Shopping And Going To The Market
( Originally Published 1904 )
This is usually one of the terrors of the young housekeeper. There is no department of domestic science to which attention may be more profitably devoted than to the proper selection of food. Economy, health, and comfort all depend upon the efficient discharge of this duty. A feeling of utter helplessness comes over an inexperienced person when she faces the ordeal of a shop full of meats from which she has nerved herself to make a selection. She knows that those who are serving her are only too well ,aware of her incompetency and feels that they are ready to play upon it to the utmost. Every rule, and test, and guide to the selection of good meat leaves her, and she relies upon the recommendations of the salesman after a show of critical examination and of careful selection. Her mortification, disappointment, and humiliation, when the verdict of the family is rendered at the table, are too sacred to bear any comment. Right here is where the novice needs all the resolution, perseverance, and intelligent action that she can summon. If she is a good customer of the butcher, she may so impress him with the assurance that bad service means the loss of her trade that she may tide over the learning period until she is strong enough to be her own marketer. She may see what a piece of meat looks like before cooking, and then note how it turns out. It will take several such lessons to know even what part of the animal the cut came from. We have seen some sirloins sent out to young housekeepers that never grew .within two feet of that location, or else the animal was a fearful monstrosity. It will be found that it is one thing to know what are the best parts of meat to order, but it is another thing to know whether. one has received the part one ordered.
The simplest point to begin with is the odor of meat. There is a peculiar, characteristic odor to all meat. This is easily learned. If the meat has the slightest odor of taint, or any disagreeable smell, do not hesitate a moment about sending it back, or refusing to accept it. You are not only thoroughly justified in doing so, but it is your duty to do it. Do not be deterred from it by any assurances or indignation on the part of the butcher, or by any fear that you may make a mistake, or be thought inexperienced or too finicky. In such cases a slight error in judgment is to be preferred to ptomaine poisoning. The first step, and one that is very quickly learned, is to see that all meat, poultry, game, and fish are fresh and sweet in odor.
A second test of the freshness and quality of meat is that of its action under pressure. Press firmly upon the end of the meat with the thumb. If the dent made by the pressure rises up at once, the meat is all right. But if it does not rise, or is slow in rising, you may be sure that the animal was an old one, or that the meat is not of good quality.
The color of beef is also a good guide. If the meat is bright red, you may infer that it is fresh, and that it is probably ox-beef; cow-beef , is not quite so red. If the meat is dark red, the animal was probably poorly fed, and too old for food. Good ox-beef has a yellowish fat, while that of cow-beef is whiter.
Some housekeepers who dislike fat meat select the lean. But this is often a mistake. Fat animals are well nourished, and the meat is more likely to be tender than is that of lean ani mals which are poorly fed, or over worked or driven. Lean parts of fat animals are the wiser. selection. The best cuts are in the end the cheapest, for there is always a greater proportion of bone, gristle, and poor meat in the inferior cuts. These, of course, are useful in the making of soups, stews, etc., but they are ex-pensive in boiling and roasting pieces.
The best mutton is that of animals from three to five years old. Young mutton is tender, older mutton is richer and more juicy, and a great deal depends upon the breeding and feeding.
Good mutton is of a dark red color, the meat is firm and juicy, the fat is clear, hard, and whitish. Do not hesitate to reject all mutton in which the fat is yellow. If the meat is flabby, and if the fat around the kidney is small and stringy, the meat is not good.
There is less fat in the leg, and slightly more in the shoulder. There is also less bone in the leg; so it may be regarded as the best part of the sheep. As there is much bone and fat in the neck, it is the least desirable part.
In selecting mutton, look for the large vein in the neck. If this is of a blue color, the sheep is fresh; but refuse it if the vein is green. In selecting a hind-quarter, the kidneys will have a slight odor if the meat is not fresh. Compare the fat upon the back with that upon the kidneys; if they are both white and hard and of the same color, the meat is all right.
Lamb.—The term is applied to the young of sheep until it is twelve months old. It is then called a yearling, though still sold as lamb. Spring lamb is a luxury only because it is out of season. The flesh is insipid, and does not in any way compare with the lamb in season, which is usually in the summer months. Very young lamb is sold only by the quarter; and the weight is then from 4 to 6 pounds to a quarter. Later in the season the weight is from 8 to 12 pounds to the quarter. It will go as high as 25 pounds to the quarter, but the carcass is then cut up the same as mutton. In cutting lamb the butcher splits the carcass length-wise and then quarters it. Two or three ribs are left on the hind-quarter. In older animals, the leg is cut off and either cut into the leg for roasting and boiling, or into chops, as required. To distinguish a fore-quarter of lamb from a fore-quarter of mutton, it is only necessary to carry an idea of the difference of size, and to note that the bones of lamb are more reddish than are those of mutton. The breast and the adjacent ribs are considered the most delicious parts of the fore-quarter, and are usually roasted. It is advisable to remove the blade-bone to facilitate carving.
The loin is either cracked for roasting, or divided into chops. The neck and breast are sometimes separated from the shoulder and roasted.
Lamb does not keep long after killing. Look at the large vein in the fore-quarter or neck; if it is bluish the meat is in good condition; but it is to be rejected if the vein is of a green color, for that is an indication of unfitness. In selecting a hind-quarter it is safe to reject it if the fat over the kidney gives out a slightly disagreeable odor.
Pork.—The leg and the shoulder of pork are most esteemed. The loin is the best roast. Good pork is marked by a pale red color in the lean, and a thin and delicate rind. There must be no green tint or disagreeable odor.
Fish.—Fish occupy a place midway between meat and vegetables. The red-blooded fish, such as the salmon, are only slightly inferior to meat. in point of nourishment. Firmness and good odor are the great tests for fish. Fish are unwholesome just after spawning; when boiled, the meat should be white. If there is a bluish tinge, or transparency after boiling, the fish are either not fresh or are out of season.