Friday, March 2, 2012

Frugal Gentlemen and Cheap Custards

Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) was a writer, abolitionist and feminist who was well-known in the 19th century for her novels and journalism. Today she is remembered not only as a women's right's activist but as the author of the little holiday poem that starts "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go" (it is called, not surprisingly, Over the River and Through the Woods).

Child was also the author of a classic, much-reprinted Victorian self-help guide and cookbook, The American Frugal Housewife (1841). It is mostly aimed at women, but Child spares a few words for the men, too. She cautions gentlemen to save their money, and not  require their wives and daughters to dress themselves in extravagantly expensive bonnets and shawls just so he will look like an extra-fancy husband and father. Also, he is not to "rush into enterprise and speculation [and] keep up their credit by splendour" - all good ideas today, too. Child tells the story of a gentleman and his wife who wished to go on a vacation that they could ill afford, and how all sorts of catastrophes happened, but that:

This honest couple are now busy in paying off their debts....He facetiously tells how he went to New York to have his watch stolen, and his boots blacked like a looking glass, and she shows her Lake George diamond ring, and tells how the steamboat was crowded, and how afraid she was the boiler would burst, and always ends by saying 'After all, it was a toil of pleasure'...[But] if men would have women economical, they must be so themselves.

Gentlemen (and ladies, too)  would also have liked Mrs. Child's inexpensive recipes, including this one for her so-called Cheap Custards. To make these, one simply boiled a quart of milk, added 3 tablespoons of ground rice and a beaten egg, and sugar to taste - along with any spice you like such as cinnamon and nutmeg; Mrs. Child also recommends flavoring it with peach leaves.

Peach leaves and Lake George diamond rings notwithstanding, much of Child's sensible advice still rings true today: save your money, learn to bake your own bread and do your own mending when possible, and keep track of your finances. In addition, today's money-conscious gentlemen can delve into the wealth of information provided on sites such as They can add to Mrs. Child's edicts those which encourage the male hunter-gatherers among us to hunt down bargains and gather coupons. And if the gentleman in question would like to come home (laden with bargains, but not too many, since he is very frugal!) and make us all some Cheap Custards - well, that would be lovely. We will all go over the river and through the woods for that.


DearHelenHartman said...

My mom used to make home made custard for the holidays and when I was sick. I am sick today so this was a sweet reminder of that time. Thanks.

BrSpiritus said...

I dunno if that custard sounds edible but I did find an interesting recipe for mock Maryland crabcakes that I want to try out. I am quite frugal, snipping coupons, buying on sale, etc.

Pearl said...

Im planning to make my own bread next week. Quite excited to experiment with it to suit my needs (low salt, potassium diet). Frugal, at the same time, healthy for me.