Are You "The Help"?

I have devoured the book, "The Help", by Kathryn Stockett.  It's a novel about the lives of African American maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960's. My BF, Mel suggested it, and I LOVED it!  A warming story, full of history, life experience,  and the triumph over social injustices,  it's a keeper, for sure!  And as of this week, the story will be released as a movie as well! Throughout the duration of the book, the attitude of housekeeping, servants, hostess proprieties, etc.. brought to mind a book that I have in my cache of obscure entertainment.  The book was published in 1936, by Proctor and Gamble, and titled, "The Art of Cooking and Serving".    It contains, for your culinary enlightenment, 549 "healthy" CRISCO recipes, because during that time, homemakers were "in need of a brief, authentic reference book on cooking and serving" , and that, "the lavish formal table customs of twenty or even ten years ago now seem pretentious and out of date."  Chapter one is titled, "Table Service in the Servantless House".  See there- very authentic...and not the least bit pretentious for the modern housewife of 1936, of course.  Indeed, those were troubling times financially, and many housewives had to relinquish their servants and  perform their own household managements, bless their hearts.  ; ) So, for fun, I would like to advise the modern SERVANTLESS housewife on the art of cooking and serving, in the voice of a 1936 Crisco representative, using the Crisco cookbook as a reference.  Bear with me as I tap into my inner Winifred Carter...Italicized quotations are direct excerpts from the book.  

Table Service for the Servantless House (You Poor Soul)

"Three things a meal must be when you are your own cook and waitress: it must be nourishing, it must be reasonably easy to prepare, and it must give your family pleasure in the way that it is served." It is a duty, no-adamantine law, that the table must be set, upon EACH meal,  with a cloth, crisp and clean, freshly ironed,  and forbidden even the tiniest spot sullying the linen.  If one must use a doily (immaculately placed, of course), please consider the condition of the table top itself, ensuring that the wood is well-finished, whether painted or polished.   It is to the detriment of the housewife to overlook even a scratch on the tabletop (her husband's delight is in knowing that his wife manages his money and her time well, and the well-bred housewife sees to even the slightest detail of her presentations to those whom she serves).    "In most households breakfast is a scramble with everyone coming down at the last minute and wanting to be waited on at once.  But it is the meal, too, that starts the day right or wrong for each member of the family, and so you, the homemaker, manage to have the table looking pretty, to wear your most serene manner and to serve food that looks absolutely irresistible." For breakfast, the table may be set with a small breakfast cloth or table runner (condition of table top permitting), matching fine-linen napkins, crisply ironed, in gay colors, and charming centerpiece of garden flowers, fruit, or tiny ferns and partridge vine. Each place should be set with a breakfast sized plate, fork, knife, bread and butter plate, butter knife, water glass, and coffee cup and saucer with teaspoon.  The coffee service MUST be placed beside your place, as YOU are the servant of your own household, and your desire is to see to the caring and pleasure of your family.

"The mistress of a perfectly charming little house in the country has a way of surprising her family on occasion by serving breakfast or luncheon on her spotless marble-topped kitchen table, which looks out over  an expanse of green lawn."

As you can see, the Servant of Her Own Household has many enticing methods of coping without hired help.  Keep in mind that the intelligent housewife avoids display, and always serves within her family's  own financial means, leaving the extravagant acts of service to those who have the finances and servants to deliver such acts.  Within these parameters, the Servant of Her Own Household is free to use her  imagination in order to inspire and delight her family.  So, there you have it:  If you find yourself without a servant in your household, walk into the pristine bathroom, gaze into the smudge-free mirror, at the perfectly coiffed reflection looking back at you and say, "Crap. I guess I'm 'The Help'."  And then get on with it, girl. ; )

What do you think? Are you the Help?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Keri Lehmann
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