Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Before Martha there was Marion

I have a perverse fascination with domesticity. I myself am borderline challenged in the ‘domestic arts’ and I personally feel making any effort to improve seems like a terrible misuse of my time. My house is relatively clean, I can follow a recipe and I can sloppily hem a pair of pants. What more does anyone needs to know? So I’m not sure why the IDEA of all things domestic obsesses me.

A few years back I picked up this book in a junk shop, Housekeeping in Old Virginia, edited by Marion Tyree. It’s a 1965 reprint of the original 1879 text. One of many endorsements in the front of the book describe it best, “The matrons of the ‘Old Dominion’ have won an enviable reputation for their superb cooking and their delightful housekeeping, and the new book…compiled from choice recipes, furnished by two hundred and fifty of Virginia’s best-known women, will, I am sure, gladden the hearts of the housewives of our country.” Mrs. M.C. Butler, South Carolina.

The book is a 19th century prelude to all things ‘Martha’ (Stewart), from polishing silver, making plum pudding to questionable home remedies, i.e. for cramps – “take five drops spirits of turpentine on white sugar till relieved”.

I keep this book around to remind me that roasting a turkey or making a cake from scratch surprisingly hasn’t changed much in the last 130 years, but our attitudes about the importance of it thankfully have. My favorite passage in the book is one on making bread, “I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?” I so love that last line.

Oh, and by the way, if the world does succumb to a global warming, bird flu, gigantic meteor, nuclear catastrophic event and we revert back to basic survival, come see me. I now have the wisdom, (thanks to those Old Virginian women-folk!) to: barbeque a squirrel (p.108), cook robins and other small birds (p.114) and treat a rabid dog bite (p.496) which may or may not be effective for bites from mutated virus infected zombie-humans. Just so you know.


Angela Rockett said...

In case of (insert global catastrophe here), I'm putting you on my speed dial! :) What a great book.

girl work studios said...

HA! Yes, put me on speed dial and you can be assured whatever (squirrel, robin etc.) I serve, it will be LOCAL.