Marketing for Us Two

This is the first article in July of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on July 7, 1907, and is an educating article on how to keep a house for two people.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the Boston Sunday Post.

Marketing for Us Two

IN A paper written by Christine Terhune Herrick upon a kindred subject some years ago we read:

“The tradition is current among housekeepers that there is great economy in buying’ supplies in large quantities. The learned of them will dilate upon the amount that will be saved by getting flour, sugar and potatoes by the barrel, butter by the tub and coffee by the bag. They prove to you that you may put money into your pocket by purchasing a crate of eggs at a time and pickling them for winter use. They buy meat in the piece, as it were, and tell you triumphantly how much they can thus save on a pound over the retail price.”

This introduction to a most pertinent article has recurred often to my mind lately in reading the many letters recoiled by the Exchange relative to the scheme of bringing the marketing for a family of two people within a certain limit—in most cases, within $4 per week.

At least half of the housewives who aver that they have accomplished the feat mention, with a of modest exultation, that they lay in supplies by the quantity. The aforenamed tradition is too firmly lodged in the cranium of the American woman of domestic affairs to be dislodged by one or by a dozen treatises.

Yet our papers teem with stones of “How we lived in Italy, France, England or in Scotland”—the last-mentioned country being a recognized school in thrift and comfortable frugality. We read them, and wonder with great admiration at the moderate sums disbursed by native and adopted caterers for their families and for ours. We tell, amusedly, when we come home how we bought half a chicken in a Florentine market, and eggs by the pound almost everywhere; how our cook brought home, daily, exactly as much of each kind of food as would last us for twenty-four hours, and repeat the complacent remark I have told of once before in the column, of a man who had been a Paris householder for years—“A mouse could not make a breakfast on what is left-over in our cupboard each night.”


The French, we observe, incidentally, as we talk of these things, are the wisest and the daintiest economists in the world.

We learn much and rapidly of them in other lines. We copy their dress, their speech, their dishes and their manner of serving tables; we read their literature and admire their pictures. We remain dull to the practical philosophy of buying food in small quantities for small—and for large—families.

Yet we have object lessons at home which should have opened our eyes to the unwisdom of wholesale purchasing. Plenty and waste may not march together in our minds or in our practice. Every housekeeper who reads this can call up, without an effort, illustrations from her own experience of the association of the two in the thought and action of hirelings of whatever nationality.

Have I ever told here of my friend who checked her cook’s movement in the direction of the garbage pail, with—

“But, Ann! there are six or seven whole, sound potatoes among those peelings?”

The woman stared: “Yis, mem, but, sure, there’s a barrel of ’em in the cellar!”

I have said that we are slow to learn the lesson. I well recollect—and not without shame—the smile of amused contempt with which, as a young matron, I heard another woman as young and foolish as myself tell of a millionaire’s wife who “never bought flour and sugar by the barrel, because it made servants careless in the use of them.”

We thought her mean then. I comprehend now one reason why her husband became a millionaire.

Another prime advantage in buying perishables in small quantities is so well put by Mrs. Herrick that I crave permission to quote again from her paper:

“There is an avoidance of useless labor in the system—that is, in purchasing by what may be called ‘limited retail.’ No unpleasant hours are spent in picking over apples, potatoes and winter vegetables. The housewife has not to count upon a certain amount of loss from rotting and withering. Her grocer bears that loss. His shop is her pantry, to which she goes to get vegetables by the quart or half the corn-meal or Graham flour when she gets two or three pounds at a time. If a freshly opened package of oatmeal be musty, she sends it back to him forthwith. The coffee in her small canister cannot lose strength, for it is constantly used and constantly renewed. Butter never grows rancid; eggs never become stale on her hands.”

In buying meat for “us two,” study out the small cuts. The butcher will face you down, if he sees that he can, that two ribs are the least number which may be formed into a roast. We all know “his tricks and his manners” in that direction. The meat that goes with a single rib, ho assures you, “is nothing more than a thick steak.”

Stand fast in your lot (which is not his!) and make him take out the solitary rib, roll the “steak” and skewer it into a four-pound roast. It will be comely to the eye and serve you two for two—maybe three—meals, to say nothing of the pint of soup-stock based upon the trimmings.

Be sure he sends the one rib home! If you do not get it, he will sell it to another customer who inquires for material for soup-stock. It is false shame that holds you back from insisting upon getting all you have bought.

Your transatlantic sister has no such scruples. The honest tradesman, until he has been trained by you and other sensible marketers, is unwilling to sell four chops, or a single veal cutlet, or two pork tenderloins. Since they are all you need for one meal, why buy more?

The fishmonger displays the same amazed reluctance to weigh half a pound of smelts or to measure a pint of oysters. A fair degree of moral courage is needed to carry out your principle not to buy what you do not want merely because grocer, huckster and butcher do not dissemble their surprise at your “small ways.” Keep steadily in mind the truth that you have as good a right to look out for your own interests as he has to guard his.

That is a pretty story told by Mary Lamb’s biographer of her reception of three unexpected guests who happened to call just as she and “the gentle Charles,” her brother, were sitting down to dine upon a tiny roast of mutton. Mary divided it into five chops.

“Just one apiece!” she said, cheerily, “and we will make out for the rest with bread and cheese.”

Rise superior to the weakness of mortification when a chance visitor discovers that you purchase food as yon receive grace from heaven—by the day. Economy is not, of necessity, stinginess, nor is a just sense of proportion in considering ways and means parsimony.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange
Some Seasonable Recipes

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