Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management/Chapter II



Duties and Responsibilities.

As Second in Command in the House, except in large establishments, where there is a house-steward, the housekeeper must consider herself as the immediate representative of her mistress, and bring to her work all the qualities of honesty, industry, and vigilance which would be expected of her if she were at the head of her own family. Constantly striving to promote the prosperity of the household, she should oversee all that goes on in the house, that every department is thoroughly attended to, and that the servants are comfortable, at the same time that their various duties are properly performed.

Cleanliness, punctuality, and method are essentials in the character of a good housekeeper. Without these qualities, no household can be well managed. Order again, is indispensable; by it we provide that "there should be a place for everything, and everything in its place."

Accounts.—A necessary qualification for a housekeeper is that she should thoroughly understand accounts. She will have to write in her books an accurate account of all sums paid for any and every purpose, the current expenses of the house, tradesmen's bills, wages, and many miscellaneous items. As we have mentioned in the previous chapter, a housekeeper's accounts should be periodically examined and checked by the head of the house. Nothing tends more to the satisfaction of both employer and employed than this arrangement. "Short reckonings make long friends" stands good in this case, as in others.

The housekeeper should make a careful record of every domestic purchase whether bought for cash or not. This record will be found a useful check upon the bills sent in by the various tradesmen, so that any discrepancy can be inquired into and set right. An intelligent housekeeper will by this means be able to judge of the average consumption of each article in the household; and to prevent waste and carelessness.

The following table of expenses, income, or wages, shows what any sum, from £1 to £100 per annum, is, when reckoned per quarter, calendar month, week, or day:—

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (55).jpg


Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (56).jpg

The Kitchen, Windsor Castle.

£ s. d. £ s. d. s. d. s. d. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. s. d.
1 0 0 0 5 0 1 8 0 11 0 0 2 15 0 0 18 4 0 4 3 0
1 10 0 0 7 6 2 6 0 7 1 12 0 0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 4 0 8
2 0 0 0 10 0 3 4 0 13 0 0 3 5 0 1 1 8 0 5 0 0
2 10 0 0 12 6 4 2 0 11½ 14 0 0 3 10 0 1 3 4 0 5 0
3 0 0 0 15 0 5 0 1 2 15 0 0 3 15 0 1 5 0 0 5 9 0 10
3 10 0 0 17 6 5 10 1 16 0 0 4 0 0 1 6 8 0 6 2 0 10½
4 0 0 1 0 0 6 8 1 17 0 0 4 5 0 1 8 4 0 6 0 11¼
4 10 0 1 2 6 7 6 1 3 18 0 0 4 10 0 1 10 0 0 6 11 0 11¾
5 0 0 1 5 0 8 4 1 11 19 0 0 4 15 0 1 11 8 0 7 1
5 10 0 1 7 6 9 2 2 20 0 0 5 0 0 1 13 4 0 7 8 1
6 0 0 1 10 0 10 0 2 4 30 0 0 7 10 0 2 10 0 0 11 5 1
6 10 0 1 12 6 10 10 2 6 40 0 0 10 0 0 3 6 8 0 15 2
7 0 0 1 15 0 11 8 2 50 0 0 12 10 0 4 3 4 0 19 3 2 9
7 10 0 1 17 6 12 6 2 10½ 5 60 0 0 15 0 0 5 0 0 1 3 3
8 0 0 2 0 0 13 4 3 1 70 0 0 17 10 0 5 16 8 1 6 11 3 10
8 10 0 2 2 6 14 2 3 3 80 0 0 20 0 0 6 13 4 1 10 9 4
9 0 0 2 5 0 15 0 3 6 90 0 0 22 10 0 7 10 0 1 14 4 11
10 0 0 2 10 0 16 8 3 10 100 0 0 25 0 0 9 6 8 1 18 5

Cooking.—Although the housekeeper does not generally interfere much in the actual work of the cook, yet it is necessary that she should possess a good knowledge of cookery; for she has to direct the work of others. In some establishments cakes, bread, jams, pickles, etc., are made in the still-room under the housekeeper's superintendence.

