Food - Tempting Table Delicacies
( Originally Published 1917 )
The delicatessen. There is probably no other place, outside of a great wholesale grocery, where you may get, at almost a glance, so sweeping a view of the geography of foods as in a thoroughly modern delicatessen store. This is because these fascinating little food shops specialize to a large extent in the delicacies of foreign lands.
As its name suggests, the delicatessen is a place of delicacies, of dainty and unusual foods displayed to stimulate a sated and, perhaps, jaded appetite. As we enter the delicatessen store we are at once attracted by the cleanliness and the sanitary condition, not only of the store and its employes, but of every package, glass, jar, and bottle in the place. Here cleanliness reigns supreme, for nothing so surely tends to discourage appetite as uncleanliness and disorder.
Everything in a high-class delicatessen store is so temptingly displayed and so clean that it makes one feel confident that whatever he buys there will be of the best. Under the marble slab upon which are ranged the cold meats, the ammonia coils glisten with frost and lend a crisp freshness to everything near them. The cakes, breads, and pastries are placed in airtight glass cupboards and handled only when necessary, and then with the greatest care. The tiny glass kegs, or jars, which hold the pickles are as sweet and clean as constant scouring can make them. The whole store shines.If you live in a large town or city and are familiar with the stock of a first-class delicatessen store you will know, at first hand, something of the labor, money, and taste expended in order to prepare and display foods in a tempting manner.
Many delicacies have been introduced to awaken the relish for food. Each year finds many new kinds of these fancy foods on the market. We draw a supply of these from practically every country in the world. Let us look at the map again and see just what countries furnish us with some of the most curious and interesting of these special temptations to the flagging appetite.
From the four corners of the earth. Draw a line from your home to New York City, from there to London, and thence straight to Calcutta, India. If your parents are lovers of chutney, the famous East India relish, and are in the habit of keeping it on their table, you may look at the bottle with a new interest as you realize that it has actually traveled the route that you have marked out. Draw another line from your home to France. It is from this country that we get cretes de coq, or cocks' combs, which are used for garnishing, and from France we also receive many fruits in sirups and glace, including brandied rosebuds and candied chestnuts. From Spain and Portugal we get both fresh and candied or glace grapes. Russia sends us caviar (roe or fish eggs). From England we get many sauces and relishes; from Germany come various young vegetables canned. Westphalia, Germany, supplies us with Westphalian ham and bacon, and Hungary furnishes famous and expensive sausages known as salami.
All these foods are prepared and shipped across the waters to tempt the palates of those who like fancy foods at fancy prices.
Products of many lands. Now suppose we name a few of the appetite'coaxers that may be found in a first-class delicatessen or fancy grocery department.
Here is a Hanover tea sausage from England, and next to it is a dainty sausage from Bohemia. That small white jar contains orange marmalade from England and beside it stands a bottle of pickled black walnuts from the same country. There are bottles of mixed fruits from France and guava jelly from the West Indies. Here are the famous date-nut butter from Persia, ginger in sirup from China, and crystallized ginger chips from England. There are tin boxes of biscuits, cakes, cookies, and all sorts of fancy pastry from England, Austria, and France, packed so as to be in perfect condition when opened.
Next to the end is a row of bar-le-duc from Bar-le-Duc, France. On the shelf below are several jars of brandied peaches from our own New York state and next to them are preserved figs and pickled figs from California. Those plump, delicious candied cherries come from France, and the apricot pulp is from Spain. There are some kumquats, or Japanese oranges, in marmalade.. Near by are boxes of macaroni and vermicelli from Italy. There is some arrowroot from the Bermudas and alongside are tangerines packed in Spain.
On the vegetable shelf we see some tomato paste,a concentrated food, which comes from Italy. There are some cans of tiny white turnips from Belgium, ,cans of spinach from France, and a small bottle of choice pimiento peppers from Spain. From Italy we also get olive farcies, or olives stuffed with anchovies. Those at the end of the shelf are from France. That can of paprika pepper is from Hungary and the bottle of tiny pearl onions hails from Holland. The cans of small carrots are the product of Belgium, and the peas, of Belgium and of France.
