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Cookery
by [?]

My wife and I were sitting at the open bow-window of my study, watching the tuft of bright-red leaves on our favorite maple, which warned us that summer was over. I was solacing myself, like all the world in our days, with reading the “Schoenberg Cotta Family,” when my wife made her voice heard through the enchanted distance, and dispersed the pretty vision of German cottage life.

“Chris!”

“Well, my dear.”

“Do you know the day of the month?”

Now my wife knows this is a thing that I never do know, that I can’t know, and in fact that there is no need I should trouble myself about, since she always knows, and, what is more, always tells me. In fact, the question, when asked by her, meant more than met the ear. It was a delicate way of admonishing me that another paper for the “Atlantic” ought to be in train; and so I answered, not to the external form, but to the internal intention,–

“Well, you see, my dear, I haven’t made up my mind what my next paper shall be about.”

“Suppose, then, you let me give you a subject.”

“Sovereign lady, speak on! Your slave hears!”

“Well, then, take Cookery. It may seem a vulgar subject, but I think more of health and happiness depends on that than on any other one thing. You may make houses enchantingly beautiful, hang them with pictures, have them clean and airy and convenient; but if the stomach is fed with sour bread and burnt coffee, it will raise such rebellions that the eyes will see no beauty anywhere. Now, in the little tour that you and I have been taking this summer, I have been thinking of the great abundance of splendid material we have in America, compared with the poor cooking. How often, in our stoppings, we have sat down to tables loaded with material, originally of the very best kind, which had been so spoiled in the treatment that there was really nothing to eat! Green biscuits with acrid spots of alkali; sour yeast-bread; meat slowly simmered in fat till it seemed like grease itself, and slowly congealing in cold grease; and, above all, that unpardonable enormity, strong butter! How often I have longed to show people what might have been done with the raw material out of which all these monstrosities were concocted!”

“My dear,” said I, “you are driving me upon delicate ground. Would you have your husband appear in public with that most opprobrious badge of the domestic furies, a dishcloth, pinned to his coat-tail? It is coming to exactly the point I have always predicted, Mrs. Crowfield: you must write yourself. I always told you that you could write far better than I, if you would only try. Only sit down and write as you sometimes talk to me, and I might hang up my pen by the side of ‘Uncle Ned’s’ fiddle and bow.”

“Oh, nonsense!” said my wife. “I never could write. I know what ought to be said, and I could say it to any one; but my ideas freeze in the pen, cramp in my fingers, and make my brain seem like heavy bread. I was born for extemporary speaking. Besides, I think the best things on all subjects in this world of ours are said, not by the practical workers, but by the careful observers.”

“Mrs. Crowfield, that remark is as good as if I had made it myself,” said I. “It is true that I have been all my life a speculator and observer in all domestic matters, having them so confidentially under my eye in our own household; and so, if I write on a pure woman’s matter, it must be understood that I am only your pen and mouthpiece,–only giving tangible form to wisdom which I have derived from you.”

So down I sat and scribbled, while my sovereign lady quietly stitched by my side. And here I tell my reader that I write on such a subject under protest,–declaring again my conviction that, if my wife only believed in herself as firmly as I do, she would write so that nobody would ever want to listen to me again.