Ill words may provoke blows from a cook

These snippets come from a late seventeenth century household manual, and offer sagacious advice on acceptable behaviour of servants in Great Houses.

First, For the Kitchin, because without that we shall look lean, and grow faint quickly.

The Cook, whether Man or Woman, ought to be very well skilled in all manner of things both Fish and Flesh, also good at Pastry business, seasoning of all things, and knowing all kinds of Sauces, and pickling all manner of Pickles, in making all manner of Meat Jellies; also very frugal of their Lord’s or of their Master’s, Ladies or Mistresses Purse, very saving, cleanly and careful, obliging to all persons, kind to those under them, and willing to inform them. Quiet in their Office, not swearing nor cursing, nor wrangling, but silently and ingeniously to do their Business, and neat and quick about it; they ought also to have a very good Fancy, such a one, whether Man or Woman, deserves the title of a fit Cook.

For the Maid under such a Cook.

She ought to be of a quick and nimble Apprehension, neat and cleanly in her own habit, and then we need not doubt of it in her Office; not to dress her self, especially her Head, in the Kitchin, for that is abominable sluttish, but in her Chamber, before she comes down, and that to be at a fit hour, that the fire may be made, and all things prepared for the Cook, against he or she comes in. She must not have a sharp Tongue, but humble; pleasing, and willing to learn, for ill words may provoke Blows from a Cook, their heads being always filled with the contrivance of their business, which may cause them to be peevish if provoked to it. This Maid ought also to have a good Memory, and not to forget from one day to another what should be done, nor to leave any manner of thing foul at night, neither in the Kitchin, nor Larders, to keep her Iron things and others clean scowred, and the Floors clean as well as places above them, not to sit up junketting and giggling with Fellows, when she should be in bed. Such a one is a Consumer of her Masters Goods, and no better than a Thief; and besides, such Behaviour savoureth much of Levity.  But such a one that will take the Counsel I have seriously given, will not only make her Superiors happy in a good Servant, but she will make her self happy also; for by her Industry she may come one day to be Mistress over others.

Now to the Butler.

He ought to be Gentle and Neat in his Habit, and in his Behaviour, courteous to all people, yet very saving of his Masters Goods, and to order himself in his Office as a faithful Steward, charge and do all things for the honour of his Master or Lady, not suffering their Wine or Strong Drink to be devoured by ill Companions, nor Pieces of good bread to lie to mould and spoil. He must keep his Vessels close stopped, and his Bottles sweet, his Cellars clean washed, and his Buttery clean, and his Bread-Bins wholsome and sweet, his Knives whetted, his Glasses clean washed that there be no dimness upon them when they come to be used, all his Plate clean and bright, his Table, Basket and Linnen very neat. He must be sure to have all things of Sauce ready which is for him to bring forth, that it may not be to be fetched when it is called for, as Oil, Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Mustard, Oranges and Limons, and also some Pepper. He must also be very neat and handy in laying the Cloths for the Chief Table, and also the Side boards, in laying his Napkins in several Fashions, and pleating them, to set his Glasse, Plate, and Trencher-Plates in order upon the Side-Boards, his Water-Glasses, Oranges or Limons. That he be careful to set the Salts on the Table, and to lay a Knife, Spoon and Fork at every-Plate, that his Bread be chipped before he brings it in; that he set drink to warm in due time if the season require. That he observe a fit time to set Chairs or Stools, that he have his Cistern ready to set his Drink in, that none be spilt about the Room, to wash the Glasses when any one hath drunk, and to wait diligently on them at the Table, not filling the Glasses too full; such an one may call himself a Butler.

To the Carver.

If any Gentleman who attends the Table, be employed or commanded to cut up any Fowl or Pig, or any thing else whatsoever, it is requisite that he have a clean Napkin upon his Arm, and a Knife and Fork for his use. That he take that Dish he should carve from the Table till he hath made it ready for his Superiours to eat, and neatly and handsomly to carve it, not touching of it so near as he can with his Fingers, but if he chance unawares to do so, not to lick his Fingers, but wipe them upon a Cloth, or his Napkin, which he hath for that purpose; for otherwise it is unhandsome and unmannerly; the neatest Carvers never touch any Meat but with the Knife & Fork. He must be very nimble lest the Meat cool too much, and when he hath done, return it to the Table again, putting away his Carving Napkin, and take a clean one to wait withal; he must be very Gentle and Gallant in his Habit lest he be deemed unfit to attend such Persons.

To all other Men-Servants or Maid-Servants who commonly attend such Tables.

They must all be neat and cleanly in their Habit, and keep their Heads clean combed, alwaies ready at the least Call, and very attentive to hear any one at the Table, to set Chairs or Stools, and not to give any a foul Napkin, but see that every one whom their Lord or Master is pleased to admit to their Table have every thing which is fit for them, and that they change their Plates when need shall be. They must wait diligently, and at a distance from the Table, not daring to lean on the Chaires for soiling them, or shewing Rudeness; for to lean on a Chair when they wait is a particular Favour shewn to any superiour Servant, as the Chief Gentleman, or the Waiting Woman when she rises from the Table. They must not hold the Plates before their mouths to be defiled with their Breath nor touch them on the right side. When any Dish is taken off the Table, they must not set it down for Dogs to eat, nor eat it themselves by the way, but haste into the Kitchin with it to the Cook, that he may see what is to be set away, and what to be kept hot for Servants. When all is taken away, and Thanks given, they must help the Butler out with those things which belong to him, that he may not lose his Dinner.  They must be careful also to lay the Cloth for themselves, and see that nothing be wanting at the Table, and to call the rest of the Servants to Meals, whose Office was not to wait at the Table, then to sit down in a handsome manner, and to be courteous to every stranger, especially the Servants of those Persons whom their Lord or Master hath a kindness for.  If any poor Body comes to ask an Alms, do not shut the door against them rudely, but be modest and Civil to them, and see if you can procure somewhat for them, and think with your selves, that though you are now full fed, and well cloathed, and free from care, yet you know not what may be your condition another day.

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One comment

  • December 5, 2010 - 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Not bad advice from a late seventeenth century manual! But where is the quid pro quo for the workers? The discussion about living salaries, on the job training, time off, decent bedroom facilities etc.

    At least they got the recycling part down pat: “When any Dish is taken off the Table, they must not set it down for Dogs to eat, nor eat it themselves by the way, but haste into the Kitchin with it to the Cook, that he may see what is to be set away, and what to be kept hot for Servants.” We waste so much perfectly good food, these days.

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