For my birthday earlier this month I received a very welcome clutch of Persephone books. On top was The Country Housewife's Book by Lucy H Yates.
I'm sure that Persephone have reproduced part of the Introductory Note on the jacket with a significant part of tongue jammed in cheek, suggesting perhaps that this book is first and foremost a curiosity and of social historical interest, but it made perfect sense to me. I quote:
"...so often it is the unexpected that happens. There may... occur a glut of Milk, and it must be used to some good purpose or have to go down the drain; or a crop of fruit or vegetable may reach the stage when it must be gathered or it will utterly spoil, yet the materials for preserving are not ready; or some well-meaning friend drops a bag of game or half a dozen rabbits at the door; and everything else must be put aside."
It might be odd to some, but this is a reasonable précis of chunks of my life. Look at that array of preserves, a small sample of a range of stuff all of which were produced in a fingers crossed there's enough sugar/vinegar/jars or bottles mood. Unlike Lucy Yates, I always have to peel off the old labels and scoop the spiders out of my jars before I get rolling, and have in the past begged a handful of carrots destined to feed water voles from a neighbour to finish the chutney. And the freezer is fair jammed with rabbit casserole and dressed pheasants awaiting a future pot roasting thanks to my very own well-meaning friends.
What did crack me up was not the expectation that a country housewife would grow and minister to her own veg and fruit plots, spend her evenings hanging jelly bags filled with soft fruits from chair legs, or making Mangel Wurzel wine (yuk - alcoholic swede beverage anyone?) but would bizarrely cater for Tennis Parties (oh yes, definitely upper case), and offer a Scheherazade special, otherwise known as Strawberry Sherbet.
No doubt the CH would knit the tennis net out of runner bean climbers, and shove the pigs out of their patch to create a court with one hand, whilst simultaneously scattering Arsenate of Lead in all the outhouses to kill off any wood lice with the other. Perhaps one's cheek is, after all, the best place for a CH's tongue.