Wednesday, 9 October 2013

10 January 1885 - 'How I Keep House On £250 A Year' by Mary Pocock - Part 4: General Hints and "Reasons Why"

 The beef tea interlude gives me flashbacks to Invalid Cookery.

In the household economy there is nothing of greater importance than that everything that goes into the kitchen should return its full value to the housekeeper - that there should be no waste, no extravagance.

Young housekeepers and cooks must remember that if two pennyworth of what are called pot vegetables can be procured, the plea, so common amongst us, of "nothing to cook with" cannot be allowed. A week ago I heard a cook say that she could not send up good dinners because her mistress allowed nothing to make things nice with. On inquiry I found that she could have herbs, vegetables, lemons, sugar and dripping, but the grievance was that no sauces were allowed. I consider that she was no cook if she could not do without these expensive adjuncts.

Count Rumford, a very clever man, and a write ron scientific cookery, said that he found the richness and quality of soup did not depend on the nutritious ingredients employed, but on the proper choice of them, and the management of the fire in the combination of ingredients. I believe this to be true to a great extent, but not so entirely as to advocate the following recipe, which I saw in an English pamphlet a short time ago:- "A substitute for beef tea: Stew half a pint of kidney beans in a quart of water in the oven; strain off the liquor, season and serve (without the beans). If too rich (?) add more water." now, I do not think the best cook in the world could make anything at all approaching beef tea out of kidney beans alone.

There are so many things that one does habitually, because they are customary, without knowing the reasons for them, that I shall endeavour in this and my next article to give the xplanation of these customs. It is scarcely an intelligent way of working to do things without understanding the reason, and not a way in which the readers of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER can like to work.

We will first consider the boiling of water. When the bubbles rise to the top of a pan of water the water boils - that is to say, it has reached a temperature of 212 deg., or boiling point; but suppose you get it to boil fast, as people call it,the water is then no hotter, but a good deal is wasted in steam, as there must be evaporation. In our ways of heating water I believe it is impossible to raise the temperature above boiling point; therefore when the kettle boils it is best to make the tea at once, and not wait for it to boil fast, for every minute you keep the water boiling tends to spoil the tea and make it flat, as you boil all the air out of the water.

If you take two pans, one of well boiled cold water and one of unboiled, and put a live fish in each, you wlil find that the fish in the boiled water will be uncomfortable and will soon die, while, of course, the other will live. It is to be remembered that water that has been kept boiling is too hard to use for cooking purposes.

Meat should be put into water that is nearly boiling; the reason is that it contains albumen, and albumen coagulates in water that is boiling or just below boiling point. When meat is put in very hot water the albumen coagulates, and forms a sort of film on the outside of it; this film suffices to keep the juices in the meat, but as meat is not a heat conductor like metal, the heat of the water is not at once communicated to the inside of it where we do not wish to coagulate the albumen, as it would make the meat hard to do so. Having put it in hot water, it must be cooked without being allowed to come to a boil. For the same reason fish must be put in hot water, with the exception of mackerel, which must only be put in warm water; this difference is on account of their very tender skins, which break if the water is hot, and that spoils the appearance of the fish. I have seen salmon come to table quite white from being put into cold water to cook. It reminded me of what I have often heard is done by the inhabitants of some places where salmon is a staple food; they cut it up into little pieces, and put it in plenty of cold water to boil it, in order to draw out all the flavour. Well, salmon is not so abundant in England that we need tire of having it with the flavour in it.

If fish or meat is to be used for soup, of course the treatment is just the reverse, as we then want the nourishment out of the materials instead of in them, so we put our stock meat in cold water, and let it get hot slowly (albumen dissolves in cold water), nor should salt be put in the stock pot until the meat is cooked, for the reason that it tends to keep the meat in the same way as hot water does.

