Several Observations Concerning Cooking, Especially That Of Fish And Vegetables
( Originally Published 1913 )
Were we able to take our foods in the form in which they have been created by nature, with all their useful components, and the important ferments contained therein, it would really form a complete diet from which we could derive much benefit. Our jaws and organs, however, are not so constituted as to be able to bear such a diet, unless we should, like the fruit-eaters, live upon fruit alone. While such a mode of nourishment might, for certain individuals, prove sufficient for a time, and undoubtedly beneficial as well, it is certainly not indicated for the majority. We must take all kinds of foods, and in order that the nutrient substances contained therein be exposed to the action of our digestive fluids the one method now known that enables us to attain this end is cooking. In this way the raw fibers and connective tissues which offer such resistance to our teeth and digestive fluids are softened, and the very useful cells contained in them are rendered useful. On the other hand, some valuable substances are unfortunately lost, which is all the more to be regretted since the phenomenal carelessness and the lack of knowledge with which our foods are prepared are responsible for this unnecessary destruction and waste of many of the most useful substances. The greatest crime, however, is against that very important requirement of our food, its palatability. It is quite natural that in order to make them more digestible food should be heated to the boiling point, or even above it, but that it should be necessary to continuously, i.e., during a prolonged period, subject them to the highest boiling heat during their preparation I am. very much inclined to doubt. It is very certain that by such overcooking at a high temperature, which is unfortunately the custom in many places, and, as is sometimes the case, by overpressure, the foods are very much deteriorated, especially as regards the taste; their more material uses, namely, their nutritive values, also suffer. Very important constituents—and money value as well—are thus simply and unnecessarily thrown out of the window, since the purchase of a proper cooking utensil would obviate all this. Anyone who, in the public schools, has learned the most elementary principles of physics knows that water is a solvent, having the property of drawing out substances, and that hot water has an even greater action in this respect. Our cooks, however, do not in the least appear to take into consideration this first principle of their art, for meat, potatoes (even without the skin), etc., are left lying in water for some time before they are even placed upon the fire to then be successfully freed, by slow boiling, of their most succulent properties. Certainly, such a great heat continuing for some time will greatly impair their quality and also affect their value as food; the unfortunate feature of it all is the fact that it is not at all necessary, for, once the "cooking heat" has been reached, the hard substances are softened, the injurious constituents are destroyed, and the foodstuffs need then no longer be continuously subjected to such a high temperature. Very many foods taste better, and are so in every respect, when after a short period of high temperature they are kept for a long time (one to two hours) at a much lower one than that of the boiling point.
How injurious this long boiling with overpressure may be has been shown by Axel Hoist in experiments upon chickens. When they were fed with meat cooked for one-half hour at the boiling point ( 10o° C.) they remained well, but at 110° C., with one-half hour's cooking, they were affected with neuritis. Boiling for any length of time is particularly injurious. All foods suffer under this procedure, but fish and vegetables especially so. They are all soaked out and lose all taste, which is particularly bad in the case of fish, which at best contains only a very small percentage of tasty substances. Steaming would be much the best for both fish and vegetables; the latter lose much of the substances which make them such valuable foods, namely, the important nutrient salts, as was found by Roese, after cooking in hot water. The water in which vegetables are boiled is usually thrown away. It would be much more practical to let them simmer in a little water (several spoonfuls) and then to let them steam in their own juices, or, better still, by adding some butter in the so-called English style. Unfortunately, this method is not used in England, at least, not according to my experience. The vegetables which I ate every-where in England were absolutely boiled out in hot water, and had no taste whatever. The same was the case in the country where the best vegetables are to be had, viz., Holland. It would consequently be far better to cook fish and vegetables, and all foods, in fact, in steam instead of in water; the very best method, however, is the cooking in closed vessels, with a water-containing receptacle below; in this way the food does not come into contact with either water or steam, the aroma is thus retained, the food has a much better taste, meat becomes softer and more juicy, the food substances retain their color and shape, and all are much more appetizing. Even though, as was found at the International Food Congress by Carcassagne and Maurel, stewing in butter causes considerable less loss of the nutrient salts, cooking vegetables by steam is advantageous in that it insures the retention of the nitrogenous extractives as well as the carbohydrates and albumins.
The art of cooking is therefore of the greatest consequence for our nourishment, and consequently for our thriving both in sickness and in health. We see, thus, the importance of the rational method of cooking in the care of the sick. In recognition of this fact, H. Strauss, in Berlin, has established a course of cooking for physicians, which has been very well attended. Unfortunately, sufficient means are not always at hand for the employment of a number of well-informed persons necessary for the proper management of a large kitchen; the difficulty of properly educating the kitchen staff is also an obstacle. In both civil and military hospitals, however, these difficulties might be overcome in the following way: In England and in America the daughters of the upper classes very often devote themselves to nursing, and probably in no other country in the world does this field of work occupy the same standing as in those countries. In this country (Austria) the nuns and trained nurses form a very valuable personnel, but they are not found in the military hospitals, notwithstanding the fact that women are much more efficient nurses than men. Since the new movement of women's suffrage claims for them the same rights as for men, the women might also be retained for this service, but they would then have to proclaim their allegiance to the service of their country in the same manner as the men; this could be carried out in the form of one year's service, one-half of which would be spent in the nursing department of the military hospitals, and the other half in the kitchens of barracks and other public establishments. This would not cost the State any more, if the daughters of the upper classes were obliged to defray their own expenses. The priceless benefits derived from the proper care of the men would more than counterbalance the expenses incurred in providing for those women who would have to be paid, when the much better health of the soldiers, the more rapid recovery of the patients, and the consequent shorter stay in the hospital are taken into consideration. I am perhaps rather in advance of the times in advocating this plan, but it will probably be realized at some future time. In times of war the usefulness and activity of such a well-nourished and well-cared-for army would be very great, and the health of the people in general would also be vastly better, if every wife not only of a rich man, but also of a working man, would have undergone a course of previous training, which would acquaint her with the practical value of foods, etc. It would be well, too, if two or three times each week an hour were devoted to cooking in every school for girls, with practical teaching in regard to the various foods. Proper cooking is the basis of all dietetic science. The most valuable nutrient substance is of no use to us when not properly prepared.