The Art of Entertaining Part 13
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All kinds of cooked fish can be served with salads. Lettuce is the best green salad to serve with them; but all cooked and cold vegetables go well with fish. Add capers to the mayonnaise.
A housekeeper who has conquered the salad question can always add to the plainest dinner a desirable dish. She can feed the hungry, and she can stimulate the most jaded fancy of the over-fastidious _gourmet_ by these delicate and consummate luxuries.
Here is Sydney Smith's recipe for a salad:--
"To make this condiment your poet begs The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs; Two boiled potatoes, pa.s.sed through kitchen sieve, Smoothness and softness to the salad give.
Let onion atoms wink within the bowl, And half suspected, animate the whole; Of mordant mustard, add a single spoon, (Distrust the condiment that bites too soon), But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault, To add a double quant.i.ty of salt.
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown, And twice with vinegar, procured from town; And lastly, o'er the favoured compound toss A magic _soupcon_ of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat!
Back to the world would turn his fleeting soul, To plunge his fingers in a salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say, 'Fate cannot harm me,--I have dined to-day.'"
"Take, take lobsters and lettuces, Mind that they send you the fish that you order; Take, take a decent sized salad bowl, One that's sufficiently deep in the border; Cut into many a slice, All of the fish that's nice; Place in the bowl with due neatness and order; Then hard-boiled eggs you may Add in a neat array, All toward the bowl, just by way of a border.
"Take from the cellar of salt a proportion, Take from the castors both pepper and oil, With vinegar too, but a moderate portion,-- Too much of acid your salad will spoil; Mix them together, You need not mind whether You blend them exactly in apple-pie order, But when you've stirred away, Mix up the whole you may, All but the eggs which are used as a border.
"Take, take plenty of seasoning; A teaspoonful of parsley that's chopped in small pieces Though, though, the point will bear reasoning, A small taste of onion the flavour increases As the sauce curdle may, Should it, the process stay.
Patiently do it again in good order; For if you chance to spoil Vinegar, eggs, and oil, Still to proceed would on lunacy border."
A Spanish salad, _gas.p.a.cho_, is a favourite food of the Andalusian peasant. It is but bread soaked in oil and water, with a large Spanish onion peeled, and a fresh cuc.u.mber.
Slice three tomatoes, take out the grain and cut up the fruit.
Arrange carefully all these materials in a shallow earthen pan, tier upon tier, salting and peppering each to taste, pouring in oil plentifully, and vinegar. Last of all, let the salad lie in some cool spot for an hour or two, then sprinkle over it two handfuls of bread-crumbs.
In Spanish peasant houses, the big wooden bowl hanging below the eaves to keep it cool is always ready for attack. The oil in Spain is not to our taste; but the salad made as above, with good oil, is delicious.
It should have a sprinkling of red pepper.
There is not in the wide world so tempting a sweet As that trifle where custard and macaroons meet.
Oh! the latest sweet tooth from my head must depart Ere the taste of that trifle shall not win my heart.
Yet it is not the sugar that's thrown in between, Nor the peel of the lemon so candied and green, 'T is not the rich cream that's whipped up by a mill, Oh, no; it is something more exquisite still!
The great meaning of dessert is to offer "something more exquisite still." And it is the province of the housekeeper, be she young or old, to study how this can be done.
Nothing in European dinners can compare with the American custards, puddings, and pies. We are accused as a nation of having eaten too many sweets, and of having ruined our teeth thereby; but who that has languished in England over the insipid desserts at hotels, and the tooth-sharpeners called "sweets," meaning tarts as sour as an east wind, has not sighed for an American pie? In Paris the cakes are pretty to look at, but oh, how they break their promise when you eat them! Nothing but sweetened white of egg. One thing they surpa.s.s us in,--_omelette souffle_; and a _gateau St. Honore_ is good, but with that word of praise we dismiss the great French nation.