Instruction in Cookery.—Happily it is now usual for all young people to learn something of this art, and it is a valuable accomplishment, no matter to what class they belong, for at some time of their life it is sure to be of use. A great many, too, who do not actually have to cook themselves are glad to have the power of checking the work of their cooks, who without such a check would become domestic tyrants. With servants of this sort a mistress who knows nothing of cooking is powerless. Before the existence of cookery schools instruction could only be obtained at home, from the mother, housekeeper or cook, but now many who desire instruction prefer to avail themselves of the many opportunities offered by the cookery schools and classes. This course has advantages to recommend it; for that a practical teacher, while allowing the pupil considerable freedom of choice, takes care that the lessons comprise dishes which teach the principles of cookery, as well as mere manipulation of the materials. A good teacher also endeavours to inculcate habits of economy, cleanliness, and tidiness besides the mere details of the science; but if the cook were to teach on the same lines her motive might be misunderstood, and her advice resented. If the pupils would always practise in their own homes the tidiness and cleanliness they are taught in the schools, they would be less frequently regarded as a nuisance by the cook. Novices should make a rule not to use unnecessary utensils, to wait on oneself as much as possible, and to clear away all materials and utensils when they have finished.

The Daily Duties of a Housekeeper are regulated, in a great measure, by the size of the establishment she superintends. She should rise early, and see her assistants are duly performing their work, and that the preparations for breakfast are progressing satisfactorily. After breakfast, which, in large establishments, she will take in the "housekeeper's room," with the lady's-maid, butler, and valet, served by one of the under-maids, she will, on days set apart for such purposes, carefully examine the household linen, with a view to its being repaired, or further necessary supplies being procured; she will also see that the furniture throughout the house is well rubbed and polished; and attend to all the necessary details of marketing and ordering goods from the tradesmen.

The Housekeeper's Room is generally made use of by the lady's-maid, butler and valet, who take there their breakfast, tea and supper. The lady's-maid will also use this apartment as a sitting-room, when not engaged with duties which would call her elsewhere. In different establishments, according to their size, means and expenditure of the family, different rules, of course, prevail. For instance, in mansions where great state is maintained, and there is a house-steward, two distinct tables are kept, one in the steward's room for the principal members of the staff, the second in the servants' hall for the other domestics. At the steward's dinner-table, the steward and housekeeper preside; and here, also, may be included the lady's-maid, butler, valet.

After Dinner, the housekeeper, having seen that her assistants have returned to their various duties, and that the household is in proper working order, will have many important matters claiming her attention. She will, possibly, have to give the finishing touch to some article of confectionery, or be occupied with some of the more elaborate processes of the still-room. There may also be the dessert to arrange, ice-creams to make; and many employments that call for no ordinary degree of care, taste and attention.

The Still-room was formerly much more common than at present, for in days of "auld lang syne" the still was in constant requisition for the supply of home-made wines, spirits, cordials and syrups, home-made medicines, scents, and other aromatic substances for the toilet, and sweet-flavoured waters for the purposes of cookery. There are some establishments, however, in which distillation is still carried on, and in these the still-room maid has her old duties to perform. In a general way, however, this domestic is immediately concerned with the housekeeper. For the latter she lights the fire, dusts her room, prepares the breakfast table, and waits at the different meals taken in the housekeeper's room. A still-room maid may learn a very great deal of useful knowledge from her intimate connexion with the housekeeper, and if she be active and intelligent, may soon fit herself for a better position in the household.

Evening Occupation.—In the evening, the housekeeper will often busy herself with the necessary preparations for the next day's duties. Numberless small, but still important, arrangements will have to be made, so that everything may move smoothly. At times, perhaps, attention will have to be paid to the preparation of lump-sugar, spices, candied peel, the stoning of raisins, the washing, cleansing, and drying of currants, etc. The evening, too, is the best time for attending to household and cash accounts, and making memoranda of any articles she may require for her store-room or other departments.

