[The sprightly humor and keen satire of the author who signs herself Gail Hamilton (and prefers to be known only by this nom-de-guerre) is too well known to American readers to need description. We have given in the preceding volume a selection from her works, and add to it, from her “Country Living and Country Thinking,” the following lively edict from the “kitchen cabinet.”]
LET me give the modus operandi. Of fine maize flour, yellow as the locks of the lovely Lenore, take — well, take enough: I cannot tell exactly how much; it depends upon circumstances. Of fresh new milk, white as the brow of the charming Arabella, take — I don’t know exactly how much of that either; it depends upon circumstances, particularly upon the quantity of the meal. If you have not new milk, take blue milk, provided it be sweet; or, if you have none that is sweet, sour milk will answer; or, if “your folks don’t keep a cow,” take water, clear and sparkling as the eyes of the peerless Amanda; but, whether it be milk or water, let it be scalding as the 8 tears of the outraged Isabel. Of molasses, sweet as the tones of the tuneful Lisette, take — a great deal, if is it summer; in the winter not quite so much (for the reasons therefor, see Newton’s Treatise on the Expansive Power of Fluids, vol. i. p. 175.) Of various other substances, animal, vegetable, and mineral, which it becomes not me to mention, — first, because I have forgotten what they are; secondly, because I never knew; and thirdly, because, as the immortal Toots remarks, “it is of no consequence,” — take whatever seems good in your sight, and cast them together into the kneading-trough, and knead with all your might and main. Provide yourself, then, with a tin plate, not bright and new, for so your cakes will be heavy, your crust cracked, and your soul sorrowful, but one blackened by fire and venerable with time and rough with service. With your own roseate fingers scoop out a portion of the pulpy mass. Fear not to touch it; it is soft, yielding, and plastic as the heart of the affectionate Clara. Turn it lovingly over in your hands; round it; mould it; caress it; soften down its asperities; smooth off its angularities; repress its bold protuberances; encourage its timid shrinkings; and when it is smooth as the velvet cheek of Ida, and oval as the classic face of Helen, give one “last, long, lingering look,” and lay it tenderly in the swart arms of its tutelar plate. Repeat the process until your cakes shall equal the sands on the sea-shore or the stars in the sky for multitude, or as long as your meal holds out, or till you are tired. I am prescribing for one only. Ab uno disce omnes.
To the Stygian cave, that yawns dismally from the kitchen stove, consign it without a murmur. Item: said stove must have a prodigious crack up and down the front. A philosophical reason for this I am unable to give. I refer the curious in cause and effect to Galen’s deservedly celebrated Disquisition on the Relations of Fire and Metals, 9 passim; also, Debrauche on Dough, p. 35, appendix. I only know that the only stove whence I ever saw brown-bread cakes issue had an immense crack up and down the front. (Since writing the above, a new stove has been substituted for the old one, and still brown-bread cakes are duly marshalled every morning. Consequently, you need not be particular about the crack. Still, I would advise all amateurs to consult the authorities I have mentioned. It will be a good exercise.)
When your cake has for a sufficient length of time undergone the ordeal of fire, bring it again to the blessed light of day. If the edge be black and blistered, like a giant tree blasted by the lightning’s stroke, or if the crust be rent and torn as by internal convulsions, cast it away. It is worthless. Trample it under your foot. Item: put on your stoutest boots, and provide yourself with cork soles; otherwise the trampling may prove to be anything but an agreeable pastime. But if the surface be a beautiful auburn brown, crisp, brittle, and unbroken, —
Or, as the clown said of the apple-dumplings, “Them’s the jockeys for me.”
If you are an outside barbarian, ignorant of the refinements of civilized life, you will at once proceed to cut open with your knife the steaming cake as you would an oyster, and thereby render it heavy as the heart of the weeping Niobe; but if you are a gentleman and a scholar, you will gently sunder its clinging sides without “armed interference,” and so preserve its spongy, porous texture. To the uninitiated one part is as good as another; but let me confidently whisper in your ear, if it should be your duty to 10 pass the plate, present to your neighbor that side which bears the under-crust, as that is liable to be burnt and unpalatable, and reserve to yourself the smoothly-rounded upper crust, which is deliciously toothsome. Lay your portion on your plate crust downward. With your own polished knife (the reason of this you will presently perceive), carve from the ball of golden butter a lump of magnificent dimensions. Be not niggardly in this respect. Exercise towards yourself a large-hearted generosity; for butter sinks into itself and in itself is lost with wonderful rapidity, when it rests on a pedestal of hot bread. Press your butter, still adhering to your knife, down into the warm, soft bread, in various places, forming little wells, whose walls are unctuous with the melted luxury, and then — OH, THEN! but I cannot sustain the picture which my fancy has drawn.
* [The source of these lines is Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore. — Elf.Ed: