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- The American Woman's Home - 30/80 -
she was ready to peel them. In the other case, the potatoes being first peeled were boiled as quickly as possible in salted water, which the moment they were done was drained off, and then they were gently shaken for a moment or two over the fire to dry them still more thoroughly. We have never yet seen the potato so depraved and given over to evil that it could not be reclaimed by this mode of treatment.
As to fried potatoes, who that remembers the crisp, golden slices of the French restaurant, thin as wafers and light as snow-flakes, does not speak respectfully of them? What cousinship with these have those coarse, greasy masses of sliced potato, wholly soggy and partly burnt, to which we are treated under the name of fried potatoes in America? In our cities the restaurants are introducing the French article to great acceptance, and to the vindication of the fair fame of this queen of vegetables.
Finally, we arrive at the last great head of our subject, to wit-- _Tea_--meaning thereby, as before observed, what our Hibernian friend did in the inquiry, "Will y'r honor take 'tay tay' or coffee tay?"
We are not about to enter into the merits of the great tea-and-coffee controversy, further than in our general caution concerning them in the chapter on Healthful Drinks; but we now proceed to treat of them as actual existences, and speak only of the modes of making the best of them. The French coffee is reputed the best in the world; and a thousand voices have asked, What is it about the French coffee?
In the first place, then, the French coffee is coffee, and not chickory, or rye, or beans, or peas. In the second place, it is freshly roasted, whenever made--roasted with great care and evenness in a little revolving cylinder which makes part of the furniture of every kitchen, and which keeps in the aroma of the berry. It is never overdone, so as to destroy the coffee-flavor, which is in nine cases out of tent the fault of the coffee we meet with. Then it is ground, and placed in a coffee-pot with a filter through which, when it has yielded up its life to the boiling water poured upon it, the delicious extract percolates in clear drops, the coffee-pot standing on a heated stove to maintain the temperature. The nose of the coffee-pot is stopped up to prevent the escape of the aroma during this process. The extract thus obtained is a perfectly clear, dark fluid, known as _caf noir_, or black coffee. It is black only because of its strength, being in fact almost the very essential oil of coffee. A table-spoonful of this in boiled milk would make what is ordinarily called a strong cup of coffee. The boiled milk is prepared with no less care. It must be fresh and new, not merely warmed or even brought to the boiling-point, but slowly simmered till it attains a thick, creamy richness. The coffee mixed with this, and sweetened with that sparkling beet-root sugar which ornaments a French table, is the celebrated _cafe-au-lait_, the name of which has gone round the world.
As we look to France for the best coffee, so we must look to England for the perfection of tea. The tea-kettle is as much an English institution as aristocracy or the Prayer-Book; and when one wants to know exactly how tea should he made, one has only to ask how a fine old English house-keeper makes it.
The first article of her faith is, that the water must not merely be hot, not merely _have boiled_ a few moments since, but be actually _boiling_ at the moment it touches the tea. Hence, though servants in England are vastly better trained than with us, this delicate mystery is seldom left to their hands. Tea-making belongs to the drawing-room, and high-born ladies preside at "the bubbling and loud hissing urn," and see that all due rites and solemnities are properly performed--that the cups are hot, and that the infused tea waits the exact time before the libations commence.
Of late, the introduction of English breakfast-tea has raised a new sect among the tea-drinkers, reversing some of the old canons. Breakfast-tea must be boiled! Unlike the delicate article of olden time, which required only a momentary infusion to develop its richness, this requires a longer and severer treatment to bring out its strength--thus confusing all the established usages, and throwing the work into the hands of the cook in the kitchen. The faults of tea, as too commonly found at our hotels and boarding-houses, are, that it is made in every way the reverse of what it should be. The water is hot, perhaps, but not boiling; the tea has a general flat, stale, smoky taste, devoid of life or spirit; and it is served usually with thin milk, instead of cream. Cream is an essential to the richness of tea as of coffee. Lacking cream, boiled milk is better than cold.
Chocolate is a French and Spanish article, and one seldom served on American tables. We in America, however, make an article every way equal to any which can be imported from Paris, and he who buys the best vanilla-chocolate may rest assured that no foreign land can furnish any thing better. A very rich and delicious beverage may be made by dissolving this in milk, slowly boiled down after the French fashion.
A word now under the head of _Confectionery_, meaning by this the whole range of ornamental cookery--or pastry, ices, jellies, preserves, etc. The art of making all these very perfectly is far better understood in America than the art of common cooking. There are more women who know how to make good cake than good bread--more who can furnish you with a good ice-cream than a well-cooked mutton-chop; a fair charlotte-russe is easier to gain than a perfect cup of coffee; and you shall find a sparkling jelly to your dessert where you sighed in vain for so simple a luxury as a well-cooked potato.
