Letters sent from Mrs E. of England to Maria Macarthur in the colony of New South Wales in 1812.
Advice on Social Dinners
Almost all the forgoing Dinners are enough to entertain 7 or 8 people socially, it is easy to add a little to the Poultry according to the size of your party – for instance 2 rabbits or chickens for where I have named one – large dinners are not fashionable – I shall give you proper bills of fare for more formal parties, and you can vary them as you please.
I do not know how people live in N. South Wales, so I have been obliged to go according to our English ways – but if meat is scarce in N. S. Wales, of course you cannot have it every Day – When you and Mr. M.Arthur are by yourselves – you can eat cold or hashed meat with the addition of a steak & a Pudding if you chose it, or if Poultry and Fish are cheap articles with you, you can have them the oftener.
In giving Dinners, mind you do not ever serve up boiled Poultry in a second course – I do not call Fish & soup anything – boiled Poultry may come up after them, but not after other things – mind too, you have not bacon & ham or tongue the same day (except when one of them is in a pie) – nor anything twice over the same day.
You must not mind what you see others do, for many people do not understand the rules on these occasions.
It is not the fashion now, to cram the guests, & force them to eat, but to let every one act as they please – indeed the custom of asking you 50 times what you will eat is so much out, that in many great families the guests are not asked to eat at all, but are expected to care for themselves, & no one who understands the etiquette, asks people to take of the dessert the help themselves. At the same time , it is better to be too civil, than to be censured as being rude, by those who do not understand new customs. So if in N. South Wales it is the fashion to torment folks to eat, you had better do that than offend any one, for they might fancy you meant to give yourself airs because you are very young.
We must conform in some Degree to other peoples prejudices & the customs of the society in which we reside, & I know not any thing which gives more offence than the idea of a young woman seeming to wish to teach her elders – in a confines society of females, this is enough to raise a rebellion, for I am sorry to say there is not too much reason among women, & they certainly Delight in gossip & clamour.
But you may give your Dinners your own way, there is no offence in that.
In giving any of the forgoing Dinners, you may, if you chose, entirely omit the removes, except the tart or Pudding – there are simple little things, which you should attend to – for instance, boiled meat & boiled Poultry should not be seen together – roast ones may.
I make the things come in at 2 or 3 times when once would do, because it is much better to have them hot, they are better done & it is not genteel to crowd the table.
Dinners for 8, 10 or 12
Not very formal
Given in 3 removes
Sauce Potatoes Sauce
2 Boiled Chickens
Vegetables Pates Vegetables
Bacon on side table
Cheesecake Gooseberry Fool Tartlets
(It goes on for many more different dishes)
Rules to be Observed
Do not fail regularly to inspect the provisions in the house, & to order every thing yourself – you will soon learn how much is necessary – look at the Bread, Butter & every thing – if you have quantities of articles, which most likely will be the case with you, keep them all locked up & weigh out your Butter for yourself – your servants will endeavour to manage you & get the power into their own hands, because you are young, but do not part with it, for you will soon know how much of everything is necessary.
Eggs if you have a stock, should be placed regularly as they are laid, that you must use the stalest first. I have seen a nice contrivance in a hen-house of sloping shelves with little divisions in them & saw-dust placed under the eggs. You had better keep the in the house for fear of rats – remember always to set your poultry upon the newest eggs.
Do not let your Cook put dripping of roast Beef among the Kitchen stuff for it should be kept for frying fish only & mind & look often into the kitchen stuff to see that she does not improper things there.
Servants are apt to throw away many articles in a shameful way, pieces of bread, vegetables that have been dressed & many other things – they ought to eat all the pieces of bread before they begin upon another loaf – never suffer them to have new bread – if you chose your company to have it – your servants ought not, & do not give them steaks for dinner, it is very unprofitable, & do not suffer them to have hot suppers. I know they will try to procure many indulgencies from a young Mistress & can persuade her it is customary to grant them. You cannot be too careful of your husband’s property, & a good economist may save hundreds of Pounds even living in a moderate way.
Waste is the great fault of servants, & economy they call meanness – never mind that – keep the keys yourself - do not from idleness entrust them at any time to your servants.
If you give out a few candles & a little soap at a time - you will know hoe long it ought to last. Vegetables ought to be warmed up again for servants – mind they do not cut pieces of fat & suet off the meat to be put among the kitchen staff & be sure you inspect occasionally every part of the house for cunning cooks often keep 2 tubs of kitchen stuff & let you see only one.
Have a list of all the linen put into the wash & count it again when it comes out that you may know it is safe – keep a list of household linen, Clothes, etc, & frequently see that it is right. When you give out table linen & napkins, etc take care to make your servants bring back the dirty ones & observe the state they are in, for I have known servants wipe glasses with Damask napkins, knives with glass cloths & turn towels into dusters & dish cloths. Mind your clothes are not worn by any body after you pull them off – undergarments are often worn by the maids before they are washed.
In short, my dear Maria, a mistress must have Argus Eyes & not trust too much to her servants. In case of lying in – it is easy to arrange a certain proportion of most articles in one closet, ready to be given out without having to trouble Mr. McArthur too much or leaving your property at the mercy of your servants.
**I have written the letter as Mrs E has written it, with Capitals, word spacing, etc, etc, to add to its authenticity.