( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The name vegetable means anything that grows in the earth, but is now commonly applied to those plants which are used for food. Vegetables may be classified as flowers, seeds, roots, and tubers, according to the part that is eaten.
With the exception of the cereals, potatoes, and beans, vegetables have but little actual food value, but, like fruits, they are important in the diet on account of their salts and acids and for the cellulose which furnishes the bulk needed to keep the digestive machinery working. A diet low in green vegetables or fresh fruits is apt to cause constipation.
All vegetables are largely composed of water ; next to water, carbohydrates are most abundant ; traces of protein and fats are also found in them.
Mention some vegetables that contain fats (see Table). One that contains protein. One that contains starch. One that contains sugar. Test vegetables for these elements. (See Experiments 1-. Classify vegetables named in recipes of this chapter (including dried beans and potatoes) as green and starchy, according to compositio.
By a simple experiment let us see what we mean by cellulose.
EXPERIMENT I. Grate a turnip. Squeeze the pulp into a bit of cheese-cloth or a fine sieve and then inspect it carefully. The woody fiber remaining is celinlose. It must be softened by heat and moisture before it can be used and even then the body will get little actual nutriment from it. The more cellulose in a vegetable the more need there is of cooking it.
EXPERIMENT II. Prepare a potato in the same way as you prepared the turnip. Inspect the pulp and test it for starch. (See Experiment I, page 43.) The starch is so closely connected with the fiber that it cannot be separated except by cooking.
EXPERIMENT III. Grate a carrot. Squeeze out the juice, put it into a small saucepan, and boil it down. Taste it. What do carrots contain 1 What other root vegetables contain this substance?
EXPERIMENT IV. Examine thin slices of vegetables under a microscope, noticing the fiber.
EXPERIMENT V. Pare a potato and weigh it. Cut it in thin slices and put them into a warm, dry place (the warming oven or the back of the range will do) where they will dry but not cook. When thoroughly dry (several days may be needed) weigh them. What per cent has been lost? What substance was lost? Dry lettuce in this way, noting per cent of water.
Retaining the Minerals. The value to the body of the mineral salts derived from vegetables has only lately begun to attract the attention of physiologists. It has been proved beyond a doubt that perfect nourishment is possible only when all the required elements are supplied. Green vegetables are one of the chief sources of potash, iron, and other needed minerals. If much water is used in their cooking, not only is flavor lost but also these valuable salts. When cooked without paring, vegetables retain most of these salts, as do those whose juice is used as a sauce or those cooked in such a way that all the water used is evaporated. Where possible, cook vegetables by steaming or in a very small quantity of water.
Softening the Cellulose. As was seen from Experiment I, vegetables contain a tough woody fiber that requires softening by cooking. Some of this fiber is so tough that it must be removed either before or after cooking ; for example, the husks of corn, the skin of beets, carrots, tomatoes, and the shell of the pumpkin. Some vegetables are cut into small pieces so that they may be softened. (Mention one.) The cellulose in young vegetables is more tender than in old ones ; therefore they are more easily cooked. One of the important points in cooking vegetables is to soften the woody fiber. Vinegar is served with turnips and beets, and helps to soften the woody fiber.
Preserving the Flavor. Another important point in the cooking of vegetables is to preserve the flavor. It was found, that the carrot juice was sweet because of the sugar. If the carrots were cooked in a large quantity of water, the juice would be in the water instead of in the carrots. Suggest a plan for cooking them so that the juice will remain.
As all vegetable flavors are easily dissipated by great heat, vegetables should not be boiled too rapidly. Unless very highly flavored, they should be cooked in the least water possible and drained, if needed, as soon as tender. The kind of water in which vegetables are cooked has much to do with their softness and flavor. Soft water, such as cistern water, should have a tea-spoonful of salt added to each gallon when used for cooking fresh vegetables. In the case of dried peas or beans, the Salt should be added after they are cooked.
Hard water may be softened by adding half a teaspoonful of soda to each gallon of water. This is needed for both fresh and dried peas and beans. Other green vegetables do not need soda, as their color and flavor are best preserved by slightly hard water.
Never cook vegetables in an iron vessel. Perfectly smooth enameled ware is best. Use freshly boiled water.
EXPERIMENT VI. Cook green vegetables, covered and uncovered, and note difference in color and flavor.
Seasoning and Serving. Do not serve more than one semi-liquid vegetable at one time. For instance, do not serve stewed tomatoes and stewed corn at the same meal ; if it is desired to have the corn stewed, serve the tomatoes sliced, or have the corn cooked in a pudding or boiled on the cob if the tomatoes are stewed.
Any vegetable which is not served in the water in which it is cooked must be very thoroughly drained. Turn the vegetable into a colander or sieve, let it stand for a few moments, and then turn into the saucepan in which it was cooked and shake over the fire until quite dry. Greens, such as spinach or mustard, should always be pressed to remove the water, before they are brought to the table.
After draining, season so delicately that the flavor of the vegetable is not hidden; for instance, black pepper in green peas hides the flavor of the peas. For most vegetables, melted butter or a simple sauce is used. Allow two tablespoonfuls of melted butter or one cup of thick white sauce (see page 118) to each pint of vegetables. Turnips and beans may be cooked with a little salt pork. Corn, tomatoes, and green peas require a little sugar. Beets and greens are improved by a little lemon juice or vinegar. Serve cooked vegetables in warm dishes. All vegetables should be dry enough to be served on the plate and eaten with a fork.
Selection and Care. Vegetables are cheapest and best when in season, that is, when grown near the marketing place. Wilted vegetables are tough and lack flavor.
Root vegetables should be smooth and tender and of medium size, the tops being fresh and green. All green vegetables should be, fresh and crisp and not too coarse. Vegetables should be kept in a clean, cool, dry place.
Preparation for Cooking. Examine all vegetables carefully to see that there are no insects on them. Wash thoroughly as they may be sandy or may have poisons on them which have been used to destroy insects. Then pare and cut them in pieces if required.
Select canned vegetables very carefully. Buy reliable brands in cans which have the name of the packer on the can. Read the label carefully and see that colorings and preservatives are not used. Examine the cans; if they bulge, the contents are spoiled and gas has formed. Old canned goods are not safe, as the tin may have been corroded by the acid of the contents. If many canned goods are used, buy them by the case at the season when the freshly packed article has come into market (usually in the autumn), and store in a cool place. Fresh green vegetables are better and cheaper than canned ones at most seasons. Compare prices of home canned vegetables with prices of the factory product.
Cooking Canned Vegetables. As they have been cooked, canned vegetables need only to be reheated and seasoned. As soon as the can is opened turn the contents into a bowl and air for an hour. If the commercial canned goods are used, drain off the liquid from asparagus, peas, and like vegetables, and wash them in a colander.