The corn on the ear in that bottle came from Germany and those capers, the flower buds from the caper bush used for pickles, garnishes, and sauces were sent from France. Holland furnishes the cans of cauliflower, and the jars of tiny lima beans were sent here from France. So, too, were the artichokes alongside them. There are some canned brussels sprouts and some copes, or wild mushrooms, all from France. That jar of imported honey was made from flowers growing, in Switzerland, on the slopes of the Alps.
The truffle hunt. There is an interesting story connected with that can of truffles. The truffle is a variety of fungus and is possibly the most curious and least understood of any of our foods. Although it has been eaten for hundreds of years, man has never been able to produce it at will. It grows in clusters a few inches below the surface of the ground, much like potatoes, but has neither foliage nor roots of any kind. It is one of the most expensive of all foods, sometimes selling for as much as four dollars a pound. The truffle is round in shape, about the size of a walnut, although sometimes much larger, and is usually blackish gray in color, netted with fine white veins. It is commonly found in forests of oak and beech trees. The most famous variety comes from the French province of Perigord.
Truffles absorb so much of the vegetable food elements of the soil that nothing can thrive near them save the trees which give them the required shade. Although oaks and beeches in Perigord are indications of "truffle ground," the task of finding these almost precious little globes of fungus is by no means an easy one. As no part of the truffles themselves shows above the ground, they are usually located by trained dogs or pigs, that scent the peculiar odor of the truffles and start digging for them. Truffles are also found in England, Germany, Italy, and occasionally Spain, but France is the main source of the world's truffle supply.
There is something almost absurd in the picture of a French peasant plodding alongside an anxious pig snuffing his way through the forests of Perigord, or as it is now known, the Department of Dordogne. Although the pig loves the taste of truffles, he has no chance to indulge it, as his master carries a hoe or spade with which he digs up the truffles as fast as the pig finds them, and puts them in the sack which usually swings from his shoulders. The pig, however, does not go unrewarded. The peasant always carries a sack of food for the animal, and when the pig locates a truffle he immediately taps him on the back with a stick and gives him a small bit of the food as a substitute for the fragrant truffle.
Truffles come to us in cans and bottles and are used mostly for garnishing and flavoring. The choice portions of the truffle are very expensive, but the parings from peeled truffles may be bought at a moderate cost and are very good. A tiny slice of truffle will flavor a whole dish of food.
Rare and unusual foods. If you look over the dainties in a delicatessen of the most "fancy" kind you may possibly find a can of kangaroo tail that has come to us all the way from Australia. There the natives eat kangaroo meat as Americans eat beef, but they ship us only the choicest portions of the tail meat, which is considered a rare delicacy.
Sorrel, or acid weed, is imported from France and used like spinach. Breasts of ptarmigan, a small bird of the grouse family found in Arctic America and in Norway, come to us put up in cans.
Side by side in the delicatessen store one may find meat balls from Norway and pates de foie gras, or potted goose liver, from France and Germany. If you could see a French farm devoted to the production of this delicacy, you would think the sight a very strange one. You would find scores, even hundreds, of goslings kept in long rows of tiny pens, each compartment just large enough to hold a single fowl without giving it any chance whatever for exercise. The purpose of this restraint is to cause an enlargement of the creature's liver a natural result of overeating without taking a normal amount of exercise. These goslings are stuffed from early infancy until they are mature geese. They enjoy less liberty than a prisoner in his cell. It is not uncommon for a liver produced by this course of feeding to be five times its natural size.
These .livers are then baked and put through a screening or pulverizing process and packed in quaint cream-colored tureens of earthenware ready for individual service to the American consumer. Naturally they are expensive, a small one costing probably about two dollars at an American hotel or restaurant. Some whole goose livers are imported in tin cans. These are used by hotels and are garnished and flavored in many different ways.
America is now beginning to meet the demand for this delicacy, one large poultry farm in New England being a pioneer in this line. On this farm the goose livers are parboiled, baked, forced through a fine'screen or grater, and then packed in large crocks. Its trade is chiefly (with hotels and delicatessens.