Beef for beef tea should never boil, nor should beef tea need to be skimmed; in reality the juice from lean meat can all be drawn out by chopping the meat fine or cutting it up and pounding it in a mortar and soaking it in cold water. When beef tea is boiled and skimmed the albumen is lost. The best way to make it is to chop the meat, put it in a covered jar, 1 lb. of beef to half a pint of cold water and a few black pepper corns, no salt, and keep the jar in a saucepan of boiling water for three hours. The saucepan lid need not be put on; with the evaporation from the water sufficient heat will not be communicated to the jar to make the meat boil. Supposing you put the beef in a saucepan and boil it well and skim it as the scum rises, you will obtain quite a different result, for while the beef tea made in the jar will be a brown gravy, that made in the saucepan will be a lighter colour, and probably a jelly, much more resembling Liebig's extract in its nutritive qualities than proper beef tea.

We use bones for stock for the sake of the gelatine which they contain. They should be put in cold water - plenty of water. Suppose it takes a pint of water to cover the bones, add another pint, and reduce by evaporation in boiling to half the quantity; it is necessary to keep the water quite boiling to extract the gelatine. While writing of bones, I would remind my readers that gelatine is of very little value as food, but I think many soups and gravies are much improved by the addition of stock from bones; it gives them a consistence that they have not without it.

Useful jelly can be made quite as well from fish bones as from others. If the jelly from fish bones is to be used for adding to meat soup, the bones must first be scalded, then laid for a short time in cold water, then they may be boiled down. Of course if they are to be used for making fish soup or sauce they need no preparation. The bones of turbot, brill or plaice will, with a calf's foot, make excellent mock turtle. A rusty nail kept in soup in hot weather will often prevent its turning sour; this is not a fiction, like most of the sayings about old iron, but a fact that can be chemically accounted for.

While on the subject of boiling, I would recommend my readers to avail themselves of a very simple contrivance for cooking some delicate things and warming up others; this is having a pudding basin with a rim just the size of a saucepan, the rim of the basin to lodge on the top of the saucepan. Put water in the saucepan, then put the basin in, and a saucer to fit, with a weight in it, over. We frequently have slices from a cooked leg of mutton warmed this way in gravy: if the water is kept boiling they take about three quarters of an hour to get hot, and are never hard.

All vegetables except potatoes should be put in boiling water; even when they are used for flavouring only; the stock must be boiling when they are put in. This is because what we wish to do is to soften the tissue of which they are principally composed; this tissue is partially soluble in hot water. If we could raise water above boiling point in cooking vegetables it would be rather an advantage than otherwise,

Eggs are lighter and more digestible if they are not boiled; they may be very easily cooked otherwise. The white of an egg is almost pure albumen (the word is derived from the Latin Albus, white). Albumen coagulates, or as we call it, the "white sets" at a temperature of 180 deg., so no greater is needed to cook an egg. If you put an egg into a pint of boiling water, stand it on the side of the stove, or cover it over well ti keep it hot, and let it stand from ten to fifteen minutes; you will find a well cooked egg, of which the white is set, but not hard. In the same way an egg poached in a teacup stood in boiling water is more digestible than one put directly into a saucepan.

Passing from the boiling of water, stock, etc., we come to what is called the boiling of fat, but before I speak of cooking it I would call readers' attention to the fact that two kinds of lard are brought to market - the best the lard in bladders, the other the lard in tin pails; this latter is always apparently cheaper - I say apparently because it is not really. Very frequently it is the same quality as the bladder lard, but it contains a certain percentage of water; if that were removed it would be found that a shilling's worth of bladder lard and a shilling's worth of lard out of a tin pail weighed about the same. Of course the lard with water in it is not nearly as nice to cook with; it splutters dreadfully in a frying pan, and does not make such light pastry. I do not much care to use lard, and generally make dripping, as we do not (our family being small) have very many joints, but use a great deal of fat. I buy fat at the butcher's for the purpose. Veal suet, when it can be got, is far better than any other. I make dripping, clear skimmings off the stock pot, and purify fat that has been used, in the following way: Chop finely 3 lbs. of fat, place it in a saucepan with 1 1/2 pint of cold water, put it over a slow fire, stir often with a strong skimmer, which press on the bottom to break the pieces. When there are only bits of skin at the bottom, and little beads rise to the top, it is done. Take from the fire, stand by five minutes, strain the fat through tammy into a dry stone jar into which you have put some bay leaves, which remain in the dripping to perfume it. Note that to render fat well you must have a nice lined saucepan; an old black one will not do as well.

