How to dismember a hen

These fragments come from a 17th century handbook on housekeeping. Offering advice on everything from blisters, to multiplication, this book was intended as a guide to diligent housemaids everywhere. What follows are its instructions on how to be the perfect maid, and some of the more curious bits of advice on general household management.

Directions for such as desire to be Waiting Gentlewomen:

Be careful that you say prayers morning and evening, that you read good books, and hear Sermons as often as conveniently you can.  That you endeavour carefully to please your Lady, Master or Mistress, be faithful, diligent and suhmissive to them, encline not to sloth or laze in bed, but rise early in a morning. Be humble and modest in your behaviour. Be neat, cleanly, and houswifely, in your clothes, and lay up what money can handsomely be spared.  Be careful of what is given you, or what you have in your charge, that by so doing you may oblige them to be loving and kind to you, and cause them to speak well of you. Do not keep familiarity with any but those with whom you may improve your time. If you are entrusted with any secrets be careful that you reveal them not. Be careful that you waste not, or spoil your Ladies, or Mistresses goods, neither sit you up junketing a nights, after your Master and Mistress be abed.

If You desire to be a Waiting Gentlewoman to a person of honour or quality, you must:

    Learn to dress well.
    Preserve well.
    Write well a legible hand, good language and good English.
    Have some skill in Arithmetick.
    Carve well.

Directions for such who intend to be House-keepers to Persons of Honour or Quality:

Those persons who would qualifie themselves for this employment, must in their behaviour carry themselves grave, solid and serious; which will inculcate into the beliefs of the persons whom they are to serve, that they will be able to govern a Family well. They must endeavour to gain a competent knowledge in Preserving, Conserving, and Candying, making of Cakes, and all manner of Spoon meats, Jellies and the like. Also in distilling all manner of Waters. They must likewise endeavour to be careful in looking after the rest of the Servants, that every one perform their duty in their several places, that they keep good hours in their up-rising and lying down, and that no Goods be either spoiled or embezelled. They must be careful also, that all Strangers be nobly and civilly used in their Chambers, and that your Master or Lady be not dishonoured through neglect or miscarriage of Servants. They must likewise endeavour to have a competent knowledge in Physick and Chyrurgery, that they may be able to help their Mamed, sick and indigent Neighbours; for commonly, all good and charitable Ladies make this a part of their House-keeper’s business.

How to Lift a Swan:

Slit her right down in the middle of the Breast, and so clean throughout the back, from the Neck to the Rump, and so divide her equally in the middle, without tearing the flesh from either part. Having layed it in the dish with the slit side downwards, let your sawce be Chaldron apart in saucers.

To cure Corns:

Take Beans, and chew them in your mouth, and then tie them fast to your Corns; and it will help. Do this at night.

To wash Silk Stockings:

Make a strong Ladder with soap, and pretty hot, then lay your stockings on a Table, and take a piece of such cloth as the Seamen use for their sails, double it up and rub them soundly with it, turn them first on one side and then on the other, till they have passed through three ladders, then rince them well, and hang them to dry with the wrong side outwards, and when they are near dry, pluck them out with your hands, and smooth them with an iron on the wrong side,

How to sit to write:

Chose a foreright light, or one that comes on the left hand, hold your head up the distance of a span from the paper, when you are writing hold not your head one way nor other, but look right forward: Draw in your right elbow, turn your hand outward and bear it lightly, grip not the pen too hard, with your left hand stay the paper.

How to dismember a Hen:

To do this you must take off both the legs and lace it down the breast, then raise up the flesh and take it clean off with the pinnion, then stick the head in the brest, set the pinnion on the contrary side of the Carkass, and the legs on the other side, so that the bones ends may meet cross over the Carkass, and the other wing cross over upon the top of the Carkass.

To make an excellent Plague-water:

Take a pound of Rue; Rosemary, Sage, Sorel, Celandine, Mugwort, of the tops of red Brambles, Pimpernel, Wild Dragons, Agrimony, Balm, Angelica of each a pound: Put these together in a pot; then fill it with White Wine above the Herbs, so let it stand four days; then distil it in an Alembick for your use.

For the Worms in Children:

Take Wormseed and boyl it in beer or ale, and sweeten it with a little clarified jelly, and then let them drink it.

To make a Beef Pasty like Red Deer:

Take fresh Beef of the finest without sinews or suet, and mince it as small as you can, and season it with salt and pepper, and put in two spoonfuls of Malmsie, then take Lard and cut it into small pieces, and lay a layer of Lard and a layer of Beef, and lay a shin of Beef upon it like Venison, and so close it up.

How to keep the Hair Clean, and Preserve it:

Take two handfuls of Rosemary, and boyl it softly in a quart of Spring water, till it comes to a pint, and let it be covered all the while, then strain it out and keep it, every morning when you comb your head, dip a spunge in the water and rub up your hair, and it will keep it clean and preserve it, for it is very good for the brain, and will dry up Rheum.


  • August 3, 2010 - 1:22 am | Permalink

    Junketing does sound intruiging!!

  • August 2, 2010 - 10:03 pm | Permalink

    ‘very good for the brain and will dry up Rheum’ – can you please send me some of this? So I can ‘rub up’ my hair?

  • August 2, 2010 - 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I found it by chance. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Anonymous
    August 2, 2010 - 12:33 pm | Permalink

    What a great snippit! Thanks for sharing.

    Holly (@history_geek)

  • August 2, 2010 - 11:40 am | Permalink

    The book’s called The Compleat House Maid. I don’t know what sitting up junketing at night is, but I’d love to give it a whirl.

  • Hamish
    August 2, 2010 - 11:37 am | Permalink

    Fascinating. What is the book called? I love the wishful thinking in the line “and then let them drink it.”

  • Comments are closed.

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