My beloved bought me a book that has been on my Amazon wish list for ages. Living on A Little by Caroline French Benton.
I have looked but can not find when this book was published. It was, I am thinking early 1900s. Possibly 1890s. The lady had a telephone and refrigerator in town, they did not refer to it as an ice box but a refrigerator. Also the house in town was lit by gas jets.
I like this kind of book because I love learning how people lived in times past. This book deals mostly with the table and how to economize there.
The basis of the story is this. Dolly is to be married in one year. So she goes to her sister while her parents travel Europe and her fiancee is working in South America, to learn how to live on a small salary of $1800 a year. The feeling is that the parents have raised the girls in luxury and now she must learn how to do with out that.
Her older sister, Mary, has been keeping house for six years. She has some very inventive ideas too. One thing confused me in the reading and I am not sure if it is a typo or if there are two appliances the sister has to make her work easier. One is a “fireless” box. A box lined with asbestos in which she makes puddings, and things. Later it is also mentioned a “tireless” box. Which from the reading seems to be the fireless one but the typist who put it on line seemed to have changed its name.
The grocery amount per week floored me. Mary budgets $7 a week. This covered the cost of food for herself, her husband and her sister, or maid if she has one. Plus out of this she saves for any entertaining she plans to do. In this book that included; a surprise visit of two gentlemen her husband brought home, a drop in set of guests for luncheon, 2 dinner parties and 3 luncheons that she planned. When she has a dinner party she also pays from this the 75C cost of a serving girl. Who stays and does dishes after the dinner too. At the luncheons her sister is her “maid”. She hires out her heavy laundry, does her dainties herself and hires a laundress who comes in once a week to do the heavy floor scrubbing too. The amounts of her parties were so neat to read. Imagine serving 4 people on $1.35! Or paying some one $1.50 a week to do all your heavy laundry and scrub your floors!
The meal amounts taught me just how much we over eat now days. Then sugar was something to be saved and cakes and cookies were a rarity. Eggs were .04c a piece, cream .15c a pint, and both considered too extravagant to be used in desserts very often. Yet they had dessert every night! She used only 1 dozen eggs per week! Now to be fair I use about that too, but if I make a big breakfast everyday, I would use twice that! With two eggs each. Mary only fixes one egg each. I think in gerneal today people would think of the food amounts used in this book as starvation rations and yet they worked harder than we do and thrived.
Some of the meats she uses I just can’t imagine. Such as boiling a calves head for meats. Using the brains, I don’t like the idea of tongue and can not stomach liver. All of which were common in Mary’s kitchen. At least when we was saving for a party. She believed in economizing before she spent extra instead of making it up afterwards. I believe in this too.
I do find that I agree with Mary in that you need not spend a lot to have a pleasant home. Cheap pretty dishes, treated as if they were expensive china will do just as well as Haviland on a carefully set supper table.
One thing I think today’s young woman lacks is the hope chest. In Mary’s time a hope chest was begun by the girl as she learned to sew and she made things for her future home. A passing comment is also made on the trousseau. Both the hope chest and trousseau held the clothing and linen a girl would need for at least 1 year.
Though Mary suggests buying inexpensive linens for daily use as the purse permits. I agree with this. I prefer table linen to paper and I prefer to use a table cloth and place mats (Mary uses doilies to protect her table linen). My dishes may not be expensive ones, but they are pretty and I enjoy them. I am blessed with an abundance though, having inherited several sets from family and being given one set by a friend. My everyday set is a patterned Corelle, because it can handle the microwave and most of my inherited ones can not. (3 sets are from the 40’s or earlier). For special occasions I select my table from my more fancy, or as my dil says “ooo pretty dishes”.
My goal as a keeper of the home, is to provide a comfortable, safe place for my loved ones. While the methods and general feel of this book is old, out of date and perhaps not considered these days I find the basis is one we should aspire to.
You don’t need to spend beyond your means to keep what you have nice, serviceable if not pretty. Home isn’t made up of expensive things as much as it is the attitude of the one preparing the meals, doing the laundry and the scrubbing. If one does these things cheerfully, there will be rest and happiness at home. If one does these things grouchily with a complaining or as the Bible calls it a downcast countenance the home will not be restful or happy.
I understand we need money to live. Thriving is a whole different thing though. Money can not make one thrive.
I do recommend this book. If for nothing else it’s historical value.
However you do not need to buy it unless you want to. It is here on Amazon for $2.99.
It is also here on Project Gutenberg for free.
I hope you enjoy it!