Mattie's day starts early at the Cook Coffeehouse, just as it does for Mother and the servant, Eliza. Eliza serves Mattie a substantial breakfast of oatmeal, veal, and cornbread, followed by coffee. While Mother runs errands and Eliza begins grinding spices and making gingerbread, Mattie goes out to the kitchen garden to pump water from the well into a bucket to water the plants, as a drought threatens the vegetables' survival.
After Polly, the other servant, dies from the cholera epidemic, Mattie has ever more chores to do for the coffeeshop in the morning, such as occasionally scouring the kettles. She is also sent to the open air market to buy food.
The novel illustrates that eighteenth-century Americans worked very hard, including young people like Mattie. Mattie has a strong role model for work in her mother, who, so Mattie is told, gave birth to her in the morning and was back at work cooking dinner for ten the same night. Therefore, when her mother gets too sick with cholera to work, Mattie is shocked by the dire development.
Mattie knows that if she doesn't pitch in and help with the day-to-day business of running the coffee shop, it will fail, and her family will be destitute.