|Some of Mrs. Hall's shelves|
By the time James Herriot (the pen name of the veterinarian Alf Wight) arrives in Skeldale House, it seems as though technology has improved to the point where one person, with the appropriate knowledge and determination, can single-handedly cook all the meals, do all the laundry, and keep the house clean. Certainly the farmer’s wives would have needed to do so, until their children arrived and were able to help out. But farmers usually belonged to the lowest and poorest level of society. Sigfried, living in the city, had to regularly entertain visitors. He needed the respect of all levels of society. In order to achieve that, he would have needed someone like Mrs. Hall who could serve not just hardy but delicious food, keep his clothes clean and in good repair, and keep Skeldale House immaculate.
Obviously, Mrs. Hall would have to run the gamut of dealing with all the shopkeepers in Darrowby (or, if you prefer, Alf Wight’s real-life hometown of Thirsk), as there were no supermarkets back then. Nor were there refrigerators to keep food fresh for long periods, microwave ovens to heat up leftovers, or frozen dinners to pop in the stove at a moment’s notice. She would have had to plan out meals several days ahead. She would have needed to develop personal relationships with the butchers, the greengrocers, the bakers, and all the other shopkeepers who provided the items she needed to stock her shelves. Such personal relationships were necessary to insure she received exactly what she wanted (the exact cut of meat, or the freshest type of fruit or vegetables), and at the right price, for each day’s meals.
|Introducing: Stove #1.|
The stove on the left, the cream-colored model, appears to run on wood. This means that someone must procure the wood, as well as cut it to size. Then, the chopped wood would be carried into the kitchen so Mrs. Hall could keep her oven operating at the correct temperature. As there’s no dial for easily moderating the heat from a wood fire, she would need to keep a constant watch on the level of the fire, and the experience to judge how well the food was cooking. As for the wood she fed into the stove, I seem to recall from the books that Tristan chopped the wood. Although he generally seemed reluctant to do anything Sigfried asked, my recollection is that, of all the tasks his older brother assigned him, Tristan didn’t mind chopping the wood.
Of course, he wouldn’t have let Sigfried know that.
|And now, for your viewing pleasure, I reveal: Stove #2.|
This green stove appears to be a two-burner range fed by gas canisters. I suppose this means they’re a larger version of the simple cooking stoves we take with us these days when we go camping. I am curious as to the purpose of the small round black object that protrudes on the right hand side. And then there’s the black box on the shelf above the stove. Might it have been used to keep food warm? Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can enlighten me as to the purpose of these two objects.
I don’t know if the green stove was a later addition to the household, or if it was present when James Herriot arrived in the 1930s. One thing that seems obvious is that Mrs. Hall would have worked hard to keep her household running. In the books, James Herriot seems in awe of her strength, demeanor, and capabilities. Still, inevitably, things must have gone wrong from time to time. When, for whatever reason, her food didn’t agree with Sigfried, James or Tristan, she would have offered them products like this:
I can hear Sigfried now, suddenly halting his complaints about not feeling well. “Um…no thanks, Mrs. Hall,” he might say. “I think I’ll just head off to bed early tonight, if it’s all the same to you.”
This entry will conclude in The Mistress of Skeldale House: Part 3.
Thanks for following along,