Allow me to introduce to you Mr. John Greenleaf, “a man, sir,” he will tell you, “who has made his own money, and doesn’t care who knows it—none of your heirs to property; no, sir! A self-made man.” There he stands by the fireplace, looking as pompous as if all mankind were his glares, and he was monarch of the universe. He is very rich, worth, they will tell you on ‘Change, any amount of money. He has a fine house, as the peep we are taking into the parlor will convince you. You can see that all the furniture is rich, tho paintings rare, the carpets velvet, and the lights brilliant. He has three children. The little, pale-looking girl at the piano is his daughter. He has determined to give her a splendid education, “the best, sir, that money can buy.” Never mind if they are cramming her young brain beyond its capabilities, making her pale, puny, and old, she must study, practise, and be worthy to take her place in society as the daughter of John Greenleaf. The two little boys crouched down by the window, playing chess, though older than their sister, are as pale, weak, and overtasked. Who is the lady by the piano, guiding the little girl’s fingers? Bless your innocence! that’s nobody! That is only Mr. Greenleaf’s wife, “a person,” he will tell you, with a shrug, “of amiable disposition, but no strength of character.”
“My dear,” said Mr. Greenleaf, in a voice as if he were calling his wife from the garret, although she really stands within arm’s length.
“My dear, I have given the cook warning. Last week, the beef was twice overdone.”
“Well, John,” said Mrs. Greenleaf, with a sigh, “this is the sixth cook we have had within a month.”
“If she did not suit me, she should go, even if she were the sixtieth. She goes to-night; and the new one comes to-morrow.”
Now let me introduce you to Mr. Greenleaf’s kitchen. All is in order; every new invention for facilitating the servant’s work stands on the shelves; but did you ever see such discontented faces? Miss Fannie’s nurse stands by the table, looking at the new cook with a cross expression; while the waiter scours the knives in a spiteful, vigorous manner; and the chambermaid sets down her bucket with a bang, and looks too at the cook.
“You won’t stay here long,” says Maria, the nurse.
“No, that you won’t !” echoes Lizzie, the waiter.
“You’ll be a simpleton if you do,” chimes in Sallie, the chambermaid.
“Why, what’s the matter? Mrs. Greenleaf cross?”
“No, indeed,” cries Maria, screwing up her lips. “Mrs. Greenleaf’s a martyred angel; that’s what she is. It’s Mr. Greenleaf. Oh! Won’t you have to dance to the music? He’s hard on us all; but he’s hardest of all on the cooks.”
“Mr. Greenleaf ! what! what’s he got to do with me? I won’t have no men fooling round in my kitchen.”
“Oh! won’t you?”
“Well,” cried a loud, harsh voice at the door, “is there no work to do? What are you all idling here in the kitchen for at this time in the morning?”
Before he had finished speaking, cook stood alone in the kitchen.
“Humph !” said Mr. Greenleaf, setting down his basket; “so you’ve come. What’s your name?”
“Well, Jane, here’s the dinner. Now, I want you to listen particularly to my directions. I want that piece of beef roasted. Don’t let it stay in the fire more than half an hour. I hate meat overdone”
“It won’t be fit to eat in half an hour.”
“Obey my directions, if you please. The chickens I want boiled; and there will be some oysters here soon for sauce. Don’t put any butter or salt in the oyster-sauce.” And so he went on until each article had been condemned to utter ruin, and then left the kitchen.
“I’ll serve him up a dinner,” muttered the cook.
“Jane,” said a sweet, low voice.
“Jane, what has come for dinner?” Jane named the articles.
“Mr. Greenleaf has given you his directions, I presume?”
“Yes, ma’am. Everything in that ‘ere basket will be sp’iled complete.”
“Well, Jane, you must make everything as nice as you can; but don’t contradict Mr. Greenleaf, if he thinks you followed his directions.”
“Well, ma’am,” said the cook, rather discontentedly.
Dinner-time came, and with it Mr. Greenleaf. “Ah!” said he, throwing himself back in his chair, after finishing a hearty meal, “now, this is a dinner! everything cooked precisely after my directions. The new cook is a jewel. All the others have contradicted me; and the consequence was we have not had a dinner fit to eat for months. This beef is done to a charm; and that oyster-sauce is magnificent. I hate butter in oysters, spoiling the children’s complexions.”
Mrs. Greenleaf said nothing, though inwardly smiling at the success of her new stratagem.
Washing-day came. There, beside the tubs, stood Mr. Greenleaf, criticizing the proceedings. Jane had a large basket of clothes ready to put on the line; but, as she was leaving the kitchen, Mr. Greenleaf stood before her. “Do you call this white?” he asked, fishing up a towel with the end of his cane, “or this, or this? Faugh! they are as dirty as when they came down stairs ! Here!” And, taking the basket from Jane, he launched the contents into Maria’s tub.
“Oh, Mr. Greenleaf ! these are colored clothes!” cried Maria.
“Well, they want washing, don’t they?”
“Yes, sir; but you’ve pitched all them white ones a top o’ them! Oh, he! he! he!” And Maria fled into the yard, and burst out a laughing.
Mr. Greenleaf looked at her with magnificent astonishment. Jane had contrived to pin a half-dried towel to his coat; and her sudden view of it had caused Maria’s laughter.
