Cottage Economy

No. IV


101. In the last number, at Paragraph 86, I observed that I hoped it was unnecessary for me to give any directions as to the mere act of making bread. But several correspondents inform me that, without these directions, a conviction of the utility of baking bread at home is of no use to them. Therefore, I shall here give those directions, receiving my instructions here from one, who, I thank God, does know how to perform this act.

102. Suppose the quantity be a bushel of flour. Put this flour into a trough that people have for the purpose, or it may be in a clean smooth tub of any shape, if not too deep, and if sufficiently large. Make a pretty deep hole in the middle of this heap of flour. Take (for a bushel) a pint of good fresh yeast, mix it and stir it well up in a pint of soft water milk-warm. Pour this into the hole in the heap of flour. Then take a spoon and work it round the outside of this body of moisture so as to bring into that body, by degrees, flour enough to make it form a thin batter, which you must stir about well for a minute or two. Then take a handful of flour and scatter it thinly over the head of this batter, so as to hide it. Then cover the whole over with a cloth to keep it warm; and this covering, as well as the situation of the trough, as to distance from the fire, must depend on the nature of the place and state of the weather as to heat and cold. When you perceive that the batter has risen enough to make cracks in the flour that you covered it over with, you begin to form the whole mass into dough, thus: you begin round the hole containing the batter, working the flour into the batter, and pouring in, as it is wanted to make the flour mix with the batter, soft water milk-warm, or milk, as hereafter to be mentioned. Before you begin this, you scatter the salt over the heap at the rate of half a pound to a bushel of flour. When you have got the whole sufficiently moist, you knead it well. This is a grand part of the business; for, unless the dough be well worked, there will be little round lumps of flour in the loaves; and, besides, the original batter, which is to give fermentation to the whole, will not be duly mixed. The dough must, therefore, be well worked. The fists must go heartily into it. It must be rolled over; pressed out; folded up and pressed out again, until it be completely mixed, and formed into a stiff and tough dough. This is labour, mind. I have never quite liked baker’s bread since I saw a great heavy fellow, in a bakehouse in France, kneading bread with his naked feet! His feet looked very white, to be sure: whether they were of that colour before he got into the trough I could not tell. God forbid, that I should suspect that this is ever done in England! It is labour; but, what is exercise other than labour? Let a young woman bake a bushel once a week, and she will do very well without phials and gallipots.

103. Thus, then, the dough is made. And, when made, it is to be formed into a lump in the middle of the trough, and, with a little dry flour thinly scattered over it, covered over again to be kept warm and to ferment; and in this state, if all be done rightly, it will not have to remain more than about 15 or 20 minutes.

104. In the mean while the oven is to be heated; and this is much more than half the art of the operation. When an oven is properly heated, can be known only by actual observation. Women who understand the matter, know when the heat is right the moment they put their faces within a yard of the oven-mouth; and once or twice observing is enough for any person of common capacity. But this much may be said in the way of rule: that the fuel (I am supposing a brick oven) should be dry (not rotten) wood, and not mere brush-wood, but rather fagot-sticks. If larger wood, it ought to be split up into sticks not more than two, or two and a half inches through. Bush-wood that is strong, not green and not too old, if it be hard in its nature and has some sticks in it, may do. The woody parts of furze, or ling, will heat an oven very well. But the thing is, to have a lively and yet somewhat strong fire; so that the oven may be heated in about 15 minutes, and retain its heat sufficiently long.

105. The oven should be hot by the time that the dough, as mentioned in Paragraph 103, has remained in the lump about 20 minutes. When both are ready, take out the fire, and wipe the oven out clean, and, at nearly about the same moment, take the dough out upon the lid of the baking trough, or some proper place, cut it up into pieces, and make it up into loaves, kneading it again into these separate parcels; and, as you go on, shaking a little flour over your board, to prevent the dough from adhering to it. The loaves should be put into the oven as quickly as possible after they are formed; when in, the oven-lid, or door, should be fastened up very closely; and, if all be properly managed, loaves of about the size of quartern loaves will be sufficiently baked in about two hours. But they usually take down the lid, and look at the bread, in order to see how it is going on.