Periodically, at some convenient time—for instance, quarterly or half-yearly—it is a good plan for the housekeeper to make an inventory of everything she has under her care, and compare this with the lists of a former period; she will then be able to furnish a statement, if necessary, of the articles which, from wear, breakage, loss, or other causes, it has been necessary to replace or replenish.

Responsibilities.—In concluding these remarks on the duties of the housekeeper, we will briefly refer to the very great responsibility which attaches to her position. Like "Caesar's wife," she should be "above suspicion," and her honesty and sobriety unquestionable; for there are many temptations to which she is exposed. From a physical point of view, a housekeeper should be healthy and strong, and be particularly clean in her person, and her hands, though they may show a slight degree of roughness, from the nature of some of her employments, still should have a nice appearance. In her dealings with the various tradesmen, and her behaviour to the domestics under her, the demeanour and conduct of the housekeeper should never diminish her authority or influence.

Seasons for different kinds of work.—It will be useful for the mistress and housekeeper to know the best seasons for various occupations connected with Household Management; and we, accordingly, subjoin a few hints which we think will prove valuable.

In the winter months, some of the servants have much more to do, in consequence of the necessity there is to attend to the necessary fires.

In the summer, and when the absence of fires gives the domestics more leisure, a little extra work can be easily performed.

Spring is the usual period set apart for house-cleaning, and removing all the dust and dirt which, notwithstanding all precautions, will accumulate during the winter months, from dust, smoke, gas, etc. This season is also well adapted for washing and bleaching linen, etc., as the weather not being then too hot for the exertions necessary in washing counterpanes, blankets, and heavy substances, the work is better and more easily done than in the greater heats of July. Winter curtains should be taken down, and replaced by the summer white ones; and furs and winter clothes also carefully laid by. The former should be well shaken and brushed, and then pinned upon paper or linen, with camphor to preserve them from moths. Spring cleaning must include the turning out of the all the nooks and corners of drawers, cupboards, lumber-rooms, etc., with a view to getting rid of unnecessary articles, which left there create dirt and harbour mice and other vermin, though only useless encumbrances left where they are, they may be of great value to one's poorer neighbours. Sweeping chimneys, taking up and cleaning carpets, painting and whitewashing the kitchen and offices, papering rooms, when needed, and, generally speaking, giving the house, a bright and new appearance, for the approaching summer, are among the cares of this season. Oranges should now be preserved, and wine made.

Summer will be found the best period for examining and repairing household linen, and for "putting to rights" all those articles which have received a large share of wear and tear during the winter. The old proverb, "A stitch in time saves nine," applies very strongly to the care of such linen articles as table cloths, serviettes, sheets, pillow-slips, etc., a little early and careful attention to which will often prolong their period of usefulness. In June and July, currants, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, and other summer fruits should be preserved, and jams and jellies made. Eggs are cheap and plentiful at this season of the year, and the housekeeper should preserve, by one of the several satisfactory methods, a good supply for the winter months, when eggs, though more in demand than ever, are scarce and dear. Many households also find it economical to purchase in June a supply of salt butter in kegs for winter use. In July, too, the making of walnut ketchup should be attended to, as the green walnuts will be approaching perfection for this purpose. Many other pickles may also be made at this season, full directions for which are given in our pages.

Autumn fruit of various kinds, as plums, damsons, blackberries, cranberries and many others, should be bottled and preserved, and jams and jellies made. Pickled mushrooms, mushroom and tomato ketchup, pickled cabbage and beetroot, and many such stores should be prepared at this season. The apples and pears for winter use should now be gathered in and stored. These should be frequently looked over, and any fruit showing symptoms of decay removed. Filberts, cob nuts, and walnuts should also be preserved in sand and salt to prevent them from drying up and decaying.

In September and October it will be necessary to prepare for the cold weather, and get ready the winter clothing for the various members of the family. The white summer curtains will now be carefully put away, the fire-places, grates, and chimneys looked to, and the house put in a thorough state of repair.

In December, the principal household duty lies in preparing for the creature comforts of those near and dear to us, so as to meet Old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder. And in stoning plums, washing currants, cutting peel, beating eggs, and mixing a pudding, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the season of good will.