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THE COOK

 
CHAPTER III
 

General Advice to the Cook, with Observations on her
Duties, and those of the Kitchen and the Scullery Maids

Man may live without love—what is passion but pining?
But where is the man who can live without dining?
We may live without friends, we may live without books,
But civilized men cannot live without cooks.
From "Lucille" by Owen Meredith.

The cook and those who serve under her are so intimately associated that they can hardly be treated of separately. The cook, however, is queen of the kitchen; and if she be clean, neat, orderly and quick in her work, those who are under her will emulate these good qualities; upon her the whole responsibility of the kitchen rests, whilst the duty of others is to render her ready and willing assistance.

In great establishments in the time of the Norman and Plantagenet kings the cook was indeed a great personage; more than one fortunate master of the art receiving a manor or title because he pleased the palate of his sovereign with some dainty dish. In those days the head cook gave orders from a high chair which commanded a view of all that was going on. Each held a long wooden spoon, with which he tasted, without leaving his seat, the dainties that were cooking on the stoves, and the spoon was frequently used as a rod of punishment on the backs of those who did not sufficiently study the virtues of diligence and temperance.

Early Rising.—If, as we have said, early rising is of the utmost importance to the mistress, what must it be to the servant! It is a thousand times tested truth that without early rising and punctuality good work is almost impossible. A cook ought to realize this important fact, for if she lose an hour in the morning, she is likely to be kept toiling all day to overtake necessary tasks that would otherwise have been easy to her. Six o'clock is a good hour to rise in the summer, and seven in the winter.

The Cook's First Duty should be to prepare the breakfast, full details for the selection, cooking, and service of which will be found in a later chapter, and then to busy herself with those numerous little tasks associated with arranging and providing for the day. This will bring her to the breakfast hour of eight, after which preparations must be made for the other meals of the household.

Daily Duties.—In those households where cook and housemaid only are kept, the general custom is that the cook shall look after the dining-room. Other household work, varying in different households, is also committed to her care. In establishments of this kind, the cook will, after having lighted her kitchen fire, brushed the range, and cleaned the hearth, proceed to prepare for breakfast. She will thoroughly rinse the kettle, and set it to boil. She may then perhaps have to go to the breakfast-room, and there make things ready for the breakfast. Attention must also be given to sweeping the hall, shaking the hall mats, which she must afterwards put back in their places.

The cleaning of the kitchen, passages, and kitchen stairs must always be over before breakfast, so that it may not interfere with the other business of the day. Everything should be ready, and the whole house should wear a comfortable aspect. Nothing is more pleasing to the mistress of an establishment than to notice that, although she has not been present to see the work done, proper attention has been paid to such matters.

By the time that the cook has performed the duties mentioned above, and well swept, brushed, and dusted her kitchen, the breakfast bell will perhaps summon her to the parlour, to "bring in" breakfast. It is often the cook's department, in small establishments, to take in the breakfast, as the housemaid, by this time, has gone upstairs into the bedrooms, and has there applied herself to her various duties. But many ladies prefer the breakfast brought in by the housemaid, though it remain to be cleared and washed up by the cook. Whichever way this part of the work is managed, each servant should have her duties clearly laid down for her. The cook usually answers the bells and single knocks at the door in the early part of the morning, as the tradesmen, with whom it is her more special business to speak, call at these hours.