106. And what is there worthy of the name of plague, or trouble, in all this? Here is no dirt, no filth, no rubbish, no litter, no slop. And, pray, what can be pleasanter to behold? Talk, indeed, of your pantomimes and gaudy shows; your processions and installations and coronations! Give me, for a beautiful sight, a neat and smart woman, heating her oven and setting in her bread! And, if the bustle does make the sign of labour glisten on her brow, where is the man that would not kiss that off, rather than lick the plaster from the cheek of a duchess.

107. And what is the result? Why, good, wholesome food, sufficient for a considerable family for a week, prepared in three or four hours. To get this quantity of food, fit to be eaten, in the shape of potatoes, how many fires! what a washing, what a boiling, what a peeling, what a slopping, and what a messing! The cottage everlastingly in a litter; the woman’s hands everlastingly wet and dirty; the children grimed up to the eyes with dust fixed on by potato-starch; and ragged as colts, the poor mother’s time all being devoted to the everlasting boilings of the pot! Can any man, who knows any thing of the labourer’s life, deny this? And will, then, any body, except the old shuffle-breeches band of the Quarterly Review, who have all their lives been moving from garret to garret, who have seldom seen the sun, and never the dew except in print; will any body except these men say, that the people ought to be taught to use potatoes as a substitute for bread?



108. This matter has been fully treated of in the two last numbers. But several correspondents wishing to fall upon some means of rendering the practice beneficial to those who are unable to purchase brewing utensils, have recommended the lending of them, or letting out, round a neighbourhood. Another correspondent has, therefore, pointed out to me an Act of Parliament which touches upon this subject; and, indeed, what of Excise Laws and Custom Laws and Combination Laws and Libel Laws, a human being in this country scarcely knows what he dares do or what he dares say. What father, for instance, would have imagined, that, having brewing utensils, which two men carry from house to house as easily as they can a basket, he dared not lend them to his son, living in the next street, or at the next door? Yet such really is the law; for, according to the Act 5th of the 22 and 23 of that honest and sincere gentleman Charles II., there is a penalty of 50l. for lending or letting brewing utensils. However, it has this limit; that the penalty is confined to Cities, Corporate Towns, and Market Towns, where there is a public Brewhouse. So that, in the first place, you may let, or lend, in any place where there is no public brewhouse; and in all towns not corporate or market, and in all villages, hamlets, and scattered places.

109. Another thing is, can a man who has brewed beer at his own house in the country, bring that beer into town to his own house, and for the use of his family there? This has been asked of me. I cannot give a positive answer without reading about seven large volumes in quarto of taxing laws. The best way would be to try it; and, if any penalty, pay it by subscription, if that would not come under the law of conspiracy! However, I think, there can be no danger here. So monstrous a thing as this can, surely, not exist. If there be such a law, it is daily violated; for nothing is more common than for country gentlemen, who have a dislike to die by poison, bringing their home-brewed beer to London.

110. Another correspondent recommends parishes to make their own malt. But, surely, the landlords mean to get rid of the malt and salt tax! Many dairies, I dare say, pay 50l. a year each in salt tax. How, then, are they to contend against Irish butter and Dutch butter and cheese? And as to the malt tax, it is a dreadful drain from the land. I have heard of labourers, living “in unkent places,” making their own malt, even now! Nothing is so easy as to make your own malt, if you were permitted. You soak the barley about three days (according to the state of the weather.) and then you put it upon stones or bricks and keep it turned, till the root shoots out; and then to know when to stop, and to put it to dry, take up a corn (which you will find nearly transparent) and look through the skin of it. You will see the spear, that is to say, the shoot that would come out of the ground, pushing on towards the point of the barley-corn. It starts from the bottom, where the root comes out; and it goes on towards the other end; and would, if kept moist, come out at that other end when the root was about an inch long. So that, when you have got the root to start, by soaking and turning in heap, the spear is on its way. If you look in through the skin, you will see it; and now observe; when the point of the spear has got along as far as the middle of the barley-corn, you should take your barley and dry it. How easy would every family, and especially every farmer, do this, if it were not for the punishment attached to it! The persons in the “unkent places” before mentioned, dry the malt in their oven! But let us hope that the labourer will soon be able to get malt without exposing himself to punishment as a violater of the law.



