In Mrs Beeton’s hefty tome on household management – which contains more than just a huge selection of recipes for nearly everything imaginable and several things that you haven’t imagined – the section headed “Recipes for the Valet” does not begin very promisingly: “We need hardly dwell on the boot cleaning process.” However, she does manage to continue for at least two pages, not describing how to clean boots; apart from gentleman’s top boots, which, she assures us, “are still occasionally worn by gentlemen.” So if you are an aspiring Mr Darcy, you will be able to clean your top-boots with the help of Mrs Beeton!
However, within her scanty advice on cleaning boots, she mentions in passing that the valet should take great care when cleaning a lady’s boots to make sure that he doesn’t leave hand-prints on the lining as these “are very offensive to a lady of refined tastes”.
More intriguing for today’s readers are the recipes for making your own boot polish and blacking. Two recipes are given for making your own boot polish:
4 oz ivory black (Ivory black is also known as bone char and is obtained by burning animal bones in a low oxygen condition. It still has its uses not just in the commercial cleaning, but mostly for refining sugar, and crude oil to make petroleum jelly.)
4 oz treacle
1 oz sulphuric acid
2 spoonfuls of “best olive oil”
1 ½ pints best white wine vinegar
Mix the ivory black and the treacle together, then add in the other ingredients one by one “until thoroughly incorporated.”
1 oz pounded galls (from oak trees, I presume)
1 oz logwood chips
3 pounds red vin ordinaire
½ pound of pounded gum arabic
½ pound of lump sugar
1 oz green copperas (iron sulphate – no copper involved – available as a moss killer)
3 oz brandy
Boil the first three ingredients together until reduced by half. Dissolve the gum arabic in it, then add the sugar and copperas. Lastly, mix in the brandy. You have to wonder how often the valet took a little more than just the 3oz brandy and had a little nip on the sly…
Boot blacking recipe (best one out of 5 possibilities):
2 oz ivory black
2 oz brown sugar candy
1 T sweet oil (almond oil? sunflower oil?)
1 pint cold vinegar.
Mix the first three together, then gradually add the vinegar. Stir thoroughly.
Oh yes – Mrs Beeton does tell us how to clean patent leather: the best way is to wipe it with a wet sponge (preferably wet with “a little milk”), then dry with a soft cloth. Occasionally wipe with “sweet oil”.
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