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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The One Maid Book of Cookery

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas FEBRUARY. 20, 2021

[202-365] 19th. February 2021- On the 31st January I did a post about cook books and in that post I promised to find a cookbook I had lost in my house move and to do a follow up post on it. Well I found it today and it is called "The One Maid Book of Cookery, by Mistress A. E. Congreve First-Class Diplomée."

So far I have not made anything up and we have pure unvarnished facts. But, you are on notice that may change. The good thing is that you will never know because all the following reads like pure fiction.

Hove 1913 The conditions of living are fast changing, the number of gentle people living in small houses and flats run with One Maid, or with no maid at all is rapidly increasing.

This is how World Wars start, and Mistress Congreve is about to live through one.

The One Maid Book of Cookery is specially written with a view to these modern conditions.........It is hoped that the One Maid Book of Cookery may help in the attainment of that "peace of mind and harmony within" to which all aspire. (Apart from the maid)

At this point I will describe Hove. Hove is a place on the English south coast which has been swallowed up by louder and more garish Brighton. To an outsider they are essentially the same place, but to the inhabitants of Hove they are most definitely not. The people of Hove look down their noses at the people of Brighton and the people of Brighton consequently laugh at and mock the people of Hove, while secretly wishing that they lived there.

In more recent times Hove has been re-christened as "Hove Actually", by the people of Brighton. This results from the reply one normally receives after the question "Do you live in Brighton ?", upon which a Hovian will reply Hove Actually. Indeed it says a lot about Hove that even in 1913 it was thought by Hovian Mistress Congreve to be worth writing a book to aid deprived gentlewomen enduring the hardship of depending on a single maid.

I must warn you that we are not in for a great culinary experience as witnessed by the explanation of the Art of Cookery.

Cookery is the art of preparing food for use, by the aid of heat, or rendering it palatable and easy to digest, the aim being to get the maximum of nutriment and flavour out of the material available.

You see what I mean? Available material is what we all crave when hungry, and it always gets the mouth watering. Every evening I am sitting in my chair reading when I suddenly realise the time and think " I must get up and go and render something palatable with a bit of heat." My other half loves it when I dish up palatable renderings. Mistress Congreve then goes on to explain why the British are such poor cooks compared to people of other countries who are born naturals.

"It is probable that the overloading of the brain with book-learning knocks out much of what we call common sense"

People in the rest of the world have common sense because they are ill educated while we have none because we know too much. I am going to leave that with you.

Meat- Meat should be most carefully chosen. Where possible a butcher should be selected who uses a glass screen to keep the road dust off the meat; it should be explained to him, where the household is small, that the quantities purchased will be small, but that the best quality only will be required.

So no road dust then. I will remember to make demands from my butcher next time I go in. He is the size of an ox and covered in tattoos. He is not chatty and has a large sign on the wall at the back proudly announcing that "All Our Meat is Well Hung". What would Mistress Congreve advise doing about that?

To make matters worse, instead of his normal mumbled replies I now have to cope with a mask, so not only can I not specifically get the "best quality" meat I am supposed to, I am lucky if it comes from the right creature. I was puzzling over the paleness of a piece of pork fillet last week when I suddenly realised it had a couple of feathers still attached.

One of the reasons I like second hand cookbooks is that you occasionally come across pearls of wisdom from someone other than the author, which is why I always make a point of writing my improvements into the books I own. Although it is normally taboo to write in books, I think we are duty bound to write in cookbooks. They are the exception to the rule.

Isn't the English language an amazing concoction, I am jabbering away all this drivel and I suddenly noticed that I have unwittingly used two Polynesian words which we all know and understand. The English language is like an etymological toddler, programmed in it's very essence to listen, remember and repeat the words that work, wherever they are from, be it a new word for a new concept never previously encountered or be it a word that does the job better than the existing word. Here are the two perfect examples, one of each.

Tattoo- In reference to a permanent design on the skin, tattoo comes from the Polynesian words 'tatau' or 'tatu' meaning 'mark made on the skin'. It first appeared in English in 1769. Taboo- late 18th century: from Tongan tabu ‘set apart, forbidden’; introduced into English by Captain Cook

The Kitchen and Utensils In smoky towns a strip of fine wire gauze should be fitted at the top of the window frame to keep out smuts. The table should be of a convenient height, covered with a light linoleum or American cloth. Both tables and chairs should be fitted with Domes of Silence, for easy moving. Where gas is available a cooker should be hired from the local gas company.

