Tag Archives: English Housewife

Class and The English Housewife

I have spent a lot of time talking about The English Housewife as an instruction manual and as a place to learn about cookery. What I have spent less time with is the issue of class and audience, those issues that would give us a better picture of who the English Housewife actually was. Beyond her gender and marital status, the title won’t tell us much, but we do know enough about Markham to make some pretty good guesses. Markham is particularly interesting to me because he is writing for a country audience (this and his other books focus on activities that would be undertaken by a husbandman, or small landowner, and housewife), and because he encourages frugality (later authors seem more lavish).

Food and Class

In order to start thinking about class and cookery manuals, it’s important to know what the different classes were eating. Of course social classes were different from how we think of them today–rather than having a ‘middle class’ there were ‘middling sorts,’ which is kind of a hodgepodge term (that I still have trouble defining well) for those who lived comfortably but were not gentlemen/noblemen. The ‘gentry’ were gentleman landowners, whose social status would have been a bit higher.

If you remember my post on the Markham Meal, you probably noticed that the menu was almost entirely vegetarian (save for the one meat dish). That’s not to say that vegetarianism was a common concept in the 17th century (in fact, vegetarian monastic orders were heavily criticized by authors of books on health, who felt a lack of meat shortened one’s life; see Albala 201-202), but rather that there seems to be a misconception that only meat, and not much else, was eaten during this time. Markham does include another menu for a feast that includes a large number of meat dishes, but both this and the banquetting menu I’m working from are noted as not being “of regular use,” but still important for the housewife to be able to cook on special ocassions (Best, 110). Meat had fallen in price in the time after the Black Plague, but its cost had risen by Markham’s time when meat would have been available regularly only to the elite (others ate meat less frequently or ate less expensive cuts, like organ meats–see Albala, 188). Vegetables made up the majority of the diet of the lower classes, who could not afford to have meat or dairy regularly. Meat was commonly eaten by the nobility in the middle ages, but plant-based foods became more popular and began their ascent up the social ladder during this time (Thirsk, 4-8). Books like Markham’s helped further ensure the place of fruits and vegetables on middling tables. These books taught proper social graces and the newest food preparations, and so their inclusion of vegetables made those foods seem worthy of their tables (Schoonover, 20-21).The food on one’s table was indicative of social standing, but was also seen almost as a determinant as well: a peasant eating the food of the peasantry would absorb those elements within the food making it crude, while a courtier’s consumption of exquisite foods served not only as a symbol of wealth, sophistication, and power but also as that courtier’s embodiment of those qualities through the consumption of that food (see Albala, 184).

Cookery Manuals and Class

Most cookery manuals during this time would have been directed toward middling sorts and gentry, and became increasingly popular along with other self-help and how-to manuals (Cormack and Massio, 79-84). Other manuals, such as John Murrell’s A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen… all seemed to follow the theme of providing readers with the newest preparations of foods that were most fashionable at the time. Markham is interesting because he offers some of these preparations, but does so more to provide a well-rounded education in homemaking to his readers, who would need to know how to prepare such dishes for special guests or occasions (see Best, 110). He focuses more heavily on thrift, and on encouraging the use of items grown in the kitchen garden and available in the home (this may be due in part to his own social status as a gentleman, and the fact that he saw his wealth and status decline over his lifetime. For an excellent biography, see Best’s introduction).

The women who read Markham’s book would not only need to be educated enough to be literate, but would also need to be of a social standing where they were still directly involved within household tasks. Middling women, whose husbands owned estates or ran businesses, worked alongside servants to assist with the growing and preparation of food, as well as the production of household goods, such as linens (Mendelson and Crawford, 307). While women in the gentry and merchant classes also supervised workers and organized household affairs, they were much more directly involved in household labor than noblewomen, who directed the labors of large numbers of servants without direct involvement in their tasks (Mendelson and Crawford, 307-309). These women also were likely to be literate: David Cressy places the gentry along with the clergy and professionals on the “accomplished end of the literacy scale,” and his research shows at least a thirty percentage point difference between them and the next most literate group, comprised of yeomen and tradesmen (Cressy, 124). Thirsk suggests that Markham’s writing bridged the gap between gentry and laboring classes through his simple recipes and his focus on economy (Thirsk, 91-92), and while his work may have been more accessible to them, his use of spices and imported ingredients situates it solidly within a gentry/middling audience. His writing also would have been inaccessible to most members of the lower classes and even to the housewife’s servants, which clearly indicates the country housewife would have used the book in the direct supervision of servants’ work. Literacy among servants in most of the country was low, akin to husbandmen and laborers, with illiteracy rates for servants estimated at 76 percent. Only servants in London were more likely to be literate, with a surprisingly low 31 percent illiteracy rate (Cressy, 129).

