Cobweb Concoctions (Snippets 18)

Eliza_LeslieEliza Leslie was a popular writer on the subject of cookery and etiquette in America during the early-mid 19th Century.  In 1837 she published Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches, which was enormously successful.  Later editions had an added preface, with some typically 19th Century opinions on the importance of preparing food to a high standard.

No man (or woman either) ought to be incapable of distinguishing bad eatables from good ones. Yet, I have heard some few ladies boast of that incapacity, as something meritorious, and declare that they considered the quality, the preparation, and even the taste of food, as things entirely beneath the attention of a rational being; their own minds being always occupied with objects of far greater importance.

Let no man marry such a woman. If indifferent to her own food, he will find her still more indifferent to his. A wife who cares not, or knows not what a table ought to be, always has bad cooks; for she cannot distinguish a bad one from a good one, dislikes change, and wonders how her husband can attach any importance to so trifling a circumstance as his dinner. Yet, though, for the sake of “preserving the peace,” he may bring himself to pass over, as “trifling circumstances,” the defects of his daily repasts, he will find himself not a little mortified, when, on inviting a friend to dinner, he finds his table disgraced by washy soup, poultry half raw, gravy unskimmed, and vegetables undrained; to say nothing of sour bread, ponderous puddings, curdled custards tasting of nothing, and tough pastry. My instructress, the late Mrs. Goodfellow, remarked, in allusion to the dullness or silliness of some of her pupils, “It requires a head even to make cakes.”

In addition to food recipes, the book contains some preparations for first aid situations.  The 19th Century housewife would have needed a stock of some unusual items in her kitchen:

Lead Water: Mix two table-spoonfuls of extract of lead with a bottle of rain or river water. Then add two table-spoonfuls of brandy, and shake it well.

To stop blood: for a prick with a pin, or a slight cut, nothing will more effectually stop the bleeding than old cobwebs compressed into a lump and applied to the wound, or bound on it with a rag. A scrap of cotton wadding is also good for stopping blood. Or wet the place with laudanum. After the blood is stopped, cover the cut with a bit of white or pink court-plaster.

So it paid to have a good supply of cobwebs to hand.  As for the lead and rain water concoction, well… life expectancy in America during the first half of the 19th Century was around the 40-50 mark.  Extract of lead was also recommended by some writers in the 19th Century as a hair tonic, despite widespread (though sketchy) knowledge that lead posed a danger.


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