111. As to the use of milk and of that which proceeds from milk, in a family, very little need be said. At a certain age bread and milk are all that a child wants. At a later age they furnish one meal a day for children. Milk is, at all seasons, good to drink. In the making of puddings, and in the making of bread too, how useful is it! Let any one who has eaten none but baker’s bread for a good while, taste bread home-baked, mixed with milk instead of with water; and he will find what the difference is. There is this only to be observed, that in hot weather, bread mixed with milk will not keep so long as that mixed with water. It will of course turn sour sooner.

112. Whether the milk of a cow be to be consumed by a cottage family in the shape of milk, or whether it be to be made to yield butter, skim-milk, and buttermilk, must depend on circumstances. A woman that has no child, or only one, would, perhaps, find it best to make some butter at any rate. Besides, skim-milk and bread (the milk being boiled) is quite strong food enough for any children’s breakfast, even when they begin to go to work; a fact which I state upon the most ample and satisfactory experience, very seldom having ever had any other sort of breakfast myself till I was more than ten years old, and I was in the fields at work full four years before that. I will here mention that it gave me singular pleasure to see a boy, just turned of six, helping his father to reap, in Sussex, this last summer. He did little, to be sure; but it was something. His father set him into the ridge at a great distance before him; and when he came up to the place, he found a sheaf cut; and, those who know what it is to reap, know how pleasant it is to find now and then a sheaf cut ready to their hand. It was no small thing to see a boy fit to be trusted with so dangerous a thing as a reap-hook in his hands, at an age when “young masters” have nursery-maids to cut their victuals for them, and to see that they do not fall out of the window, tumble down stairs, or run under carriage-wheels or horses’ bellies. Was not this father discharging his duty by this boy much better than he would have been by sending him to a place called a school? The boy is in a school here; and an excellent school too: the school of useful labour. I must hear a great deal more than I ever have heard, to convince me, that teaching children to read tends so much to their happiness, their independence of spirit, their manliness of character, as teaching them to reap. The creature that is in want must be a slave; and to be habituated to labour cheerfully is the only means of preventing nineteen-twentieths of mankind from being in want. I have digressed here; but observations of this sort can, in my opinion, never be too often repeated; especially at a time when all sorts of mad projects are on foot, for what is falsely called educating the people, and when some would do this by a tax that would compel the single man to give part of his earnings to teach the married man’s children to read and write.

113. Before I quit the uses to which milk may be put, let me mention, that, as mere drink, it is, unless perhaps in case of heavy labour, better, in my opinion, than any beer, however good. I have drinked little else for the last five years, at any time of the day. Skim-milk I mean. If you have not milk enough to wet up your bread with (for a bushel of flour requires about 16 to 18 pints,) you make up the quantity with water, of course; or, which is a very good way, with water that has been put, boiling hot, upon bran, and then drained off. This takes the goodness out of the bran to be sure; but really good bread is a thing of so much importance, that it always ought to be the very first object in domestic economy.

114. The cases vary so much, that it is impossible to lay down rules for the application of the produce of a cow, which rules shall fit all cases. I content myself, therefore, with what has already been said on this subject; and shall only make an observation on the act of milking, before I come to the chief matter; namely, the getting of the food for the cow. A cow should be milked clean. Not a drop, if it can be avoided, should be left in the udder. It has been proved that the half pint that comes out last has twelve times, I think it is, as much butter in it, as the half pint that comes out first. I tried the milk of ten Alderney cows, and, as nearly as I, without being very nice about the matter, could ascertain, I found the difference to be about what I have stated. The udder would seem to be a sort of milk-pan in which the cream is uppermost, and, of course, comes out last, seeing that the outlet is at the bottom. But, besides this, if you do not milk clean, the cow will give less and less milk, and will become dry much sooner than she ought. The cause of this I do not know, but experience has long established the fact.

