1888: How to Cook Husbands
A while ago I came across a newspaper clipping—a recipe written by a Baltimore lady—that had long lain dormant in my desk. It ran as follows:
“A great many husbands are spoiled by mismanagement. Some women go about it as if their husbands were bladders, and blow them up; others keep them constantly in hot water; others let them freeze, by their carelessness and indifference. Some keep them in a stew, by irritating ways and words; others roast them; some keep them in pickle all their lives. Now it is not to be supposed that any husband will be good, managed in this way—turnips wouldn’t; onions wouldn’t; cabbage-heads wouldn’t, and husbands won’t; but they are really delicious when properly treated.
“In selecting your husband you should not be guided by the silvery appearance, as in buying mackerel, or by the golden tint, as if you wanted salmon. Be sure to select him yourself, as taste differs. And by the way, don’t go to market for him, as the best are always brought to your door.
“It is far better to have none, unless you patiently learn to cook him. A preserving kettle of the finest porcelain is the best, but if you have nothing but an earthenware pipkin, it will do, with care.
“See that the linen, in which you wrap him, is nicely washed and mended, with the required amount of buttons and strings, nicely sewed on. Tie him in the kettle with a strong cord called Comfort, as the one called Duty is apt to be weak. They sometimes fly out of the kettle, and become burned and crusty on the edges, since, like crabs and oysters, you have to cook them alive.
“Make a clear, strong, steady fire out of Love, Neatness, and Cheerfulness. Set him as near this as seems to agree with him. If he sputters and fizzles, don’t be anxious; some husbands do this till they are quite done. Add a little sugar, in the form of what confectioners call Kisses, but no vinegar or pepper on any account. A little spice improves them, but it must be used with judgment.
“Don’t stick any sharp instrument into him, to see if he is becoming tender. Stir him gently; watching the while lest he should lie too close to the kettle, and so become inert and useless.
“You cannot fail to know when he is done. If thus treated, you will find him very digestible, agreeing nicely with you and the children.”
“So they are better cooked,” I said to myself, “that is why we hear of such numbers of cases of marital indigestion—the husbands are served raw—fresh—unprepared.”
“They are really delicious when properly treated,”—I wonder if that is so.
But I must pause here to tell you a bit about myself. I am not an old maid, but, at the time this occurs, I am unmarried, and I am thirty-four years old—not quite beyond the pale of hope. Men and women never do pass beyond that—not those of sanguine temperament at any rate. I am neither rich nor poor, but repose in a comfortable stratum betwixt and between. I keep house, or rather it keeps me, and a respectable woman who, with her husband, manages my domestic affairs, lends the odor of sanctity and propriety to my single existence. I am of medium height, between blond and brunette, and am said to have a modicum of both brains and good looks.
The recipe I read set me a-thinking. I was in my library, before a big log fire. The room was comfortable; glowing with rich, warm firelight at that moment, but it was lonesome, and I was lonely.
Supposing, I said to myself, I really had a husband; how should I cook him?
The words of an old lady came into my mind. She had listened to this particular recipe, and after a moment’s silence had leaned over, and whispered in my ear:
“First catch your fish.”
But supposing he were now caught, and seated in that rocker across from me, before this blazing fire.
I walked to the window—to one side of me lives a little thrush, at least she is trim and comely, and always dresses in brown. Just now she is without her door, stooping over her baby, who is sitting like a tiny queen in her chariot, just returned from an airing.
It isn’t the question of husband alone—he might be managed—roasted, stewed, or parboiled, but it’s the whole family—a household. Take the children, for instance; if they could be set up on shelves in glass cases, as fast as they came, all might be well, but they will run around, and Heaven only knows what they will run into. Why, had I children, I should plug both ears with cotton, for fear I should hear the door-bell. I know it would ring constantly, and such messages as these would be hurled in:
“Several of them have been arrested for blowing up the neighbors with dynamite firecrackers.”
“Half a dozen of them have tumbled from off the roof of the house. They escaped injury, but have thrown a nervous lady, over the way, into spasms.”
“One or two of them have just been dragged from beneath the electric cars. They seem to be as well as ever, but three of the passengers died of fright.”
Just think of that! What should I do?
Keep an extra maid to answer the bell, I suppose, and two or three thousand dollars by me continually, to pay damages.