I’m hoping to write more soon about the different ingredients in Markham and how these relate to class–please let me know if you have any questions or want me to explain/expand upon anything!

Sources:

Albala, Ken. Eating Right in the Renaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Cormack, Bradin and Carla Mazzio. 2005. Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Library.

Cressy, David. 1980. Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mendelson, Sara and Crawford, Patricia. 1998. Women in Early Modern England: 1550-1720. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murrell, John.  A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen… London: widow Helme. 1617.

Schoonover, David E., ed. 1998. Ladie Borlase’s Receiptes Booke. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Thirsk, Joan. 2007. Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760. London: Hambledon Continuum.

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Try and Try Again

If you remember from last week, I tried two times to make Paste of Genoa (pg 116 in Best) using apples. I suspect part of the reason for my failure lies in the fact that our produce today is different from what it used to be: I am still trying to find good sources that will explain how vegetables and fruits looked in the 17th century, but from what I’ve read in other sources it seems that apples were much smaller. Today, I am trying this paste (again) using Red Bartlett pears, which seemed to be the most firm variety available at the Co-op. Here’s a reminder of the recipe:

To make a paste of genoa, or any other paste.

To make paste of Genoa, you shall take quinces after they have been boiled soft, and beat them in a mortar with refined sugar, cinnamon, and ginger finely searced, and damask rose-water  till it come to a stiff paste; and then roll it forth and print it, and so bake it in a stove; and in this sort you may make paste of pears, apples, wardens, plums of all kinds, cherries, barberries, or what other fruit you please.

I am also implementing what I learned from the last attempts in the hopes that it will produce the paste-y texture I seek!

The Cooking Process

I boiled the pears until they were just soft enough to be mashed, hoping this would keep any excess water from them. I then strained them, put them back into the pan, and mashed them. Last time, I let the apples sit in the strainer for about 5 minutes while I used the back of a spoon to press any excess moisture from them. This time, I did that several times to make sure I get all the water out that I could. I measured out equal weights of sugar and fruit pulp and combined them, but ran into the same problem I ran into with the apple paste, where the sugar would start dissolving right away (see photo below).

Pear soup, even after adding 2 cups of sugar.

Pear soup, even after adding 2 cups of sugar.

I thought I would have to scrap this recipe, until it occurred to me that I could have just put all this fruit in the food processor from the beginning, and that would make a much finer fruit pulp than I would be able to do by hand with a plastic potato masher. I put the sugary pears into the food processor, then strained them again (bringing me down to about 1/4-1/3 cup of pear pulp). I added more sugar along with the ginger, cinnamon, and rose water, and it seemed like it *might* be turning into paste. Sugar still dissolved, but it dissolved less, and I was able to get it into the mold well enough.

The last time I did this, I tried to bake the paste very slowly, and discovered that all it did was make a sugary soup in my oven which was very unpleasant to clean. To avoid a repeat performance, I baked it in the mold (it was still a little too soft to just shape in the mold and then bake) on high to see if that would help. The answer is: no, it does not. Still got the same bubbly soup. It confirms my suspicions that the pears and apples we find commonly today are just not close enough to reproduce this recipe. You’ll notice that Historic Food’s Quince Recipe page has these decorative pastes made from quinces, so it may be that I would need to use those. The quince paste is also very thin, and I was unable to get either the pear or apple pastes to be wafer-thin in my pan. After three tries, I think it’s safe to say that fruit pastes and I are not going to meeting again anytime soon, so I’ll be moving on in the coming weeks to try other recipes. Sorry Markham.

Kitchen scale

Weighing out fruit pulp on the kitchen scale.

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Want More Markham? Other Published Resources

I have found quite a few good articles on Markham’s The English Housewife so far, and have discovered that since his own writing spanned so many disciplines, he invites study and criticism from a number of modern disciplines including history, medicine, and literary criticism. For those looking for a few extra resources, or to approach the text from different perspectives, these are a great place to start. It should be noted that most of these articles do not focus exclusively on Markham, but instead situate his work within a larger discussion along with other writings.