115. In providing food for a cow we must look, first, at the sort of cow; seeing that a cow of one sort will certainly require more than twice as much food as a cow of another sort. For a cottage, a cow of the smallest sort common in England is, on every account, the best; and such a cow will not require above 70 or 80 pounds of good moist food in the twenty-four hours.

116. Now, how to raise this food on 40 rods of ground is what we want to know. It frequently happens that a labourer has more than 40 rods of ground. It more frequently happens, that he has some common, some lane, some little out-let or other, for a part of the year, at least. In such cases he may make a different disposition of his ground; or may do with less than the 40 rods. I am here, for simplicity’s sake, to suppose, that he have 40 rods of clear, unshaded land, besides what his house and sheds stand upon; and that he have nothing further in the way of means to keep his cow.

117. I suppose the 40 rods to be clean and unshaded; for I am to suppose, that when a man thinks of 5 quarts of milk a day, on an average, all the year round, he will not suffer his ground to be encumbered by apple-trees that give him only the means of treating his children to fits of the belly-ache, or with currant and gooseberry bushes, which, though their fruit do very well to amuse, really give nothing worthy of the name of food, except to the blackbirds and thrushes. The ground is to be clear of trees; and, in the spring, we will suppose it to be clean. Then, dig it up deeply, or, which is better, trench it, keeping, however, the top spit of the soil at the top. Lay it in ridges in April or May about two feet apart, and made high and sharp. When the weeds appear about three inches high, turn the ridges into the furrows (never moving the ground but in dry weather,) and bury all the weeds. Do this as often as the weeds get three inches high; and by the fall, you will have really clean ground, and not poor ground.

118. There is the ground then, ready. About the 26th of August, but not earlier, prepare a rod of your ground; and put some manure in it (for some you must have,) and sow one half of it with Early York Cabbage Seed, and the other half with Sugar-loaf Cabbage Seed, both of the true sort, in little drills at 8 inches apart, and the seeds thin in the drill. If the plants come up at two inches apart (and they should be thinned if thicker,) you will have a plenty. As soon as fairly out of ground, hoe the ground nicely, and pretty deeply, and again in a few days. When the plants have six leaves, which will be very soon, dig up, make fine, and manure another rod or two, and prick out the plants, 4000 of each in rows at eight inches apart and three inches in the row. Hoe the ground between them often, and they will grow fast and be straight and strong. I suppose that these beds for plants take 4 rods of your ground. Early in November, or, as the weather may serve, a little earlier or later, lay some manure (of which I shall say more hereafter) between the ridges, in the other 36 rods, and turn the ridges over on this manure, and then transplant your plants on the ridges at 15 inches apart. Here they will stand the winter; and you must see that the slugs do not eat them. If any plants fail, you have plenty in the bed where you prick them out; for your 36 rods will not require more than 4000 plants. If the winter be very hard, and bad for plants, you cannot cover 36 rods; but you may the bed where the rest of your plants are. A little litter, or straw, or dead grass, or fern, laid along between the rows and the plants, not to cover the leaves, will preserve them completely. When people complain of all their plants being “cut off,” they have, in fact nothing to complain of but their own extreme carelessness. If I had a gardener who complained of all his plants being cut off, I should cut him off pretty quickly. If those in the 36 rods fail, or fail in part, fill up their places, later in the winter, by plants from the bed.

