernised some of the recipes, and almost certainly will not have the details below for afternoon tea.

A lace mat - as mentioned below - was often termed a doily (or doilie). These were ornamental mats, originally the name of a fabric made by Doiley, a 17th-century London draper. Often these would be crocheted and sometimes knitted out of cotton or linen, but lace doilies were also manufactured, and can still be found for sale today on ebay.

I love the precision of the afternoon tea

Arrange cups on their respective saucers with handles at right angles to the rim of the tray.

This was clearly intended for middle class people, of the kind described in Miss Marple books, where a maid comes round to help each day to homes in Mary St Mead. One can imagine the same lady doing afternoon tea as that described by Cecil Parkinson in his book "Parkinson's Law":

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.

So if you are retired, have plenty of time on your hands, and neighbours to invite round, here are a few tips...


Our Puzzle-setter, Tony, is something of a "book-browser" and second hand book shops have a fatal fascination for him. One of the treasures he discovered recently was a pre-war edition of "Household Hints". Here is an extract to bore you - amuse you - or bring back happy memories, depending on your age.

Afternoon Tea

1 All preparations must be completed beofre your guests arrive.-

2. In Autumn or Winter, draw the curtains and light the room with candles.

3. Have an adequate supply of little tables.

4. Cover each table with a lace cloth laid cornerways.

5. Place lace mats on tables to receive plates.

6.  Your tray should be oblong, though oval shows off a service well. Silver is most attractive, copper next, then lacquer. Failing this a carved wooden tray of polished mahogany.

7. Arrange cups on their respective saucers with handles at right angles to the rim of the tray.

8. Arrange plates in a pile with lace serviettes,folded triangularly, beside them. As you pour out, lift plate, lay serviette on it, place cup and saucer on top, and pass to your guest.

9. Tea Service should consist of silver spoons, tea knives, pastry forks and tongs and a lemon knife
- always have a dish of lemon slices ready for those who prefer lemon to cream.

10. Serve China as well as Indian tea. Fresh tea must be brewed when two cups have been served for
your guests.

The bad old days?

Some further and quite informative snippets:-


To make floury:- Add a teaspoon full of vinegar for each pint of water in which old potatoes are cooked,
after they have been boiling for 15 minutes

To mash lightly:- Add a pinch of baking powder when mashing. Beat well.

To bake quickly:- Stand potatoes in hot water for 15 minutes before baking.

Potato water:- Use when making bread dough. The bread will stay fresh longer. Use instead of water
for making gravy or stock.

Potato peelings:- These are to be dried and used for kindling.

Incidentally the price of this fascinating tome was originally 2/6, or 12 1/2p in today's money - the price of a bag of crisps! What Tony paid for it second hand, he's not telling. However it really is a treasure house of information.

1 comment:

Alane Wallace said...

I really enjoyed this, but so glad that nowadays we just go to the kitchen and pour a mug out, no fuss. It's much friendlier. It's a fascinating look to the recent past though. I remember well my Mother's crochet bag and all the doilies everywhere.