1. Choice of Articles of Food. --Nothing is more important in the affairs of housekeeping than the choice of wholesome food. Apropos to this is an amusing conundrum which is as follows:- "A man went to market and bought two fish. When he reached home he found they were the same as when he had bought them; yet there were three! How was this?" The answer is- "He bought two mackerel, and one smelt!" Those who envy him his bargain need not care about the following rules; but to others they will be valuable:-
2. Mackerel must be perfectly fresh, or it is a very indifferent fish; it will neither bear carriage, nor being kept many hours out of the water. The firmness of the flesh and the clearness of the eyes must be the criteria of fresh mackerel, as they are of all other fish.
3. Turbot, and all flat white fish, are rigid and firm when fresh; the under side should be of a rich cream colour. When out of season, or too long kept, this becomes a bluish white, and the flesh soft and flaccid. A clear bright eye in any fish is also a mark of its being fresh and good.
4. Cod is known to be fresh by the rigidity of the muscles (or flesh), the redness of the gills, and clearness of the eyes. Crimping much improves this fish.
5. Salmon.--The flavour and excellence of this fish depend upon its freshness and the shortness of time since it was caught; for no method can completely preserve the delicate flavour that salmon has when just taken out of the water. A great deal of what is brought to London comes from the Scotch and Irish rivers, and, though perfectly fresh, is not quite equal to salmon from English streams.
6. Herrings should be eaten when very fresh; and, like mackerel, will not remain good many hours after they are caught. But they are excellent, especially for breakfast relishes, either salted, split, dried, peppered, or pickled. Mackerel are very good when prepared in either of these ways.
7. Fresh Water Fish.--The remarks as to firmness and clear fresh eyes apply to this variety of fish, of which there are carp, tench, pike, perch, &c.
8. Lobsters, recently caught, have always some remains of muscular action in the claws, which may be excited by pressing the eyes with the finger; when this cannot be produced, the lobster must have been too long kept. When boiled, the tail preserves its elasticity if fresh, but loses it as soon as it becomes stale. The heaviest lobsters are the best; when light they are watery and poor. Hen lobsters may generally be known by the spawn, or by the breadth of the "flap."
9. Crab and Crayfish must be chosen by observations similar to those given above in the choice of lobsters. Crabs have an agreeable smell when fresh.
10. Prawns and Shrimps, when fresh, are firm and crisp.
11. Oysters.--If fresh, the shell is firmly closed; when the shells of oysters are open, they are dead, and unfit for food. The small-shelled oysters, the Byfleet, Colchester, and Milford, are the finest in flavour. Larger kinds, as the Torbay oysters, are generally considered only fit for stewing and sauces, and as an addition to rump-steak puddings and pies, though some persons prefer them to the smaller oysters, even when not cooked. Of late years English oysters have become scarce and dear; and in consequence the American Blue Point oysters find a ready market.
12. Beef.--The grain of ox beef, when good, is loose, the meat red, and the fat inclining to yellow. Cow beef, on the contrary, has a closer grain and whiter fat, but the meat is scarcely as red as that of ox beef. Inferior beef, which is meat obtained from ill-fed animals, or from those which had become too old for food, may be known by a hard, skinny fat, a dark red lean, and, in old animals, a line of horny texture running through the meat of the ribs. When meat rises up quickly, after being pressed by the finger, it may be considered as being the flesh of an animal which was in its prime; but when the dent made by pressure returns slowly, or remains visible, the animal had probably passed its prime, and the meat consequently must be of inferior quality.
13. Veal should be delicately white, though it is often juicy and well-flavoured when rather dark in colour. Butchers, it is said, bleed calves purposely before killing them, with a view to make the flesh white, but this also makes it dry and flavourless. On examining the loin, if the fat enveloping the kidney be white and firm- looking, the meat will probably be prime and recently killed. Veal will not keep so long as an older meat, especially in hot or damp weather: when going, the fat becomes soft and moist, the meat flabby and spotted, and somewhat porous like sponge. Large, overgrown veal is inferior to small, delicate, yet fat veal. The fillet of a cow-calf is known by the udder attached to it, and by the softness of the skin; it is preferable to the veal of a bull-calf.