Unlike water, fat or oil are not boiling when they bubble. The bubbles are caused by the moisture in the fat; in fact it is the water in the fat that is boiling; when this is thrown off in steam the fat is ready for cooking in. We are accustomed to say that fat is boiling when it is quiescient after bubbling; that is not quite the fact, but near enough, as it is the cooking point. An experienced cook should try her fat before she begins to cook anything in it by throwing in a little piece of bread; if the fat is ready for use the bread will at once take a gold colour. It is much better to boil things in fat than to fry them. I sue a brass lined pan into which a wire frying basket fits. I need scarcely say both are kept bright. I keep three pans of fat; one is used for fish, one for meat, and the third for such things as apple fritters. Each pan is purified now and then in the above mentioned way. Being carefully used in the bright pan, it never gets burnt, and is added to from time to time. I prefer boiling in fat to frying, because things are not so rich. I think people will not believe this without my explaining the reason why they are less rich. It is very simple.  Suppose you plunge a fish or a cutlet into boiling fat, steam is immediately generated in the article you have put in, and this steam keep sthe fat out of it; but suppose, instead, you place your cutlet in a pan in which there is a quarter of an inch of fat, as the meat gets hot the steam is thrown off on the side not covered with fat, and the fat can get in. If anyone would cook two croquettes or rissoles in the two different ways, they would notice, if they were served immediately cut in two, the fried one would be hot, but the boiled one would be hotter - steaming hot in fact; when it was cut, they would understand how the boiling had imprisoned the moisture.

There is another kind of boiling, differing from both water and fat - namely sugar boiling, but it is not of sufficient general utility to be treated of here, beyond the making of caramel for colouring or for pudding sauce. Caramel for pudding sauce or to serve on the top of baked custard or milk puddings is made thus:- Dissolve over a gentle fire in a brass or copper lined saucepan two good tablespoonfuls of pounded loaf sugar, stir it all the time with a wooden spoon. When it is a golden brown then add a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar; boil for a few minutes, let it stand aside to get a little cool, then bottle for use. It may have: a little vanilla essence added if wished. Caramel for colouring is made thus:- Put the sugar in the pan, stir it until it is quite brown, add the water only (no more sugar), boil a few minutes and bottle for use. This is a much better and more economical colouring than a bit of sugar burnt in an old spoon.

We must next consider baking, a thing frequently done in a very slovenly way. Because it is easy, no trouble is taken, and things are very often burnt and spoilt. In baking meat, water should always be mixed with the dripping (unless a double pan taking water in the lower part is used) to prevent the fat burning and giving a disagreeable flavour to the meat. The reason is that the steam from the water prevents the fat getting hot enough to burn. I do not think that many things annoy me more than to hear an oven door slammed when cakes, bread or pastry are baking; it should be shut as gently as possible. I have known an ovenful of light pastry quite spoilt by the door being slammed. It is quite easy to understand the reason of this. We open the oven door when we think the pastry has risen, to turn it (which should also be done very gently, as a jar or a knock may send it down again); then if we shut the door gently we have let the steam out, and teh pastry will set. But suppose we slam the door, we send a current of cold air in which the paste has risen, and if it is at all delicately made it will probably sink as flat as when it was put in the oven.

Grilling or broiling is an operation not always well performed. Chops, fish, or other things must be broiled over a glowing fire. There should be no black coals in it; red cinders give off more heat, and do not smoke the thing to be cooked. It is quite certain though, that when you put a fat chop on the gridiron over the brightest of fires the fat will drop on the embers and make a smoke, but this smoke though it may black the chop, will not make it smoky, as cooks know. The reason is simply this: the black coals would give off coal smoke, which has not at all the same flavour as coal smoke.

In my next paper I shall treat of bread and pastry making, and the use of different cereals.

No comments:

Post a Comment