The Preparation of Dinner is the most important part of the cook's work, wherein she begins to feel the responsibility of her situation, as she has to see to the dressing and serving of those dishes, which her skill and ingenuity have prepared. Whilst these, however, are cooking, she must be busy with her pastry, soups, gravies, entrées, etc. Stock, or what the French call bouillon, being the basis of most made dishes, must be always at hand, in conjunction with sweet herbs and spices for seasoning. "A place for everything, and everything in its place," must be the rule, in order that time may not be wasted in looking for things when they are wanted, and that the whole business of cooking may move with the regularity and precision of a well-adjusted machine. All must go on simultaneously. The vegetables and sauces must be ready with the dishes they are to accompany, and the smallest oversight must be avoided in their preparation. It is a good plan when a dinner of many courses has to be prepared, to write out, and hang in a conspicuous place, two lists of the day's dishes, one of the order in which they must be served, with every accessory complete, that nothing may be forgotten, and one of the order in which each should be cooked, that nothing may be over or underdone. When the dinner hour has arrived it is the duty of the cook to dish up such dishes as may, without injury, stand for some time covered on the hot plate or in the hot closet; but such as are of a more important or delicate kind must be delayed until the order "to serve" is given. Then comes haste; but there must be no hurry—all must work with method. The cook takes charge of the fish, soups and poultry; and the kitchen-maid of the vegetables, sauces and gravies. These she puts into proper dishes, while the scullery-maid waits on and assists the cook. Every dish must be timed so as to prevent its getting cold, whilst great care should be taken that no more time is lost between the courses than is absolutely necessary, for good serving, hot plates, gravy and sauces that have not been allowed to get cold and greasy, are vital factors in providing a good dinner. When the dinner has been served, the most important item in the daily work of the cook is at an end. She must, however, every night and morning, look to the contents of her larder, taking care to keep everything sweet and clean, so that no disagreeable smells may arise from the neglect of this precaution. These are the principal duties of a cook in a big establishment. In many smaller households the cook engages to perform the whole work of the kitchen, and, in some places, a portion of the housework also.

Duties of the Kitchen-Maid.—Whilst the cook is engaged with her morning duties, the kitchen- or scullery-maid is also occupied with hers. Her first duty, after the fire is lighted, is to sweep and clean the kitchen and the various offices belonging to it. This she does every morning, besides cleaning the stone steps at the entrance of the house, the halls, the passages, and the stairs, if any, which lead to the kitchen. Her general duties, besides these, are to wash and scour all these places twice a week, with the table, shelves, and cupboards. She has also to attend to the nursery and servants' hall dinners while cooking, to prepare all fish, poultry, and vegetables, trim meat joints and cutlets, and do all such duties as may be assigned to her by the cook.

The duties of the kitchen- or scullery-maid, in short, are to assist the cook in everything in which she may require aid; to keep the scullery and all kitchen utensils clean. The duties of a kitchen-maid and scullery-maid are almost identical, and the only reason that exists for retaining the two names is that in large establishments, where two kitchen-maids are kept, it is useful to distinguish them as kitchen-and scullery-maid, the former doing the more important, and the latter the coarser, work of the kitchen.

ADVICE TO COOKS AND KITCHEN-MAIDS

Importance of Cooking.—A good cook has every reason to magnify the office she holds, for her work influences not only the comfort but also the health of the whole household, and mindful of this responsibility she will take care to study both the needs and tastes of those whose food she prepares. With invalids and people in delicate health this care is of the utmost importance.

Try and realize for yourself the importance of your post. Whether your employers are working hard in professions or business, or leading a comparatively leisured existence, whether they have poor appetites or large ones, good cooking of their food is absolutely necessary to their health.

Make a rule to send everything up to table really well cooked. Do not regard this as an impossibility, for it can be done.

If you are told to prepare anything you are not certain about, have the courage to say so and ask your mistress's advice. How many dishes and dinners have been spoilt because cooks have been too proud to confess ignorance!

Accidents, of course, will happen (though but rarely with proper precautions); fires will not always burn, nor ovens bake as they should; but if the joint, or whatever it may be, cannot be done to time, do not send it up raw, but ask for a little grace. If anything is really spoilt (as even with care it sometimes is) confess the fact, and do not send up a dish calculated to take away people's appetites.

Cleanliness.—A dirty kitchen is a disgrace to all concerned. Good cookery cannot exist without absolute cleanliness. It takes no longer to keep a kitchen clean and orderly than untidy and dirty, for the time that is spent in keeping it in good order is saved when culinary operations are going on and everything is clean and in its place. Personal cleanliness is most necessary, particularly with regard to the hands.

Dress.—When at your work, dress suitably; wear short dresses, well-fitting boots, and large aprons with bibs, of which every cook and kitchen-maid should have a good supply, and you will be comfortable as you never can be with long dresses, small aprons, and slipshod shoes, the latter being most trying in a warm kitchen, which may very likely have a stone floor. A maid-servant's working dress, with its neat and becoming cap, is far from ugly, and nothing is more suitable for them whilst at their work.

