Eugene’s Kitchen

At a rummage sale this summer, I bought a set of three cast iron saucepans — a 1 quart, a 2 quart, and a 3 quart — with wooden handles to them (an ordinary set of cast iron saucepans, in fact1). I like cast iron, and these were a good price (i.e. really cheap), but, as I have no kitchen of my own as yet, I won’t be able to use them very much, so they are currently sitting on a shelf in my bedroom. Anyway, I was reminded by them of Mr. Eugene’s Wrayburn’s purely decorative kitchen in Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.

Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn sat together in the Temple. ….

‘Well!’ said Eugene, on one side of the fire, ‘I feel tolerably comfortable. I hope the upholsterer may do the same.’

‘Why shouldn’t he?’ asked Lightwood, from the other side of the fire. …. ‘We shall pay him …. Anyhow, your vagaries have increased the bill.’

‘Calls the domestic virtues vagaries!’ exclaimed Eugene, raising his eyes to the ceiling.

‘This very complete little kitchen of ours,’ said Mortimer, ‘in which nothing will ever be cooked—’

‘My dear, dear Mortimer,’ returned his friend, lazily lifting his head a little to look at him, ‘how often have I pointed out to you that its moral influence is the important thing?’

‘Its moral influence on this fellow!’ exclaimed Lightwood, laughing.

‘Do me the favour,’ said Eugene, getting out of his chair with much gravity, ‘to come and inspect that feature of our establishment which you rashly disparage.’ With that, taking up a candle, he conducted his chum into the fourth room of the set of chambers—a little narrow room—which was very completely and neatly fitted as a kitchen. ‘See!’ said Eugene, ‘miniature flour-barrel, rolling-pin, spice-box, shelf of brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill, dresser elegantly furnished with crockery, saucepans and pans, roasting jack, a charming kettle, an armoury of dish-covers. The moral influence of these objects, in forming the domestic virtues, may have an immense influence upon me; not upon you, for you are a hopeless case, but upon me. In fact, I have an idea that I feel the domestic virtues already forming. Do me the favour to step into my bedroom. Secrétaire, you see, and abstruse set of solid mahogany pigeon-holes, one for every letter of the alphabet. To what use do I devote them? I receive a bill—say from Jones. I docket it neatly at the secretaire, JONES, and I put it into pigeonhole J. It’s the next thing to a receipt and is quite as satisfactory to me. And I very much wish, Mortimer,’ sitting on his bed, with the air of a philosopher lecturing a disciple, ‘that my example might induce you to cultivate habits of punctuality and method; and, by means of the moral influences with which I have surrounded you, to encourage the formation of the domestic virtues.’

Mortimer laughed again, with his usual commentaries of ‘How can you be so ridiculous, Eugene!’ and ‘What an absurd fellow you are!’ but when his laugh was out, there was something serious, if not anxious, in his face. Despite that pernicious assumption of lassitude and indifference, which had become his second nature, he was strongly attached to his friend. He had founded himself upon Eugene when they were yet boys at school; and at this hour imitated him no less, admired him no less, loved him no less, than in those departed days.

‘Eugene,’ said he, ‘if I could find you in earnest for a minute, I would try to say an earnest word to you.’

‘An earnest word?’ repeated Eugene. ‘The moral influences are beginning to work. Say on.’

‘Well, I will,’ returned the other, ‘though you are not earnest yet.’

‘In this desire for earnestness,’ murmured Eugene, with the air of one who was meditating deeply, ‘I trace the happy influences of the little flour-barrel and the coffee-mill. Gratifying.’

At the end of the chapter, Eugene adds,

‘My dear Mortimer …. do me the justice to observe that I am doing all I can towards self-improvement, and that you have a light thrown on those household implements which, when you only saw them as in a glass darkly, you were hastily—I must say hastily—inclined to depreciate. Sensible of my deficiencies, I have surrounded myself with moral influences expressly meant to promote the formation of the domestic virtues. To those influences, and to the improving society of my friend from boyhood, commend me with your best wishes.’

(Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, Book the Second — Birds of a Feather, Chapter 6 — A Riddle Without an Answer)

After purchasing the saucepans, I did a bit of research on how to clean cast iron. I use cast iron fry pans on a regular basis, so I already know not to use soap, and how to season them. To clean cast iron, water is used, and then the pan is “seasoned” with oil — olive oil, coconut oil, lard, &c. Other things that can be used to clean cast iron are corse salt (such as the Kosher salt often used in canning foods), baking soda, and vinegar. You have to be careful using the last item. Vinegar, if left too long, will actually eat away at the iron. Sandpaper will remove rust from your cast iron pots and pans. Here is my favorite article that I’ve found on cleaning cast iron: How to Clean Cast Iron. (NB: Christ’s name is taken in vain once in this article.) Perhaps sometime I should clean my saucepans — so they can collect dust in style!

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1 “Lady Bracknell:  A hand-bag?

“Jack:  [Very seriously.]  Yes, Lady Bracknell.  I was in a hand-bag—a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an ordinary hand-bag in fact.” (from The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, Act I)

Note: This post is part of a series of posts called ‘Of Literature and Life: A Series of Quotes‘.

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2 Responses to Eugene’s Kitchen

  1. Steve Wedel says:

    Hooray for Dickens! Nice to stumble onto someone else who loves Victorian literature.

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