Utensils include from a long list-

Flat Irons, Iron stand and slipper, Asbestos mats, Hair sieve, String mop and Gill measures.

There is a whole section on washing up, which runs to twelve items that are required to complete the task.

The Store Cupboard Amongst the recognisable if less common items we would see today are, Coralline, Lemco, Paisley Flour, Carmine, Whitening, Ammonia, Blacklead, and Tinned Tongue. I am starting to realise that this kitchen is full of deadly substances and I'm including the tinned tongue.

The One Maid House as described by Mrs. M.A. Cloudesley Brereton. The modern tendency is to do with as few servants as possible, first because, owing to the dearth of domestics, we cannot get as many as we would like for the wages which we can afford to pay, and secondly because, in towns, house rent is such an expensive item in the housekeeping budget that the servants bedrooms have to be a great consideration when arranging a home. Every servant saved means, in fact, either something knocked off the rent or more accommodation gained for the family. The house where one maid only is kept might be, indeed often is, the ideal domestic scheme.

So there you have it, with rooms at a premium it's either a new sister for little Johnny or a maid to use those twelve sundry items three times a day doing the washing up. Frankly there's no contest. Is it me or is the word "kept" conjuring up images of handcuffs for the maid when not washing up.

As to recipes, I definitely do not want to know what Cakeoma Sauce is as it sounds truly revolting. If eating Cakeoma sauce is the result of having only one maid I would seriously consider getting rid of little Johnny too and getting a second maid.

The one thing that has amazed me is the number of convenience foods mentioned which we are led to believe is something far more recent.

As a child who was brought up on Oxo cubes in almost everything, I have to say it was a remarkably successful product for one that was so impossible to open. When I stood in for my mother because she was late home from work, raising taxes on the celebrities of the day, in the hyper secret celebrity tax office, very hush hush, I always cursed under my breath even as an innocent youth the irritatingly tight foil folds around the dastardly tiny cubes of almost beef. Mum would get home and hint at things she knew which would conveniently fill the Sunday papers if only she hadn't signed The Official Secrets Act. But when pressed as she enjoyed being, she always winked and did the honourable thing and kept us guessing. Last year she took those secrets with her to the grave like so few people do anymore.

Back to Oxo. Who knew it was once sold in liquid form, as Bovril it's arch beefy enemy still is. Who could have predicted in time gone by that liquidising an Ox could be so profitable as to result in a major London tower decorating the edge of the Thames with windows in the shape of O and X and O. This advertisement below is an early joint marketing operation by Mistress Congreve and the cattle barons at Oxo.

My favourite recipe in the book if you can call it a recipe is one I spotted in the index. Nut Sandwiches. Intrigued I had to look it up, whereupon I discovered to my great disappointment that it was more a suggestion than a recipe. There is no instruction on how to make a sandwich and in 1913 in Hove I am amazed that any "gentle person" could have worked it out without instruction, they having so much book-learning that their brains are overfilled, but there you go, apparently it was easy enough even back then for an overfilled pure British bred brain.

Sweet Sandwiches- may have a filling of Jam, Honey, Chocolate (Grated and mixed with cream) or chopped nuts.

Interestingly the savoury sandwiches had Foie Gras in them, bang goes that last maid. For a more complicated recipe one needs to turn to page 89 where it is explained in detail how to boil an onion. Take off the skin, cook in boiling salted water, simmering for about an hour. Test with a skewer but do not over cook.

It is now becoming clear to me that my Grandmother who boiled everything for at least an hour, didn't have a skewer, and who over cooked everything, must have had a copy of The One Maid Book of Cookery stashed away somewhere. Delighting in having every modern convenience she swore by the pressure cooker, as did we all, that bl**dy pressure cooker. My Mum had one too, so I knew that the time guide for potatoes in a pressure cooker was a space age, miraculous 6 minutes instead of the normal 20.

The pressure cooker has a loud hiss in case you didn't know. This hiss indicated that your life was probably not in danger as the pressure was at least managing to escape, before the device converted itself to a bomb showering the surrounding village with shrapnel. My Grandmother put hers on the gas at about 9.30 on a Sunday morning and within a few minutes the hiss would start. The hiss was dampened down about three hours later when it appeared that the potatoes had not only caramelised but also mashed themselves in a culinary marvel of our time. It's fairly obvious why my Grandmother didn't need a skewer.

Oh, and whose mistress was she anyway?

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