Saturday, August 12, 2017

Gentle Breadwinners: The Story of One of Them by Catherine Owen (1888)

Yes, that's a screenshot. This lovely little book I have found (so far) only as a free e-book online, and I can't even find a picture of the cover.

The two young Misses Fortescue -- Dorothy, 25 and May, 20 -- find themselves in dire straits upon the death of their father. They move to the country where their elderly aunt and uncle, well-bred but horribly poor, have a house.  But how will they make a living? They try their hands at one thing and another, then the eldest discovers that her former hobby of baking can be more useful than she realized. Not only that, she seems to have a talent for it, and the business that ensues. At the very end, however, she is tendered a marriage proposal, seemingly to assure the gentle reader that even an old maid of 25 who lowers herself to cooking for other people and becoming a businesswoman can still get a man. In the author's defense, there is no suggestion that marriage will make her quit the business. (Whether that would be the assumption of the day or not is something else.)

I love this sort of book. It's a cozy read with nice characters and a message of "if she can do it, so can you". I'm not likely to cook from it at any point soon. Trying to do that would be a project, and require a bit of research on my part. Some of it would be translating the recipes (What is that temperature? What is that measure?), some would be translating terms. For example, what she describes as "marzipan" sounds different than what I am used to. And then there's ingredients. Can you still get "bitter almond oil"? And if I tried it, would my husband move out immediately, assuming I was trying to poison him?

The recipes in the main portion of the book are primarily baked goods, but also candied fruits and other confections as she branches out. There is an added section at the back, "The Contents of Dorothy's Notebook", which contains recipes of the Aunt, and are therefore recipes that can be made on very little money (in 1888).

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