Just look at our grand list of fruit desserts: apple charlotte, apricots with rice, banana charlotte, banana fritters, blackberry short-cake, strawberry short-cake, velvet cream with strawberries, fresh pine-apples in jelly, frozen bananas, frozen peaches in cream, orange cocoanut salad, orange salad, peach fritters, peach meringue, peach short-cake, plum salad, salad of mixed fruits, sliced pears with whipped cream, stewed pears, plain, and pumpkin pie! But oh! there is "something more exquisite still," and that is an apple pie.
"All new dishes fade, the newest oft the fleetest; Of all the pies ever made, the apple's still the sweetest.
Cut and come again, the syrup upward springing, While life and taste remain, to thee my heart is clinging.
Who a pie would make, first his apple slices, Then he ought to take some cloves and the best of spices, Grate some lemon rind, b.u.t.ter add discreetly, Then some sugar mix, but mind,--the pie not made too sweetly.
If a cook of taste be competent to make it, In the finest paste will enclose and bake it."
During years of foreign travel I have never met a dish so perfect as the American apple pie can be, with cream.
Then look at our puddings; they are richer, sweeter, more varied than any in the world, the English plum-pudding excepted. That is a ponderous dainty, which few can eat. It looks well when dressed with holly and lighted up, but it is not to be eaten every day. Baked bread pudding, carrot pudding, exceedingly delicate, chocolate pudding, cold cabinet-pudding, boiled rice-pudding with custard sauce, poor man's rice-pudding, green-apple pudding, Indian pudding, minute pudding, tapioca pudding, and all the custards boiled and baked with infinite variety of flavour,--these are the every-day luxuries, and they are very great ones, of the American table.
One charming thing about dessert and American dishes is that ladies can make them. They do not flush the face or derange the white ap.r.o.n.
They are pleasant things to dally with,--milk and eggs, and spice and sugar. A model kitchen is every lady's delight. In these days of tiles, and marble pastry-boards, and modern improvements, what pretty things kitchens are.
The model dairy, too, is a delight, with its upright milk-pans, in which the cream is marked off by a neat little thermometer, and its fire-brick floor. How cool and neat it is! Sometimes a stream of fresh water flows under the floor, as the river runs under the Chateau of Chenonceaux, where Diane de Poitiers dressed her golden hair.
In the model kitchen is the exquisite range, with its polished _batterie de cuisine_. Every brilliant saucepan seems to say, "Come and cook in me;" every porcelain-lined pan urges upon one the necessity of stewing nectarines in white sugar; every bright can suggests the word "conserve," which always makes the mouth water; every clatter of the skewers says, "Dainty dishes, come and make me."
All this is quite fascinating to an amateur.
No pretty woman, if she did but know it, is ever so pretty as when she is playing cook, and doing it well. The clean white ap.r.o.n, the short, clean, cambric gown, the little cap, the white, bare arms,--the glorified creams and jellies, pies and Charlotte Russe, cakes and puddings, which fall from such fingers are ambrosial food.
There is a great pa.s.sion, in the properly regulated woman's heart, for the cleanly part of the household work. The love of a dairy is, with many a d.u.c.h.ess, part of the business of her rank. In our country, where ladies are compelled to put a hand, once perhaps too often, owing to the insufficiency of servants, to the cooking, it is less a pastime, but a knowledge of it is indispensable. To cook a heavy dinner in hot weather, to wash the dishes afterward, this is sober prose, and by a very dull author; but to make the dessert, this is poetry. In the early morning the hostess should go into her neat dairy to skim the cream; it will be much thicker if she does. She will prepare all things for the desserts of the day. She will make her well-flavoured custard and set it in the ice-chest. She will place her compote of pears securely on a high shelf, away from that ubiquitous cat who has, in most families, so remarkable and so irrepressible an appet.i.te.
Then she should make a visit to the kitchen before dinner, to see to it that the roast birds are garnished with water-cress, that the vegetables are properly prepared, that the dishes are without a smear on their lower surface. All this attention makes good servants and very good dinners.