Neatness should be studied by all engaged in domestic work. It will repay those who practise it a thousand fold by constantly saving them needless work.

Clear as you go; do not allow a host of basins, spoons, plates, etc., to accumulate on the dresser or tables while you are preparing the dinner. By a little management and forethought much confusion may be saved in this way. It is as easy to put a thing in its place when it is done with as to continually remove it to find room for fresh requisites. For instance, after making a pudding, the flour tub, paste-board, and rolling pin should be put away, and any basins, spoons, etc., taken to the scullery, neatly packed up near the sink, to be washed when the proper time arrives.

Economy.—Never waste or throw away anything that can be turned to account. In warm weather any gravies or soups that have been left from the preceding day should boiled up and poured into clean pans. Full directions with regard to stock pots, digesters and other economies of the kitchen will be found in a later chapter.

Go early every morning to your larder (which, like the kitchen, ought to be kept perfectly clean and neat), and while changing plates, looking to your bread pan (which should always be emptied and wiped out every morning), take notice if there is anything not likely to keep, and acquaint your mistress with the fact. It is better if there is a spare cupboard in the kitchen to keep any baked pastry there, and thus preserve its crispness.

Kitchen Supplies.—Do not let your stock of pepper, salt, spices, seasonings, herbs, etc., dwindle so low that there is danger of finding yourself minus some very important ingredient, the lack of which may cause much confusion and annoyance. Think of all you require when your mistress sees you in the morning, that she may give out any necessary stores. If you live in the country have your vegetables gathered from the garden at an early hour, so that there is ample time to get rid of caterpillars, etc., which is an easy task if the greens are allowed to soak in salt and water an hour or two.

Punctuality.—This is an indispensable quality in a cook. When there is a large dinner to prepare get all you can done the day before or early on the morning of the day. This will save a great deal of time and enable you, with good management, to send up your dinner in good time and style.

Cleansing of Cooking Utensils.—This is one of the cook's most important duties, and one that should never be neglected or put off from one day to another. When you have washed your saucepans, fish kettle, etc., stand them before the fire for a few minutes to get thoroughly dry inside before putting away. They should then be put in a dry place in order to escape rust. Put some water into them directly they are done with, if they have to stand some time before they are washed. Soups or gravies should never be allowed to stand all night in saucepans. Frying pans should be cleaned (if black inside) with a crust of bread, and washed with hot water and soda. It is a good plan to have a knife kept especially for peeling onions, but where this is not done the one used should be thoroughly cleaned. If the tin has worn off copper utensils, have it immediately replaced. Clean your coppers with turpentine and fine brick dust, or waste lemon skins and sand, rubbed on with flannel, and polish them with a leather and a little dry brick dust. Clean tins with soap and whiting, rubbing on with a soft rag or flannel, wiping them with a dry cloth, and lastly with a soft dry cloth or leather.

Washing of Dishes, Etc.—Do not be afraid of hot water in washing up dishes and dirty cooking utensils; as these are essentially greasy, lukewarm water cannot possibly have the effect of cleansing them thoroughly, and soda in the water is a great saving of time as is also a fresh supply of hot water.

After washing the plates and dishes wash out your dish tubs with a little soap, soda and water, and scrub them often; wash the dish cloth also and wring it out, and after wiping out the tubs stand them to dry.

Pudding cloths and jelly bags should have immediate attention after being used; the former should be well washed, scalded, and hung up to dry. Let them be perfectly aired before being put away. No soda should be used in washing pudding cloths.

The Sink.—Do not throw anything but water down the sink, as the pipe is liable to get choked, a state of things which causes both expense and annoyance. At least three times a week pour a pailful of boiling soda water down every trap, for this prevents accumulation of fat, which more often than anything else stops up sink pipes.

Try to realize how important this duty is; bad smells (often caused by a stoppage in the sink pipes) are most disagreeable and dangerous.

Whilst a cook should be versed in all the details of her position, a mistress should never forget her own duty of seeing that the laws of economy, cleanliness and order are not neglected by her servants. The servants who reflect that some day they will probably need neatness, cleanliness and economy in their own homes, and for their own benefit, will feel grateful to the employer who insists on the practise of these virtues.