119. If you find the ground dry at the top during the winter, hoe it, and particularly near the plants, and rout out all slugs and insects. And when March comes, and the ground is dry, hoe deep and well, and earth the plants up close to the lower leaves. As soon as the plants begin to grow, dig the ground with a spade clean and well, and let the spade go as near to the plants as you can without actually displacing the plants. Give them another digging in a month; and, if weeds come in the mean-while, hoe, and let not one live a week. Oh! “what a deal of work!” Well! but it is for yourself, and, besides, it is not all to be done in a day; and we shall by-and-by see what it is altogether.

120. By the first of June; I speak of the South of England, and there is also some difference in seasons and soils; but, generally speaking, by the first of June you will have turned-in cabbages, and soon you will have the Early Yorks solid. And by the first of June you may get your cow, one that is about to calve, or that has just calved, and at this time such a cow as you will want will not, thank God, cost above five pounds.

121. I shall speak of the place to keep her in, and of the manure and litter, by-and-by. At present I confine myself to her mere food. The 36 rods, if the cabbages all stood till they got solid, would give her food for 200 days, at 80 pounds weight per day, which is more than she would eat. But you must use some, at first, that are not solid; and, then, some of them will split before you can use them. But you will have pigs to help off with them, and to gnaw the heads of the stumps. Some of the sugar-loaves may have been planted out in the spring; and thus these 36 rods will get you along to some time in September.

122. Now mind, in March, and again in April, sow more Early Yorks, and get them to be fine stout plants, as you did those in the fall. Dig up the ground and manure it, and, as fast as you cut cabbages, plant cabbages; and in the same manner and with the same cultivation as before. Your last planting will be about the middle of August, with stout plants, and these will serve you into the month of November.

123. Now we have to provide from December to May inclusive; and that, too, out of this same piece of ground. In November there must be, arrived at perfection, 3000 turnip plants. These, without the greens, must weigh, on an average, 5 pounds, and this, at 80 pounds a day, will keep the cow 187 days; and there are but 182 days in these six months. The greens will have helped put the latest cabbages to carry you through November, and perhaps into December. But for these six months, you must depend on nothing but the Swedish turnips.

124. And now, how are these to be had upon the same ground that bears the cabbages? That we are now going to see. When you plant out your cabbages at the out-set, put first a row of Early Yorks, then a row of Sugar-loaves, and so on throughout the piece. Of course, as you are to use the Early Yorks first, you will cut every other row; and the Early Yorks that you are to plant in summer will go into the intervals. By-and-by the Sugar-loaves are cut away, and in their place will come Swedish turnips, you digging and manuring the ground as in the case of the cabbages: and, at last, you will find about 16 rods where you will have found it too late, and unnecessary besides, to plant any second crop of cabbages. Here the Swedish turnips will stand in rows at two feet apart, (and always a foot apart in the row,) and thus you will have three thousand turnips; and if these do not weigh five pounds each on an average, the fault must be in the seed or in the management.

125. The Swedish turnips are raised in this manner. You will bear in mind the four rods of ground in which you have sowed and pricked out your cabbage plants. The plants that will be left there will, in April, serve you for greens, if you ever eat any, though bread and bacon are very good without greens, and rather better than with. At any rate, the pig, which has strong powers of digestion, will consume this herbage. In a part of these four rods you will, in March and April, as before directed, have sown and raised your Early Yorks for the summer planting. Now, in the last week of May, prepare a quarter of a rod of this ground, and sow it, precisely as directed for the Cabbage-seed, with Swedish turnip-seed; and sow a quarter of a rod every three days, till you have sowed two rods. If the fly appear, cover the rows over in the day-time with cabbage leaves, and take the leaves off at night; hoe well between the plants; and when they are safe from the fly, thin them to four inches apart in the row. The two rods will give you nearly five thousand plants, which is 2000 more than you will want. From this bed you draw your plants to transplant in the ground where the cabbages have stood, as before directed. You should transplant none much before the middle of July, and not much later than the middle of August. In the two rods, whence you take your turnip plants, you may leave plants to come to perfection, at two feet distances each way; and this will give you over and above, 840 pounds weight of turnips. For the other two rods will be ground enough for you to sow your cabbage plants in at the end of August, as directed for last year.