Knoppers, Laura Lunger. “Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of Cookery.” Renaissance Quarterly 60 (2007): 464-499. (This article talks about the portrayal of powerful women in cookery manuals that were produced after Markham’s. What struck me the most was the author’s discussion of the Cromwells as the focal point of The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth. The author notes that, while early manuals like Markham’s applauded frugality and country living, this later book marks those behaviors as a mockery (pg 487). )

Leong, Elaine. “Making Medicines in the Early Modern Household.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82, vol. 1 (2008) 145-168. (While Markham is mentioned only in the briefest of terms, the subject matter of this article reminds us of a very important part of The English Housewife that is not being explored in my project. That is the matter of healthcare, which was a major part of the housewife’s duties. Markham spends a lot of time talking about how to create and use treatments for a staggering array of ailments, many of which involve herbal compounds that are consumed or placed on the flesh. There is also a part for surgery, as the housewife may have needed to perform a procedure to help with injury or disease. )

Martin, Meredith. “Interiors and Interiority in the Ornamental Dairy Tradition.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 20, vol. 3, (2008): 357-384. (This article deals with Markham’s writing on dairies, a part of The English Housewife, in great depth. Martin uses Markham’s work as a way of discussing women in the English dairy. She also relates the attributes Markham encourages in the housewife of purity, patience, gentleness, delicacy, and charity to later conduct books’ classification of ‘good’ women. (pgs 358-359). She also reminds us of the role of servants: while Markham’s work was directed toward literate middling and upper-class women, this dairy work would have been done largely by female servants, with the housewife herself performing more of a supervisory function (pg 359). )

Wall, Wendy. “Why Does Puck Sweep?: Fairylore, Merry Wives, and Social Struggle.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, vol. 1 (2001), 67-106. (Wall provides an insightful look into gender in early modern England, and while I recommend reading the whole article, there are a couple notes from it that are particularly relevant to this project. First is her note on page 77, where she notes that the first English cookbook was addressed to elite male readers, but that subsequent books, including Markham’s, moved toward addressing women. Her footnotes also provide great references for tracking down other contemporary cookery book authors, whom I will be mentioning in the ‘about’ section).

Mylander, Jennifer. “Early Modern ‘How-To’ Books: Impractical Manuals and the Construction of Englishness in the Atlantic World.” The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, vol. 1 (2009) 123-146. (Mylander deals with Markham’s writings in great depth as she discusses how they circulated across the Atlantic to find their way into Colonial American homes. Both Markham and Nicholas Culpeper, who wrote somewhat later, promoted self-sufficiency, and both of their books were amongst those that were shipped to the Americas (and which the Mylander says were considered indispensable to colonists of all classes, on page 124). While Mylander does discuss the English Housewife, it is in the context of his larger body of work, particularly in showing how that work promoted ‘English-ness,’ but also how the agricultural practices in his other books did not fit with the new world).

While not relevant to this project, per se, Markham wrote a sizable number of other texts on horsemanship, soldiery, hunting, and agriculture; he even wrote some fiction earlier in his life. Those texts are referenced in a number of scholarly articles that may be of interest, including:

McMullin, B.J. “Early ‘Secular’ Press Figures.” The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 10, vol. 1, (2009): 57-65.  (Mentions ‘A Way to Get Wealth’ and ‘Cheap and Good Husbandry’).

Golz, David. “Diamonds, Maidens, Widow Dido, and Cock-a-diddle-dow.” Comparative Drama 43, vol. 2, (2009): 167-196. (Mentions ‘The Dumb Knight,’ a work of fiction by Markham. There are many other articles out there that talk about his fictional writing within the context of contemporary literature).

Kelly, Ann Cline. “Gulliver as Pet and Pet Owner: Conversations with Animals in Book 4.” ELH 74, vol. 2 (2007): 323-349.   Landry, Donna. “The Bloody Shouldered Arabian and Early Modern English Culture.” Criticism 46, vol. 1 (2004): 41-69.    (These talk a bit about Markham’s horsemanship manuals, of which he had many).

Benson, Sean. “‘If I do prove her haggard’: Shakespeare’s Application of Hawking Tropes to Marriage.” Studies in Philology 103, vol. 2 (2006): 186-207. (This text mentions Markham’s book, Country Contentments, especially its advice for falconers.)

Mullett, Charles F. “Gervase Markham: Scientific Amateur.” Isis 35, vol. 2 (1944) 106-118. (While this article is significantly older than the others, I like it because it gives an overview of Markham’s different writings and their subject matter).

Wall, Wendy. “Renaissance National Husbandry: Gervase Markham and the Publication of England.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 27, vol. 3 (1996) 767-785. (This article talks about Markham’s writing as a whole, and particularly focuses on his definitions of English agriculture as being unique from that of other countries. This is a very useful article, and I’m sure I’ll cite bits of it later on. Even if the scope is a bit different from that of this project, I definitely recommend it as a go-to source for Markham researchers).

I’m sure there are a ton more articles that talk about Markham, and that I didn’t mention here. Obviously there’s Michael Best’s edited version of The English Housewife, but because I have spent quite a bit of time with it already I don’t want to list it as a ‘new resource!’ If there is a citation that I failed to include, please put it in the comments! It would be great to give readers as many resources as possible for learning more about Markham.

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