14. Mutton.--The meat should be firm and close in grain, and red in colour, the fat white and firm. Mutton is in its prime when the sheep is about five years old, though it is often killed much younger. If too young, the flesh feels tender when pinched; if too old, on being pinched it wrinkles up, and remains. In young mutton, the fat readily separates; in old, it is held together by strings of skin. In sheep diseased of the rot, the flesh is very pale-coloured, the fat inclining to yellow; the meat appears loose from the bone, and, if squeezed, drops of water ooze out from the grains; after cooking, the meat drops clean away from the bones. Wether mutton is preferred to that of the ewe; it may be known by the lump of fat on the inside of the thigh.
15. Lamb.--This meat will not keep long after it is killed. The large vein in the neck is bluish in colour when the fore quarter is fresh, green when it is becoming stale. In the hind quarter, if not recently killed, the fat of the kidney will have a slight smell, and the knuckle will have lost its firmness.
16. Pork.--When good, the rind is thin, smooth, and cool to the touch; when changing, from being too long killed, it becomes flaccid and clammy. Enlarged glands, called kernels, in the fat, are marks of an ill-fed or diseased pig.
17. Bacon should have a thin rind, and the fat should be firm, and tinged red by the curing; the flesh should be of a clear red, without intermixture of yellow, and it should firmly adhere to the bone. To judge the state of a ham, plunge a knife into it to the bone; on drawing it back, if particles of meat adhere to it, or if the smell is disagreeable, the curing has not been effectual, and the ham is not good; it should, in such a state, be immediately cooked. In buying a ham, a short thick one is to be preferred to one long and thin. Of English hams, Yorkshire, Westmoreland, and Hampshire are most esteemed; of foreign, the Westphalian. The bacon and "sugar cured" hams now imported in large quantities from Canada and the United States are both cheap and good.
18. Venison.--When good, the fat is clear, bright, and of considerable thickness. To know when it is necessary to cook it, a knife must be plunged into the haunch; and from the smell the cook must determine whether to dress it at once, or to keep it a little longer.
19. Turkey.--In choosing poultry, the age of the bird is the chief point to be attended to. An old turkey has rough and reddish legs; a young one smooth and black. Fresh killed, the eyes are full and clear, and the feet moist. When it has been kept too long, the parts about the vent have a greenish appearance.
20. Common Domestic Fowls, when young, have the legs and combs smooth; when old these parts are rough, and on the breast long hairs are found when the feathers are plucked off: these hairs must be removed by singeing. Fowls and chickens should be plump on the breast, fat on the back, and white-legged.
21. Geese.--The bills and feet are red when old, yellow when young. Fresh killed, the feet are pliable, but they get stiff when the birds are kept too long. Geese are called green when they are only two or three months old.
22. Ducks.--Choose them with supple feet and hard plump breasts. Tame ducks have yellow feet, wild ones red.
23. Pigeons are very indifferent food when they are kept too long. Suppleness of the feet shows them to be young; the flesh is flaccid when they are getting bad from keeping. Tame pigeons are larger than wild pigeons, but not so large as the wood pigeon.
24. Hares and Rabbits, when old, have the haunches thick, the ears dry and tough, and the claws blunt and ragged. A young hare has claws smooth and sharp, ears that easily tear, and a narrow cleft in the lip. A leveret is distinguished from a hare by a knob or small bone near the foot.
25. Partridges, when young, have yellowish legs and dark-coloured bills. Old partridges are very indifferent eating.
26. Woodcocks and Snipes, when old, have the feet thick and hard; when these are soft and tender, they are both young and fresh killed. When their bills become moist, and their throats muddy, they have been too long killed. (See Food in Season, Pars. 30-42.)