Mrs. Avis Crocombe nodded at Mary Ann and Sylvia. "Finish setting out the servants’ breakfast on the sideboard. Get last night's vegetables to go with the kippers, bread, and cheese. Sylvia, start on the rice for the family's kedgeree right after, and Mary Ann, bring me a cup of tea when you're done."
"Yes, Mrs. Crocombe," Mary Ann replied, while Sylvia settled for a quick curtsy.
Striding towards her room, the heels of her boots leaving a sharp echo in the nearly empty halls, Avis took a moment to appreciate how clean and tidy the kitchen and pastry room looked, everything in order for the day. It had taken quite a while to finish building the new area after the fire gutted the old kitchen, and she had finally been able to get everything set just the way she wanted it. The tradesmen were gone, and the servants knew to avoid the kitchen halls unless they had business there.
Avis hated disorder, so joining a house while the main kitchen was being rebuilt had been a trial, but she had dealt with it well. The position was a good one, providing her with her own room in the back -- the chef's room -- even though she was simply a professional cook.
The servants had been at sixes and nines last night. Justice, Lady Braybrooke's maid, had brought them news that her lady was feeling quite tired and had decided to spend the day in her room. She did plan to come down to the family dining room for supper, after Lord Braybrooke was back from shooting, but otherwise she planned to spend the day resting.
At supper, the upper servants had much to discuss. Mrs. Warwick, the housekeeper, talked at length about how Lady Braybrooke hadn't perked up after all of the hustle and bustle of moving back to the country house from London, while Mr. Lincoln, the butler, felt it was more that her daughter was married and in her own household and she was feeling the loss.
Avis knew how busy Lady Braybrooke was with her charitable works, as well as all of her other duties. If she needed a day of rest, she had certainly earned it. If Lady Braybrooke had been truly ill, she would have kept away from the party throughout the weekend, which all of the upper servants agreed might make her more melancholy. The shooting party was important to the estate too. Mr. Lincoln said that the guests owned a champion Jersey steer that Lord Braybrooke wished to breed with his herd, and he was quite keen on improving his cows, so Avis felt it was sensible for Lady Braybrooke to take the day to rest.
Sitting down at her desk, Avis brought out her recipe book. Lady Braybrooke's maid had provided Avis with a written note detailing some menu changes, but they were guidelines rather than specific dishes. She'd requested a light soup with fish for luncheon, and a “fruit pudding” with supper. The exact dishes, the note said, she would leave to Mrs. Crocombe to pick.
It was the first time that Lady Braybrooke had allowed Avis to select anything for the family table, and the honor weighed heavily on her. She wanted to prove that she knew Lady Braybrooke's taste.
Avis tapped her book in thought. Lady Braybrooke did enjoy Brussels Cream, which would make it an excellent choice for luncheon. She quickly skimmed the ingredients, just to make sure they had everything to hand. For this recipe, she would need:
Ground rice. Sylvia could do this as soon as she finished sieving the breakfast rice.
Cream, enough to fill a moderate-sized mould.
Lemon, rubbed in sugar. Easy enough.
Butter. The Jersey herd did give the best butter.
Isinglass. She preferred gelatine, and as the household was well off, no need to scrimp on that.
Currant jelly for decorating.
With a final nod to herself, she considered the matter sorted. Pigeon pie for Lord Braybrooke's tea, and Brussels Cream for his lady's luncheon. The family supper was already planned out, other than the fruit dish that Lady Braybrooke had requested. Avis skimmed a few pages in her book before turning to her bookshelf and taking out Eliza Acton's recipes.
It seemed like no time had passed before Mary Ann rapped at her door. "Your tea, Mrs. Crocombe." She gave a small curtsy while waiting at the doorway.
"Excellent." Avis pushed her books out of the way, stood, and smoothed her dress down over her petticoats as Mary Ann laid the tray on top of her desk. "We have quite a busy day today, and the new girl -- one of Mr. Barker's nieces from the village -- will be showing up shortly. She worked as a kitchen maid before she was married, so she already understands the type of work she's to do." Autumn and winter were always busy here at Audley End, and she was fortunate that she had been allowed to bring on a day maid this year. "Take charge of her when she arrives. Show her around the kitchen and where to store her things while she works. She'll be coming in from Saffron Walden on a daily basis, so no need to set up a bed for her. Take her to the scullery and have her pluck the pigeons for the pie for Lord Braybrooke's luncheon. I've already selected the ones I want from the locker, so they should be in the scullery with Annie by now. I'm sure she'll be glad of the extra help."
"Very good, Mrs. Crocombe. I left the decorative leaves for the pie in the pastry room, ready for you."
"Thank you." Avis smiled her approval, and Mary Ann gave her another curtsy before heading back to the kitchen.
Mary Ann was an extremely dependable first kitchen maid, Avis thought. She had become quite reliant on her, particularly when she needed to carve some extra time out of the day.
The tea settled her thoughts, and she turned back to her work. Eliza Acton's book lay open to the Apple Hedgehog recipe. Picking up the book, she gave a small smile. It was a particular favorite of Lord and Lady Braybrooke's, and it would be a fine way to finish the meal. She would tell Mr. Vert she needed some unblemished apples for hedgehogs that she planned to make for the family tonight. Hopefully, that bit of whimsy would help lift Lady Braybrooke’s spirits before the weekend guests arrived.
There. With mutton, vegetables, a nice whitefish, and the apple hedgehog, the family's meals were set for the day. Once the temporary maid arrived, preparation for the shooting party would be well underway. She placed her books back on her shelf, then closed her own recipe book and slid it into her apron pocket. Lord Braybrooke was shooting this morning, so she needed to finish making his breakfast straight away. He probably wouldn't be back until dark, so she would send out the footmen with his tea later. When he was shooting, he never stopped for luncheon.
Avis checked her cuffs, collar, and cap one last time in the mirror, and adjusted her glasses to sit perfectly on her face. There. Neat and presentable. Sylvia should have finished the rice by now. It was time for her to get on with her day.