In the matter of flavouring, the coloured race has us at a great disadvantage. Any old coloured cook can distance her white "Missus"
there. This highly gifted race seem to have a sixth sense on the subject of flavours. The rich tropical nature breaks out in reminiscences of orange-blossoms, pineapple, guava, cocoanut, and mandarin orange. Never can the descendants of the poor, half-starved, frozen exiles of Plymouth Rock hope to achieve such custards and puddings as these Ethiops pour out. It is as if some luxurious and beneficent gift had left us when we were made poets, orators, philosophers, preachers, and authors, when we were given what we proudly term a higher intelligence. Who would not exchange all the cold, mathematical, intellectual supremacy of which we boast for that luscious gift of making pies and puddings _a ravir_?
The making of pastry is so delicate and so varied a task that we can only say, approach it with cold hands, cold ice-water, roll it on a marble slab, then bake it in a very hot oven.
Learn to stew well. Stew your fruit in a porcelain stewpan before putting it in your tarts. It is one of the most wholesome forms of cookery; a French novelist calls the stewpan the "favourite arm, the talisman of the cook." A celebrated physician said that the action of the stewpan was like that of the stomach, and it is a great gain if we can help that along. Stewing gooseberries, cherries, and even apples with sugar and lemon-peel before putting them in the tart, ensures a good pie.
Whipped white of egg is an elegant addition to most dessert dishes, and every lady should provide herself with wire whisks.
Whipped to a strong froth with sugar, and lemon or vanilla flavouring, this garnish makes an ordinary into a superior pudding. New-laid eggs are exceedingly difficult to beat up well. Take those which have been laid several days. Have a deep bowl with a circular bottom, and in beating the eggs keep the whisk as much as possible in an upright position, moving it very rapidly; a little boiling water, a tablespoonful to two eggs, and a teaspoonful of sifted sugar put to them before beating is commenced, facilitates the operation.
For _omelette souffle_ the white of eggs, beaten, should be firm enough to cut.
An orange-custard pudding is so very good that we must give a time-honoured recipe:--
Boil a pint of new milk, pour it upon three eggs lightly beaten, mix in the grated peel of an orange, and two ounces of loaf sugar; beat all together for ten minutes, then pour the custard into a pie dish, set it into another containing a little water, and put it in a moderate oven. When the custard is set, which generally takes about half an hour, take it out and let it get cold. Then sprinkle over rather thickly some very fine sugar, and brown with a salamander. This should be eaten cold.
Of rice and tapioca puddings the variety is endless, and they are most healthful. A wife who will give her dyspeptic husband a good pudding every day may perhaps save his life, his fortunes, and if he is an author, his literary reputation.
An antiquary of the last century wrote, "Cookery was ever reckoned a branch of the art medical; the verb _curare_ signifies equally to dress vegetables and to cure a distemper, and everybody has heard of Dr. Diet, and kitchen physic."
Indeed that most sacred part of a woman's duty, learning to cook for the sick, can be studied through desserts. A lady, very ill in Paris through a long winter, declared that she would have been cured had she once tasted cream-toast, or tapioca pudding; both were luxuries which she never encountered.
Then come all the jellies; and it is better to make your own gelatine from the real calves'-feet than to use patent gelatine. The latter, however, is very good, and saves time. It also makes excellent foundation for all the so-called creams.
Some ardent housekeepers put up all their jams, preserves, and currant jelly; some even make the cordials curacoa, noyau, peach brandy, ginger cordial, and cherry brandy, but this is unnecessary.
They can be bought cheaper and better than they can be made.
The history of liqueurs is a curious one. Does any one ever think, as he tastes Chartreuse, of the gloomy monks who dig their own graves, and never speak save to say, "Mes freres, il faut mourir," who alone can make this sparkling and delicate liqueur which figures at every grand feast?
The Art of Entertaining Part 13
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The Art of Entertaining Part 13 summary
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