What a time poor Job had of it answering his door bell, and how very unpleasant it must have been to receive so many pieces of news of that sort, in one morning!
Clearly I am better off in my childless condition, and yet——
Little Mrs. Thrush is just kissing her soft, round-faced cherub. I wish she would do that out of sight.
Now as to husbands again, if I had one, what should I do with him?
I might say, Sit down.
Supposing he wouldn’t. What then?
Cudgels are out of date. Were he an alderman, I might take a Woman’s Club to him, but a husband has been known to laugh this instrument to scorn.
But supposing he sat down. What then? He might be a gentleman of irascible, nasty temper, and in walking about my room, I might step on his feet. These irritable folk have such large feet, at least they are always in the way, and always being stepped on no matter how careful one tries to be.
I decline to contemplate the scene.
Plainly I am better off single.
I walk to my front window, and stretch my arms above my head. There is a light fall of snow upon the ground. This late snow is trying: in its season, it is beautiful; but out of season, it breeds a cheerlessness that emphasises one’s loneliness. I look out through the leafless trees toward the lake, but it is hidden by the whirling, eddying snowflakes. I see Mr. Thrush hurrying home to his little nest.
“Yes,” I say to myself, repeating my last thought with a certain obstinacy,“yes, I am better off without a husband, and yet I wish I had one—one would answer, on a pinch—one at a time, at least. A husband is like a world in that respect; one at a time, is the proper proportion.”
“It’s far better to have none, unless you learn to cook him.” These words recurred to me, just as I was on the point of taking a life partner, in a figurative sense.
The woman that deliberates is lost; consequently, as it won’t do to think the matter over, I plunge in.
My spouse is now pacing up and down the room in a rampant manner, complaining of his dinner, the world in general, and me in particular.
What am I to do?
Charles Reade has written a recipe that applies very well just here. It is briefly expressed:
“Put yourself in his place.”
I could not have done this a few years ago, but now I can. Never, until I undertook the management of my business affairs—never until I had some knowledge of business cares and anxieties, the weight of notes falling due; the charge of business honor to keep; the excited hope of fortunate prospects; and the depression following hard upon failure and disappointment—never until I learned all this, did I realize what home should mean to a man, and how far wide of the mark many women shoot, when they aim to establish a restful retreat for their husbands.
I have returned to my domicile, after a fatiguing day up town, with a feeling of exhaustion that lies far deeper than the mere physical structure—a spent feeling as if I have given my all, and must be replenished before I can make another move. I once had a housekeeper whose very face I dreaded at such times. She always took advantage of my silence and my limp condition, to relate the day’s disasters. She had no knowledge of what a good dinner meant, and no tact in falling in with my tastes or needs. On the contrary; if there was a dish I disliked, it was sure to appear on those most weary evenings. In brief, from the very moment I reached home, she did nothing but brush my fur up, instead of down, and I did nothing but spit at her.
Now, many women are like this housekeeper. I wonder their husbands don’t slay them. If you would look out in my back yard, I fear you would see the bones of several of these tactless, exasperating housekeepers, bleaching in the wind and rain.
I marvel that other back yards are not filled with the bones of stupid, tactless, irritating wives. The fact that no such horror has as yet been unearthed, bears eloquent testimony to the noble self-control and patience of many of the sterner sex.
“Oh, that sounds well,” said my neighbor, over the way, “but then you forget we women have our trials too.”
“Is it going to diminish those trials to make a raging lion out of your husband?”
“No, but he ought to understand that we are tired, and that our work is hard.”
“Certainly,” I said, “by all means; and by the time he thoroughly understands, you generally have occasion to be still more tired.”
“Well, what would you do?”
“I’ll tell you what I’d do; follow the advice of a sensible little friend of mine, who has four children all of an age, and has incompetent service to rely on, when she has any at all.”
“And what is that, pray?”
“She says that come rain, hail, or fiery vapor, she takes a nap every day.”
“I don’t know how she manages it; I can’t, and I have one less child than she, and a fairly good maid.”
“Her children are trained, as children should be; the three younger ones take long naps after luncheon, and while they are sleeping, she gives the oldest child some picture book to look at, and simple stories to read, and she herself goes to sleep in the same room with him. The little fellow keeps as still as a mouse.”
“I think that is a cruel shame.”