Our fair countrywomen might rest upon their laurels in these higher fields, and turn their great energy and ingenuity to the study of essentials. To do common things perfectly is far better worth our endeavor than to do uncommon things respectably. We Americans in many things as yet have been a little inclined to begin making our shirt at the ruffle; but, nevertheless, when we set about it, we can make the shirt as nicely as any body; it needs only that we turn our attention to it, resolved that, ruffle or no ruffle, the shirt we will have.
A few words as to the prevalent ideas in respect to French cookery. Having heard much of it, with no very distinct idea of what it is, our people have somehow fallen into the notion that its _forte_ lies in high spicing--and so when our cooks put a great abundance of clove, mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon into their preparations, they fancy that they are growing up to be French cooks. But the fact is, that the Americans and English are far more given to spicing than the French. Spices in our made dishes are abundant, and their taste is strongly pronounced. Living a year in France one forgets the taste of nutmeg, clove, and allspice, which abounds in so many dishes in America. The English and Americans deal in _spices_, the French in _flavors_--flavors many and flue, imitating often in their delicacy those subtle blendings which nature produces in high-flavored fruits. The recipes of our cookery-books are most of them of English origin, coming down from the times of our phlegmatic ancestors, when the solid, burly, beefy growth of the foggy island required the heat of fiery condiments, and could digest heavy sweets. Witness the national recipe for plum-pudding: which may be rendered: Take a pound of every indigestible substance you can think of, boil into a cannon-ball, and serve in flaming brandy. So of the Christmas mince-pie, and many other national dishes. But in America, owing to our brighter skies and more fervid climate, we have developed an acute, nervous delicacy of temperament far more akin to that of France than of England.
Half of the recipes in our cook-books are mere murder to such constitutions and stomachs as we grow here. We require to ponder these things, and think how we, in our climate and under our circumstances, ought to live; and in doing so, we may, without accusation of foreign foppery, take some leaves from many foreign books.
There is no practice which has been more extensively eulogized in all ages than early rising; and this universal impression is an indication that it is founded on true philosophy. For it is rarely the case that the common sense of mankind fastens on a practice as really beneficial, especially one that demands self-denial, without some substantial reason.
This practice, which may justly be called a domestic virtue, is one which has a peculiar claim to be styled American and democratic. The distinctive mark of aristocratic nations is a disregard of the great mass, and a disproportionate regard for the interests of certain privileged orders. All the customs and habits of such a nation are, to a greater or less extent, regulated by this principle. Now the mass of any nation must always consist of persons who labor at occupations which demand the light of day. But in aristocratic countries, especially in England, labor is regarded as the mark of the lower classes, and indolence is considered as one mark of a gentleman. This impression has gradually and imperceptibly, to a great extent, regulated their customs, so that, even in their hours of meals and repose, the higher orders aim at being different and distinct from those who, by laborious pursuits, are placed below them. From this circumstance, while the lower orders labor by day and sleep at night, the rich, the noble, and the honored sleep by day, and follow their pursuits and pleasures by night.
It will be found that the aristocracy of London breakfast near midday, dine after dark, visit and go to Parliament between ten and twelve at night, and retire to sleep toward morning. In consequence of this, the subordinate classes who aim at gentility gradually fall into the same practice. The influence of this custom extends across the ocean, and here, in this democratic land, we find many who measure their grade of gentility by the late hour at which they arrive at a party. And this aristocratic folly is growing upon us, so that, throughout the nation, the hours for visiting and retiring are constantly becoming later, while the hours for rising correspond in lateness.
The question, then, is one which appeals to American women, as a matter of patriotism and as having a bearing on those great principles of democracy which we conceive to be equally the principles of Christianity. Shall we form our customs on the assumption that labor is degrading and indolence genteel? Shall we assume, by our practice, that the interests of the great mass are to be sacrificed for the pleasures and honors of a privileged few? Shall we ape the customs of aristocratic lands, in those very practices which result from principles and institutions that we condemn? Shall we not rather take the place to which we are entitled, as the leaders, rather than the followers, in the customs of society, turn back the tide of aristocratic inroads, and carry through the whole, not only of civil and political but of social and domestic life, the true principles of democratic freedom and equality? The following considerations may serve to strengthen an affirmative decision.
The first relates to the health of a family. It is a universal law of physiology, that all living things flourish best in the light.
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