Posted on

Advice to the Cook

The Cook must be quick and strong of sight: her hearing most acute, that she may be sensible to

when the contents of her vessels bubble, although they be closely covered, and that she may be

alarmed before the pot boils over; her auditory nerve ought to discriminate (when several

saucepans are in operation at the same time) the simmering of one, the ebullition of another, and

the full-toned warbling of a third.

It is imperiously requisite that her organ of smell be highly susceptible of the various

effluvia, that her nose may distinguish the perfection of aromatic ingredients, and that, in

animal substances it shall evince a suspicious accuracy between tenderness and putrefication:

above all, her olfactories should be tremblingly alive to mustiness and empyreuma.

It is from the exquisite sensibility of her palate, that we admire and judge the cook; from the

alliance between the olfactory and sapid organs it will be seen, that their perfections is


Good manners have often made the fortune of many, who have had nothing else to recommend them:

ill manners have as often marred the hopes of those who have had everything else to advance them.

Dinner tables are seldom sufficiently lighted, or attended; and active waiter will have enough to

do, to attend upon half a dozen good eaters: there should be half as many candles as there are

guests, and their flame be about eighteen inches above the table, our foolish modern candelabras

seem intended to illuminate the ceiling, rather than to give light on the plates, &c.

I am persuaded that no servant ever saved his master sixpence, but he found it in the end in his

own pocket.

A surgeon may well attempt to make an incision with a pair of sheers, or open a vein with an

oyster knife, as a cook pretend to dress a dinner without proper tools.

When the pot is coming to boil, there will always , form the cleanest meat and clearest water,

rise a scum to the top of it; proceeding partly from the foulness of the meat, and partly from

the water, this must be carefully taken off as soon as it rises; on this, depends the good

appearance of all boiled things. When you have scummed it well, put in some cold water, which

will throw up the rest of the scum. The oftener it is scummed, and the cleaner the top of the

water is kept, the cleaner will be the meat. If let alone, it soon boils down and sticks to the

meat; which, instead of looking delicately white and nice, will have that coarse and filthy

appearance we have too often to complain of, and the butcher and poulterer be blamed for the

carelessness of the cook in not scumming her pot.

In small families, we recommend block tin saucepans, &c as lightest, and safest; if proper care

is taken of them, and they are well dried after they are cleaned, they are by far the cheapest;

the purchase of a new tin saucepan being little more than the expense of tinning a copper one.

Let the young cook never forget, that cleanliness is the chief cardinal virtue of the kitchen;

the first preparation for roasting is to take care that the spit be properly cleaned with sand

and water, nothing else. When it has been well scoured with this, dry it with a clean cloth. If

spits are wiped clean, as soon as the meat is drawn from them, and while they are hot, a very

little cleaning will be required. The less the spit is passed through the meat the better, and

before you spit it, joint it properly, especially necks and loins, that the carver may separate

them easily and neatly., and take especial care it be evenly balanced on the spit, that its

motion may be regular, and the fire operate equally on each part of it.

A cook must be as particular to proportion her fire to the business she has to do, as a chemist;

the degree of heat most desirable for dressing the different sorts of food ought to be attended

to with the upmost precision.

A Good cook is anxiously attentive to the appearance and colour of her roasts, as a court beauty

is to her complexion at a birth-day ball.

Be very particular in frying, never to use any oil, butter, lard or drippings, but what is quite

clean, fresh, and free from salt. Any thing dirty spoils the look, anything bad tasted or stale

spoils the flavor, and salt prevents browning

There is nothing in which the difference between an elegant and ordinary table is more seen than

in the dressing of vegetables, more especially of greens; they may be equally fine at first, at

one place as at another; but their look and taste are afterwards very different entirely from the

careless way in which they have been cooked.

Unripe vegetables are as insipid and unwholesome as unripe fruits.

If you wish to have vegetables delicately clean, put on your pot, make it boil, out a little salt

in it, and skim it perfectly clean before you put in the greens, &c. which should not be put in

till the water boils briskly; the quicker they boil, the greener they will be; when the

vegetables sink, they are generally done enough, if the water has been constantly boiling. Take

them up immediately, or they will lose their colour and goodness. Drain the water from them

thoroughly before you send them to table. This branch of cookery requires the most vigilant


If vegetables are a minute or two too long over the fire, they lose all their beauty and flavor.

Made dishes are nothing more than meat, poultry or fish, stewed very gently till they are tender,

with a thickened sauce poured over them.

Be careful to trim off all the skin, gristle, &c. that will not be eaten, and shape handsomely

and of an even thickness, the various articles which compose your made dishes; this is sadly

neglected by common cooks; only stew them until they are just tender, and do not do them to rags.

Therefore, what you prepare the day before it is to be eaten, do not do quite enough the first


Woolen blankets or woolen clothes of any kind as well as furs, may be preserved from moths by

sprinkling a little spirits of turpentine upon them, in the drawers or boxes where they are

deposited during the summer. The scent of the turpentine on the woolens or furs is immediately

removed on their exposure to air. Sheets of paper moistened with spirits of turpentine above or

below the clothes, furs, &c. will have the effect of keeping off moths, but not so effectually as


When you open a bottle of catsup, essence of anchovy, &c. throw away the old cork, and stopit closely with anew cork that will fit very tight. Use only the best superfine velvet taper corks.Economy in corks is very unwise; in order to save a mere trifle, in the price of a cork, you run the risk of losing the valuable article it is intended to preserve. It is a vulgar error that a bottle must be well stopped, when the cork is forced down even with the mouth of it; this is a sure sign that the cork is too small, and it should be redrawn and a larger one put in.

The papering of a room, when soiled in spots as often happens, may be cleaned by a piece of brick loaf or biscuit, one or two days old. After gently rubbing til the bread is soiled, the soiled part of the bread should be chipped off, or a fresh piece taken; some caution is requisite not to injure the fabric of the paper-hanging, or the figures on it.

From The House Servant’s Directory or A Monitor for Private Families: comprising of hints on the arrangement and performance of servants’ work, with general rules for settings out tables and sideboards in first order; The art of waiting in all it’s branches, and likewise how to conduct large and small parties with order; with general directions for placing on table all kinds of joints, fish, fowl, &c. with Full instructions for cleaning Plate, Brass, Steel, Glass, Mahogany: and likewise all kinds of patent and common lamps: Observations on servants’ behaviour to their employers; and upwards of 100 various and useful receipts, chiefly compiled for the use of house servants, and identically made to suit the manners and customs of families in the United States By Robert Roberts. With Friendly advice to cooks and heads of families, and complete directions how to burn Lehigh coal. by Robert Roberts, Butler to The Honorable Christopher Gore, Governor of Massachusetts, 1809

Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at

Want to read the full article?

Sign up for free Jane Austen Membership or if you are an existing user please login

Existing Users Log In
Sign up here to become a Jane Austen member
*Required field