We also secure from France canned tuna fish ; saucisson de foie gras, or sausage of goose liver, which is made of liver cut into small pieces, pistachio nuts, and pieces of truffle, thoroughly cooked and put up in cans; goose breasts and wings smoked, and the skin of the roasted goose. This latter product comes from Germany also. France supplies us with preserved rose leaves, and Germany with preserved rosebuds.
China contributes noodle soup and birds nest soup. This birds nest soup is a famous oriental dish made from the jelly like substance found in the inside of the nests of certain kinds of swifts, or swallows. These nests are built upon the face of cliffs and it is extremely dangerous work to collect them. How far the prosperous Oriental in America is willing to go to satisfy his taste for a rare delicacy in the form of soup is shown by the fact that this tidbit costs from seven to thirty dollars a pound at wholesale,.a really good grade costing fifteen dollars. This is generally used in combination with chicken breasts and a fine quality of ham. The "yen wai," or edible birds nests, as prepared for export looks much like cakes of fluffy white wax. The nests are found in many of the islands of the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Bottles of mixed fish come from Italy and contain tunny fish, olives, olive oil, pickles, spices, peppers, sardines, onions, and capers.
We also import many kinds of after-dinner candies from Old World countries. Vienna probably sends us as great a quantity as any other foreign city. Foremost among these candies are those with true fruit hearts, which are in great demand.
Home foods. Besides the imported delicacies named there are many kinds of American dainties to be had, such as cheeses, bottled fish, and canned fish, of which you have already been told. Many kinds of excellent American sausages and meats are displayed. Among these are cooked foods, such as fresh roast beef, roast pork, boiled ham, and veal loaf.
The delicatessen a friend in need. Almost all large department and grocery stores now have their delicatessen departments. While the original idea of the delicatessen was that it should be a shop of delicacies, it has now become a convenience store, a place where the busy housewife may buy a cooked or "ready-to-eat" meal.
In the large cities, the little delicatessen shop "around the corner" is a great help to the tired flat dwellers and all who wish to reduce housekeeping cares to the lowest possible point. It has many a time saved the day for the hostess who has found herself face to face with unexpected guests. It does away with the necessity for carrying a supply of delicacies and cooked food in the refrigerator or icebox. A telephone call will bring a steaming dinner or cold lunch to one's door in 'short order if a thoroughly modern delicatessen is at hand.
An up-to-date delicatessen will generally have on hand, for hurry-up calls, steaming pots of soups and vegetables, with hot roast beef, pork, or mutton. Even hot tea, coffee, and cocoa may be ordered there. Cold dishes and salads are their staples. Cold baked macaroni, cold beef, cold pork, cold mutton, veal loaf, cold boiled ham, potato salad, deviled eggs, cold roast chicken, baked pork and beans, numberless salads both vegetable and fruitócakes, cookies, pies, sauces, puddings, brown bread, white bread, whole wheat bread, bran bread, graham bread, corn bread, are all ready for instant delivery. Besides all these there are shelves upon shelves of canned soups, vegetables, fish, meats, and fruits, ready to eat at a minute's notice. Ice creams, cold drinks, and ices are the 'delicatessen's specialties.
Specializing in foods. Some delicatessens specialize in the tempting foods of certain countries. One of these stores in Chicago claims to be able to furnish the German anything he has ever eaten in his old home across the water. Another delicatessen 'specializes in French foods, and its supply and methods of handling the food would surprise you. It has a little cafe in a side room where one may secure a dinner entirely of French foods, cooked by a French chef and served by French waiters. Almost every large city has its Chinese delicatessen with a chop suey restaurant and curio shop combined.
In fact, it would scarcely be too much to say that if you were to explore any big city you would find there a delicatessen shop, the stock of which represents the special taste of some one foreign nation. All the delicatessens together would form an exhibition of the foods or delicacies favored by every foreign nation represented in the population of that city.
This does not mean that each delicatessen store is devoted exclusively to the foods of any one nation, this occurs in only comparatively rare cases, but that the average delicatessen tries to keep on its shelves a fairly representative stock of delicacies from every civilized country.