“So do I. It would be far kinder if she let him have his liberty, and stayed up to take care of him, and then became so tired out that, by the time her husband came home she would be unable to keep her mouth (closed for it is only a well rested woman who can maintain a cheerful silence), and avoid a family quarrel.”
“No, I think it’s better not to quarrel, but I can’t take a nap, and often I’m so tired when Fred comes home, that, if he happens to be tired too, it’s just like putting fire to gunpowder.”
I knew that, for I had heard the explosions from across the street. You know in our climate, in the summer, people practically live in the street, with every window and door open; your neighbor has full possession of all remarks above E. And most of Mr. and Mrs. Purblind’s notes on the tired nights, are above E.
I have no patience with that woman, anyhow. She hasn’t the first idea of comfort and good cheer. Her rooms are always in disorder, and there is no suggestion of harmony in the furniture (on the contrary every article seems, as the French say, to be swearing at every other article); all her lights are high—why, I’ve run in there of an evening and found that man wandering around like an uneasy ghost, trying to find some easy spot in which he could sit down, and read his paper comfortably.
He didn’t know what was the matter—the poor wretches don’t, but he was like a cat on an unswept hearth.
In contrast to this woman’s stupidity, I have the natural loveliness of the little brown thrush, on my one side, and the hoary-headed wisdom of Mrs. Owl, on my other side.
Look at the latter a moment. Not worth looking at, you say; angular, without beauty of form or feature. Nothing but the humorous curve to her lips, and the twinkle in her eye, to attract one; nothing, unless it were a general air of neatness, intelligence, and good humor.
But I assure you that woman’s worth living with if she is not worth looking at!
Now her spouse is one of those lowering fellows, the kind that seems to be at outs with mankind. Just the material to become sulky in any but the most skillful hands, the sort to degenerate into a positive brute, in such blundering hands as Mrs. Purblind’s over the way.
I had a chance to watch this man one evening last summer. Having no domestic affairs of my own, as a matter of course I feel myself entitled to share my neighbors’. And this particular evening I was lonely. It was a nasty night, the fog blown in from the lake slapped one rudely in the face every time one looked out, and the air was as raw as a new wound—it went clear to the bone.
Now on such a night as this I have known Mrs. Purblind to serve her lord cold veal and lettuce, simple because it was July, and a suitable time for heat. And I assure you that sufficient heat was generated before this cold supper was consumed. But to return to Mrs. Owl, on that particular night. I saw her watching at door and window, for her partner was late. I peeped into the parlor, and it was as cosy and inviting as a glowing fire, a shaded lamp, and a comfortable sofa wheeled near the table, could make it.
By and by, he came glowering along. What will she say, I asked myself. Will it be:
“Oh, how late you are! What’s the matter? What kept you? Well, come in, you must be cold. Lie down on the sofa while I get supper, but don’t put your feet up till I get a paper for them to rest on.”
All this would have answered well enough with a decent sort of a man, but this homo required peculiar treatment.
It was what she didn’t say that was most remarkable.
After a cheerful “How-de-do” she didn’t speak a word for some time, but walked into the house humming a lively air, and busied herself with his supper. She didn’t set this in the dining room, but right before that open fire. Without any fuss or commotion she broiled a piece of steak over those glowing coals, while over her big lamp she made a cup of coffee, and in her chafing dish prepared some creamed potatoes. She had bread and butter ready, and some little dessert, and so with a wave of a fairy wand, as it seemed, there was the cosiest, most tempting little supper you ever saw on the table at his side.
Meanwhile he had found the sofa, the fire, and the lamp, and was reading his paper. He threw the latter down when supper was announced, and she joined him at the table; poured his coffee, ate a bit now and then for company, and talked—why, how that woman did talk! I couldn’t hear a word that she said, but I knew by the expression of her face it was humorous; and laugh, how she laughed! and erelong he joined in—why, once he leaned back, and actually ha-haed.
When supper was over, she left him to his paper again, while she cleared everything away. Later on she joined him, and the next I knew they were playing chess, and still later, talking and reading aloud.
This is but a sample of her life with him—in everything she consults his mood, his comfort, his tastes. She never jars him—never rubs him the wrong way, and meanwhile she has all she wants, for she can do anything with him, and he thinks the sun rises and sets with her.
It is a good cook that makes an appetizing dish out of poor material, and when a woman makes a delicious husband out of little or nothing she may rank as a chef.