From Cook to Scullion. Can There Be Too Many in the Kitchen?
Continuing on with the series on Regency Era servants and staff — blogs can be found listed in the Pemberley Library or by a site search — it is time to move into the kitchen areas of a Regency house and meet the servants dwelling within.
To fully understand the duties of the servants within the kitchen rooms of a Regency household one would need to comprehensively study dining styles, kitchen architecture, equipment technology, and historical influences. One example of the latter are the two spotlighted books noted at the end of this blog. Alas, one post cannot cover the required information! Instead, I’ll give a nutshell synopsis to each of the four points mentioned, and provide links to well-written articles on the topic for those interested in delving deeper.
1) Regency Era meals (particularly dinner) consisted of multiple courses serving complex dishes cooked with the finest ingredients and rare spices. Menus were a mix of traditional fare and exotic cuisines, simply cooked dishes and those with rich sauces, and included all of the basic food groups. Dinner, especially, was a formal affair with superb taste as important as a lavish presentation. For the wealthy, as well as the family of modest means, food was plentiful, easy to acquire, and nutritious.
2) The kitchen wasn’t one room but several, including the main room for cooking, one or two larders where food for immediate use was kept, storage pantries and ice houses, the stillroom where herbs and spices were cured among other things, the dairy, and the scullery. I’ll write a bit more on these rooms while covering the servants.
3) The Regency fell smack in the beginning years of the Industrial Revolution. New devices and advanced technology benefitted the kitchen just as it did everything else. For instance, the gradual evolution from basic open-flame stoves to cast iron ranges, as well as the introduction of copper cookware, had a profound effect.
4) Lastly, in the nutshell explanation, French influences upon cuisine were enormous. As in fashion, unique trends and techniques originated in France and crossed the Channel. Additionally, and arguably of greatest impact upon the English culinary scene, were the plethora of French chefs free to expand their horizons — thanks to their employers losing their heads!
The cook takes charge of the fish, soups, and poultry; and the kitchen-maid of the vegetables, sauces, and gravies. These she puts into their appropriate dishes, whilst the scullery-maid waits on and assists the cook. Everything must be timed so as to prevent its getting cold, whilst great care should be taken, that, between the first and second courses, no more time is allowed to elapse than is necessary, for fear that the company in the dining-room lose all relish for what has yet to come of the dinner. ~Mrs. Beeton, Book of Household Management, 1861
Cook or Chef
(noun) “head cook,” 1830, from French chef, short for chef de cuisine, literally “head of the kitchen,” from Old French chief “leader, ruler, head”
Whether a male chef or female cook, this person was the undisputed leader within the kitchen. If a male, he fell under the authority of the butler. Male or female, however, the housekeeper would be in closest contact due to her relationship with the mistress of the house, the latter designating menu choices. At the same time, the butler, as the staff member responsible for awareness of guests who may be dining with the family, their personal dietary needs or food preference, social statuses dictating culinary elegance, and the vital wine and spirit accompaniments, would play a critical role in meal planning. Suffice to say, managing even the simplest menu on an average day was a complicated endeavor from start to finish. Cook or fancy French chef, getting along and working together was more important than fighting over who was the biggest boss!
That said, when it came to the kitchen itself and getting the job done, the cook was ultimately responsible. A trained male chef from France was esteemed highly, paid an exorbitant salary, and considered most prestigious to employ. A male cook, even if not French, was the next preferred choice, especially if envy amongst one’s peers was the goal! A female cook who had trained under a male cook cost less but came with the advantage of prestige and elevated culinary skills. In an era of formalized dining with the meal often the pinnacle of every social gathering, perfection in taste, beauty to the eye, proper temperature, and excellent timing for each course was critical.
Aside from the obvious job of cooking the dishes, the cook was in charge of food procurement, storage, and preparation. She maintained the kitchen equipment and rooms, kept all the grocery accounts, and dealt personally with the merchants, gamesmen, and others who provided foodstuffs. In a large household her staff was sizeable, each kitchen and scullery maid hired by her (with help from the housekeeper) and under her direct command. In addition to the daily meals, the cook also concocting jellies, relishes, honeys, sauces, creams, pastries, sweets, compotes, and anything else vital to accompany a meal or for the family to snack on in between.
A small household may have one or two maids assigned to the kitchen. A larger house, such as the typical country manor, would employ several. Whatever the number, kitchen maids assisted the cook directly and worked primarily in the main kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, within the kitchen as in the whole household, a hierarchy of rank existed. The most experienced and reliable kitchen maid served as an “under-cook” or apprentice to the cook, often charged with meal planning and entrusted to cook dishes solo. On down the ladder, maids were assigned jobs based on their skills, beginning with basic food preparation.
Scullery Maid or Scullion
(noun) mid-15c. (early 14c. as a surname), “household department concerned with the care of kitchen utensils,” from Old French escuelerie “office of the servant in charge of plates, etc.,” from escuelier “keeper of the dishes”
Lowest of all the servants and typically very young, these girls (and sometimes boys) performed the dirty work. She scoured the pots and pans; cleaned vegetables, scrubbed scales off fish, and plucked poultry; blackened the stoves and lit the cooking fires; cleaned away garbage and debris on the kitchen area floors; kept the pantries and larders clean and organized; etc. In a pinch she might have cleaned and emptied the servants’ chamber pots and/or also assisted in watching the cooking of food, but only in households of meager finances. Typically a scullery maid stayed in the scullery. Due to the filthy nature of her work, a scullery maid never handled the food beyond what was mentioned previously, nor was she trusted to clean any luxury items, such as the china, silver, or glass.