“Giddy-headed goose!” cried Mr. Greenleaf. “I declare I believe I could wash myself better than the whole of you put together!”
“Suppose you try,” suggested Jane, accidentally flirting a quantity of soapsuds upon his black clothes. “Oh, sir, I beg your pardon; I did not see you.”
“Um! Um! these clothes in the boiler are only half washed. ‘Pon my word, servants, now-a-days, are enough to wear one’s life out. Here! take these things out and give them another rub.”
“Certainly, sir,” cried the obliging Jane; and before Mr. Greenleaf knew what was coming, a long stick was thrust into the boiler and a pile of clothes fished out. The hot steam rushed into his face, and the boiling water spattered over his hands, and, as he was springing aside to avoid them, down went the stick, full of hot clothes, upon his foot. “Oh, my gracious!” cried Jane. “Oh, sir, I did not mean to! Oh, you did give me sich a turn, sir, jumping round so, that the stick fell! Oh, I hope it don’t burn, sir.”
Mr. Greenleaf was obliged to make a very undignified exit, hopping on one foot, with the white towel dangling from his coat, and his vest and pants covered with soapsuds.
“I’ll teach him to come into my kitchen, washing-days,” cried Jane, as soon as he was out of hearing. “Now, I’ll go and see what his lordship wants for dinner.”
Jane found the unfortunate victim of her spite sitting in his wife’s room, holding the scalded foot in his hand, and the wet slipper and stocking lying beside him. Her face assumed an expression of profound sympathy, as she suggested a remedy for the burn. Then the subject of dinner was discussed. Among the marketing articles was a steak, and Jane, in her innocence, suggested onions.
“Onions!” cried Mr. Greenleaf. “Onions! I’d as leave eat arsenic. Onions! I detest onions! the flavor is the most horrible in the world. Remember, Jane, I will never have an onion on my table, or its flavor in anything I eat.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jane, mentally adding, “won’t you, though?”
The next morning, Jane left the house early and secretly, and returned with a number of large onions, which she carefully concealed. She and the waiter had a long private conversation soon after.
“Jane!” cried Mr. Greenleaf, at dinner-time, in a voice of thunder.
“Yes, sir,” said Jane, coming up hastily from the kitchen.
“Jane, did I not tell you never to put onion on the table?”
“There ain’t none, sir.”
“There is; the whole dinner tastes of onion. There is that detestable flavor in every dish on the table. You taste it, my dear.”
“I can’t taste it,” said Mrs. Greenleaf.
“Nor I, nor I,” cried the children.
The governess could not taste it, nor the friend who was dining with them. Mr. Greenleaf, in a towering passion, limped into the kitchen, and put his nose into every pot on the range. Everything was free from the fearful smell, yet his whole dinner tasted of it. Day after day, it was the same thing; breakfast, dinner, and supper tasted of onions. Even his tea and coffee had the flavor: and Mrs. Greenleaf began to think her husband was insane on the subject of onions. Jane and the waiter alone could have explained the mystery. Every day, before each meal, Jane took Mr. Greenleafs cup, saucer, and plate, and rubbed them with raw onion, then, standing them on the stove until the moisture dried on the china, she sent them up-stairs thoroughly impregnated with onion.
Mr. Greenleaf would have parted with Jane after his foot was scalded, but, acting on Mrs. Greenleaf’s hints, she served up the most splendidly-cooked meals, persuading him, by her submissive air and attention to his directions, that she was following all his absurd whims.
“Jane,” said Mr. Greenleaf, coming into the kitchen, one morning, “I have had a present of a pair of prairie hens, and I want them fricasseed. Now, I am not going out to-day, and I will show you exactly how to do them.”
“Yea, sir,” said Jane.
“Well, we will begin now.”
“Why, lors, sir, they will be all cold, if you cook them now.”
“Not at all; they need a good deal of cooking. First, cut them up.”
“Hadn’t I better clean them, sir?”
“Yes, of course; I meant clean them. Now, cut them up.”
“But they ought to be parboiled whole.”
“No, they are not to be parboiled; it makes them tough. They will cook enough in the gravy.”
Determined to let him see what a fine mess he was making, Jane followed his directions implicitly. The result was, a mess that would have disgusted a starving savage. Dinner-time came, and Mr. Greenleaf stood rubbing his hands, over his dish; it remained on every plate untouched. He put one mouthful into his own mouth, and then called Jane, in a tone that threatened to take the roof off the house. “What is that?” he asked, pointing to the dish before him.
“Them’s the prairie hens, sir.”
“What have you been putting in them?”
“Nothing but what you seed yourself, sir.”
Mr. Greenleaf looked at the dish, then at the cook; there was no appearance of deceit in her face. “Here!” he cried, “bring me a clean plate, and take this down stairs; throw it into the swill-pail, or give it to any beggar that will eat it.”
“I guess he won’t come down to get dinner himself again, in my kitchen,” muttered the triumphant cook, as she threw away the offending dish.
Godey’s Lady’s Book March 1859: : pp. 249-251
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has been fortunate that she has never had a master so overweening as Mr Greenleaf, but she will mentally file away that masterful trick with the onions.
See also, “Twelve Golden Rules for Women Cooks.”
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.