126. I should now proceed to speak of the manner of harvesting, preserving, and using the crops; of the manner of feeding the cow; of the shed for her; of the managing of the manure, and several other less important things; but these, for want of room here, must be reserved for the beginning of my next Number. After, therefore, observing that the Turnip plants must be transplanted in the same way that Cabbage plants are; and that both ought to be transplanted in dry weather and in ground just fresh digged, I shall close this Number with the notice of two points which I am most anxious to impress upon the mind of every reader.

127. The first is, whether these crops give an ill taste to milk and butter. It is very certain, that the taste and smell of certain sorts of cattle-food will do this; for, in some parts of America, where the wild garlick, of which the cows are very fond, and which, like other bulbous-rooted plants, springs before the grass, not only the milk and butter have a strong taste of garlick, but even the veal, when the calves suck milk from such sources. None can be more common expressions, than, in Philadelphia market, are those of Garlicky Butter and Garlicky Veal, I have distinctly tasted the Whiskey in milk of cows fed on distiller’s wash. It is also certain, that, if the cow eat putrid leaves of cabbages and turnips, the butter will be offensive. And the white-turnip, which is at best but a poor thing, and often half putrid, makes miserable butter. The large cattle-cabbage, which, when loaved hard, has a strong and even an offensive smell, will give a bad taste and smell to milk and butter, whether there be putrid leaves or not. If you boil one of these rank cabbages, the water is extremely offensive to the smell. But I state upon positive and recent experience, that Early York and Sugar-loaf Cabbages will yield as sweet milk and butter as any food that can be given to a cow. During this last summer, I have, with the exception about to be noticed, kept, from the 1st of May to the 22d of October, five cows upon the grass of two acres and a quarter of ground, the grass being generally cut up for them and given to them in the stall. I had in the spring 5000 cabbage plants, intended for my pigs, eleven in number. But the pigs could not eat half their allowance, though they were not very small when they began upon it. We were compelled to resort to the aid of the cows; and, in order to see the effect on the milk and butter, we did not mix the food; but gave the cows two distinct spells at the cabbages, each spell about 10 days in duration. The cabbages were cut off the stump with little or no care about dead leaves. And sweeter, finer butter, butter of a finer colour, than these cabbages made, never was made in this world. I never had better from cows feeding in the sweetest pasture. Now, as to Swedish turnips, they do give a little taste, especially if boiling of the milk pans be neglected, and if the greatest care be not taken about all the dairy tackle. Yet we have, for months together, had the butter so fine from Swedish turnips, that nobody could well distinguish it from grass-butter. But to secure this, there must be no sluttishness. Churn, pans, pail, shelves, wall, floor, and all about the dairy, must be clean; and, above all things, the pans must be boiled. However, after all, it is not here a case of delicacy of smell so refined as to faint at any thing that meets it except the stink of perfumes. If the butter do taste a little of the Swedish turnip, it will do very well where there is plenty of that sweet sauce which early rising and bodily labour are ever sure to bring.

128. The other point (about which I am still more anxious) is the seed; for if the seed be not sound, and especially if it be not true to its kind, all your labour is in vain. It is best, if you can do it, to get your seed from some friend, or some one that you know and can trust. If you save seed, observe all the precautions mentioned in my book on Gardening. This very year I have some Swedish turnips, so called, about 7000 in number, and should, if my seed had been true, have had about twenty tons weight; instead of which I have about three! Indeed, they are not Swedish turnips, but a sort of mixture between that plant and rape. I am sure the seedsman did not wilfully deceive me. He was deceived himself. The truth is, that seedsmen are compelled to buy their seeds of this plant. Farmers save it; and they but too often pay very little attention to the manner of doing it. The best way is to get a dozen of fine turnip plants, perfect in all respects, and plant them in a situation where the smell of the blossoms of nothing of the cabbage or rape or turnip or even charlock kind, can reach them. The seed will keep perfectly good for four years.



1 of 2
2 of 2