The position of scullery-maid was not, of course, one of high rank, and her payment was low. Her life was generally one of drudgery and servitude. She arose very early in the morning (often at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.) and stumbled into her simple attic bed later than other servants. Yet, as with all servant positions, if she performed well she could advance.
THE SCULLERY was always located in a separate room from the kitchen to prevent food being contaminated by soiled water. Specifics of bacteria were unknown, of course, but as in medicine, the evidence was impossible to ignore. Hygiene was essential. All surfaces, especially those for the preparation of food, had to be kept immaculate, meaning fresh water was constantly hauled inside. The scullery was equipped with double stone sinks where pots and pans and the servants’ crockery were rinsed and cleaned. The family’s fine china would be washed in a copper sink, whose softer surface prevented chipping. A wealthy house might have a cistern above the sinks to flush the drains, pipes leading out of the house to the nearest garden. For this reason, sculleries were usually built next to the outer walls. No point in wasting the water!
The very rich might have a private cistern or well nearby, and even pumps and piping to draw the water inside, but for the majority of households during the 19th century and before, water had to be carried into the house from a distance. The town pump or well, while centrally situated in a village or city square, might not be conveniently located near one’s house. In addition to the village well, households in the country could also rely on local streams, rivers, or lakes for their source of water, but again, these bodies of water were probably located some distance away.
The scullery floor, made of stone, was lower than the kitchen’s, inhibiting water from flowing into the cooking areas. To prevent the servants standing in the accumulated water, raised latticed wood mats covered the stone. All this water, while necessary, could easily lead to problems with mold and contamination. Dry goods were stashed well away from the scullery, and the importance of drying surfaces and objects thoroughly cannot be overstressed.
Dairymaid or Milkmaid
On some of the large dairy farms in other parts of England, she takes her share in the milking, but in private families the milking is generally performed by the cowkeeper, and the dairy-maid only receives the milkpails from him morning and night, and empties and cleans them preparatory to the next milking; her duty being to supply the family with milk, cream, and butter, and other luxuries depending on the “milky mothers” of the herd. ~Mrs. Beeton, Book of Household Management, 1861
The dairymaid may seem like an inconsequential servant at first glance. Not so! Dairy products were an essential part of the diet, just as they are today, and without the luxury of refrigeration and electricity, the dairymaid’s job was tricky and arduous. Typically the dairymaid(s) was also the cowkeeper, increasing her duties and importance. If so, she not only milked the cow(s) but also fed them, kept the animals and stalls clean, and tended to the health of the cows. Whichever way the milk buckets were daily obtained – by her own milking skills, from the estate’s cowkeeper, or the village/town milk seller – the dairymaid immediately stored them properly in cold rooms deep in the basement or ice houses sheltered from the harsh sun.
Her entire day was spent churning butter, making cheeses and whey, and separating the creams for their specific purposes. As noted earlier, people were ignorant of bacteria and sketchy on the chemistry involved in creating the multitude of dairy products, but eons of experience had taught the techniques needed to render basic milk into the array of pleasing substances for the palate… and what would happen if they did the tiniest thing wrong! Part of this including keeping the pans, milk-pails, churns, hair-sieves used to strain the liquids, racks, moulds, utensils, and dishes immaculate.
THE DAIRY may have been attached to the house but often was a separate building located in a shaded area and situated so as to be sheltered from the harsh sun and strong winter winds. The barns would be a distance away to prevent contamination. Meaning the pails of milk were hauled to the dairy by the dairymaid, not an easy chore! Structurally the dairy walls would be thick and covered with glazed tiles, plaster, or wood slats designed to resist water and regulate interior temperature. The dairy would have two, three, or maybe more rooms. One or more would be for storage and the curing of cheeses and creams. Two rooms, as in the main kitchen, were required to separate the dairy products from the cleaning room (scullery). Additional chambers for the dairymaid(s) quarters might be attached, or if separate located nearby, although this wasn’t always the case. Excellent ventilation and drainage were essential. Shelves and counters were preferably lined with or made from solid marble or slate for cleanliness and cooler surfaces.
The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy is a cookbook by Hannah Glasse (1708–1770) first published in 1747. It was a best seller for a century after its first publication, dominating the English-speaking market and making Glasse one of the most famous cookbook authors of her time. The book ran through at least 40 editions, many of them pirated. It was published in Dublin from 1748, and in America from 1805. The Art of Cookery was the dominant reference for home cooks in much of the English-speaking world in the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th century, and it is still used as a reference for food research and historical reconstruction.
Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly
A unique feast of biography and Regency cookbook, Cooking for Kings takes readers on a chef’s tour of the palaces of Europe in the ultimate age of culinary indulgence.
Drawing on the legendary cook’s rich memoirs, Ian Kelly traces Antonin Carême’s meteoric rise from Paris orphan to international celebrity and provides a dramatic below-stairs perspective on one of the most momentous, and sensuous, periods in European history-First Empire Paris, Georgian England, and the Russia of War and Peace.
Carême had an unfailing ability to cook for the right people in the right place at the right time. He knew the favorite dishes of King George IV, the Rothschilds and the Romanovs; he knew Napoleon’s fast-food requirements, and why Empress Josephine suffered halitosis.
Carême’s recipes still grace the tables of restaurants the world over. Now classics of French cuisine, created for, and named after, the kings and queens for whom he worked, they are featured throughout this captivating biography. In the phrase first coined by Carême, “You can try them yourself.”
Regency Era “Hell’s Kitchen”: Marie-Antoine Carême, the First Celebrity Chef and One Time Head Chef for the Prince Regent, a wonderful blog on Carême by Regina Jeffers