I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The First Domestic Diva: Isabella Beeton

In addition to the Bible, one of the books of particular importance to our Victorian ancestors (or, to us writers, to our Victorian heroines) was a guide to running a middle-class household known as Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
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Other household guides existed at this time, and many followed, but Mrs. Beeton’s is arguably the best known. Begun in 1859 as a series of English magazine articles, Household Management was published complete at over 1,000 pages in 1861 and became an instant bestseller in the UK and beyond. Women found guidance in its pages, on topics as varied as fashion, poisons, servant management, childcare, animal husbandry, and cooking (with a little bit of heavier topics and conversational observation thrown in, giving the modern reader a keener perspective of the Victorian view).

And boy, does it make interesting reading. Need help with legal memoranda questions? Searching for a recipe for anything from supper to furniture polish? Unsure what the valet does? Curious what vegetables are in season in August? Mrs. Beeton has answers.

One might think “Mrs. Beeton” was actually an army of mob-capped matrons with decades of household management experience betwixt them. However, Isabella Beeton was a housewife and mother who began writing the articles at the tender age of 22.

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Isabella Beeton, 1860-65, Public Domain

Born in Cheapside, London to a dry-goods trader in 1836, Isabella Mayson was the eldest in a blended family of twenty-one children. No doubt, she gained experience caring for her siblings and helping out around the house. She received a lady’s education in Germany, and upon returning home, was reintroduced to a childhood neighbor, publisher Samuel Beeton. They were married in 1856 and settled in Epsom.

Their firstborn son died in 1857, and about the time another son followed in 1859, Isabella began translating French novels for serialization and writing domestic articles for her husband's magazines. The second son died the year Household Management was published. Within a few years, two more sons were born (thankfully, they lived to adulthood), but Isabella contracted puerperal fever after her fourth child’s birth, and she died at age 28—a sad postscript.

The book she left, however, is a true gem which gives the reader a peek into middle-class Victorian life.
What to do when an infant convulsed? (A hot bath.) What do you do with a mouse-round of beef? (Boil or stew it.) What to do in case of Prussic Acid poisoning? (A pump to the back, smelling-salts, and artificial breathing—I guess mouth-to-mouth has been around longer than I thought.)

Isabella Beeton caught some flack for plagiarism, however. She liberally and without embarrassment took recipes and passages from two previously published books by Eliza Acton and Alexis Soyer without giving them credit--although she tends to state when a recipe is actually hers. Also, she has a tendency to contradict herself, a symptom of borrowing from multiple sources without checking for consistency. Her notes on tomatoes are a prime example: in one place, she calls them a "wholesome fruit," and in another, she describes the juice as emitting "a vapour so powerful as to cause vertigo and vomiting."

My abridged version removes these sorts of inconsistencies and the amusement one gains from them. Alas.

Why was this book so popular, especially considering it lifted a good portion of the contents from other sources? At the time, the middle class in England was growing rapidly. Industrialization and urbanization created new jobs, new lifestyles (husbands no longer coming home for a main midday meal, for example), and the opportunity to hire servants.

Mrs. Beeton addresses the needs of the housewife in this changing era. Her recipes state how many persons are served, the approximate cost, and the seasonal period in which something is fresh (Boiled Bread Pudding is a thrifty choice, costing only a shilling and always being in season).

Many of the recipes and tidbits are too extravagant for her audience, such as Turtle Soup or Truffles in Champagne Sauce. (Perhaps even Maize, what we call Corn on the Cob, which she says is delicious but difficult to get.) Likewise, most of her readers would never hire a butler, much less variegated levels of nursery staff.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Beeton's influence is still felt. Versions of the book are still in print, and it was used by food economists on the Downton Abbey crew. For a  hundred years, this book was a money-maker for its publisher, and many consider it the most famous English cookbook ever published.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Resurrection Cookies

Are you looking for a family-activity to help your kids understand the true meaning of Easter? Try these no-flour meringue cookies: they’re simple enough to prepare with young ones, tasty, and have the makings of a meaningful tradition.

Set aside some time the night before Easter, and make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. You’ll need:

1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
a pinch salt
1 cup sugar
a zipper baggie
1 wooden spoon
scotch tape

Preheat oven to 300F. Line cookie sheet with wax paper.

Place pecans in baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by Roman soldiers. (Set aside the baggie.)
Read: John 19:1-3

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 teaspoon vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross He was given vinegar to drink.
Read: John 19:28-30

Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.
Read: John 10:10-11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers, and the bitterness of our own sin.
Read: Luke 23:27

Add 1 cup sugar to the bowl. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him.
Read: Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.
Read: Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3

Fold in beaten pecans. Drop cookie batter by teaspoon onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid.
Read: Matthew 27:57-60

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus tomb was sealed.
Read: Matthew 27:65-66

Leave the cookies alone and go to bed. Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.
Read: John 16:20,22

On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.

I pray you and your families enjoy a blessed Easter, rich in the fullness of His glory, power, and life!