Anything even remotely “Downtonesque” is all the rage these days and this book fits the mold. M’Lady’s Book of Household Secrets: Recipes, Remedies & Essential Etiquette by The Hon. Sarah MacPherson, is a glimpse into eighteenth century Great Britain. The book is compiled from the handwritten bits of advice, tidbits and favorite remedies/recipes collected by ladies of great houses, which became known as “House Books.” House Books became popluar amongst the fashionable set as something to be traded amongst friends and neighbours. Two such books, written by Lady Talbot of Lacock Abbey and Lady Lousia Connolly of Castletown House, were recently uncovered by the author, inspiring her to write about how life was lived in a very different time than the one we call our own.
I think the most interesting part of the whole book was the chapter on homeopathy. The subject has had a re-surgence of late (hey, if it’s good enough for the Queen…) and the remedies actually seem like they might work. I have actually used the tea bags over the eyes to reduce puffiness remedy, aloe vera for too much sun and avoado masks to refresh the skin… but if I come up with a bileous complaint, smallpox, shyness or consumption—it’s run, do not walk, to a medical professional for me! No hot blistering poultices, worm broth, or ground garden snails for this girl! It’s also interesting to see how some things never change—many of the household tips we still use today: Lavendar sachets to make our clothes smell fresh, baking soda (bi-carbonate of soda back then) to deodorize and vinegar to cut grease and clean windows. If I ever need to know how to clean my suit of armour, the family furs, my white kid gloves or any spare Ostrich feathers—I now have the resource I need.
This book is a fun read and bound to make you smile. The book does give the reader a brief glimpse of what life was like back then— if from a very narrow point of view. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey or any other period pieces, the chapter on domestic servant duties will be naught but a refresher course for you. There are some of the “house” favorite recipes in the last chapter that sound tasty—and some that don’t. I’ll admit it wanting to try the sugar scrub for softer hands, the herb omelet sounds tasty, and you might catch me doing some of the anti-ageing exercises to keep the wrinkles at bay…but I think I’ll leave the recipe for Pitchcocked Eels to a far braver woman than me!