All vegetables are better cooked in soft water, provided it is clean and pure; if hard water is used, put in a small pinch of soda. The water should be freshly drawn, and should only be put over fire in time to reach the boiling point before the hour for putting in vegetables, as standing and long boiling frees the gases and renders the water insipid. The fresher all vegetables are, the more wholesome. After being washed thoroughly, they should be dropped in cold water half an hour before using. Peel old potatoes and let them stand in cold water over night, or for several hours, putting them in immediately after being peeled, as exposure to the air darkens them. Before putting on to boil, take out and wipe each dry with a towel. New potatoes are best baked. Full-grown, fair, ripe potatoes may be either boiled or baked. Medium-sized and smooth potatoes are best; the kind varies with the season. Green corn and pease should be prepared and cooked at once. Put all vegetables into plenty of salted water, boiling hot (excepting egg plant and old potatoes, which some put on in salted cold water), and boil rapidly, without cover, skimming carefully until thoroughly done, draining well those that require it. Onions should be soaked in warm salt water, to remove the rank flavor for one hour before cooking. Never split onions, turnips and carrots, but slice them in rings cut across the fiber, as they thus cook tender much quicker. If the home garden furnishes the supply of pease, spinach, green beans, asparagus, etc., pick them in the morning early, when the dew is on, and let stand in cold water till ready for use. Some put salt in the water, but in that case only let them remain ten or ten teen minutes, unless doubts are entertained as to their freshness (if from the market), in which case they can remain longer, afterward draining them in a colander. Do not allow vegetables to remain in the water after they are done, but drain them in a colander and dress as directed in the various recipes. In preparing greens, lettuce, etc., first wash them leaf by leaf in warm water, rather more than tepid, having a dish of cold water to place them in immediately. The warm water more certainly cleans the leaf and does not destroy the crispness if they are placed at once in cold water. But whether washed in warm or cold water, take them leaf by leaf, breaking the heads off, not cutting them. Horse-radish tops are considered choice for greens. Pease should not be shelled until just before the time of cooking.
The proportion of salt in cooking vegetables is a heaping tablespoon of salt to every gallon of water. When water boils, put in your vegetables, and press them down with a wooden spoon. Take out when tender, as vegetables are spoilt by being either under or overdone.
Always add both salt and a little soda to the water in which greens are cooked, as soda preserves color; for the same purpose French cookery books recommend a small pinch of carbonate of ammonia. A little sugar added to turnips, beets, pease, corn, squash and pumpkin is an improvement, especially when the vegetables are poor in quality. Sweet potatoes require a longer time to cook than the common variety. In gathering asparagus, never cut it off, but snap or break it; in this way you do not get the white, woody part, which no boiling can make tender. Do the same with rhubarb, except being careful that it does not split, and take it very close to the ground. Put rice on to cook in boiling salted water, having first soaked for about an hour and dried off the surplus moisture on a large towel; or steam, or cook in custard-kettle.
A piece of red pepper the size of finger-nail, dropped into meat or vegetables when first beginning to cook, will aid greatly in killing the unpleasant odor. Remember this for boiled cabbage, green beans, onions, mutton and chicken. All vegetables should be thoroughly cooked, and require a longer time late in their season.
Potatoes, when old, are improved by removing the skin before 21 baking, and either Irish or sweet potatoes, if frozen, must be put in to bake without thawing. Cabbage, potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions and beets are injured by being boiled with fresh meat, and they also injure the flavor of the meat. When vegetables are to be served with salt meat, the meat should be cooked first and then removed, and the vegetables cooked in the liquor.
Small-sized white turnips contain more nutrition than large ones, but in ruta-bagas the largest are best. Potatoes vary greatly in quality; varieties which are excellent early in the season lose their good qualities, and others, which are worthless in the fall, are excellent late in the spring. Those raised on gravelly or sandy soil, not over rich, are best.
Old potatoes, may be greatly improved by being soaked in cold water several hours after peeling, or all night, being particular to change the water once or twice. Peel very thinly, as the best part of the potato is nearest the skin. Cut large potatoes, if to be steamed, or boiled, in four, and small ones in two pieces, and remove the core if defective. If to be boiled (steaming is much preferable) put them on in clear fresh boiling water. Keep closely covered and at a steady boil for at least twenty minutes, five or ten minutes more may be requisite, according to the quality of the potato. Watch carefully, and the very instant they present a mealy and broken surface remove them from the stove, raise the cover just enough to admit the draining off of the water. This may be accomplished successfully and quickly, after a little practice, and is far better than turning them into a colander, thus suddenly chilling them and arresting the further development of the starch, which, after all, is the main point to be accomplished. Drain the water off thoroughly and quickly, sprinkle in sufficient salt for seasoning, cover the vesel closely, give it a shake and set back on the stove, being careful not to have it too hot. In a minute or so give it another shake to stir up the potatoes, throw in a little hot cream or rich milk with a lump of butter and a sprinkle of pepper, cover immediately and leave on the stove for another minute. This last process adds greatly to the good cooking of potatoes. They are ready now to be dished whole or mashed. Some skill is required to mash them properly, simple as the operation may appear. The old fashioned wooden masher possesses advantages over the new perforated iron plate with handle so nearly representing the old time churn dasher. Mashed potatoes should be dipped out lightly into a hot covered dish and literally coaxed into a delicate mealy heap, instead of being stirred and patted and packed and cheesed into a shapely mass.
If potatoes are very watery and they must be used for food, a small lump of lime added to the water while boiling will improve them. More so than any other vegetable does this one differ in quality, according to variety and manner of culture. However the main crop may be raised, every farmer's wife should secure for late Spring use a supply of a choice variety cultivated entirely in rotten wood soil, or in soil where wood ashes and gypsum are used as fertilizers.
The great point in cooking potatoes is, to take them up as soon as they are done. Of course it is important to begin to cook them at the proper time. When boiled, baked, fried or steamed, they are rendered watery by continuing to cook them after they reach the proper point. For this reason, potatoes, to bake or boil, should be selected so as to have them nearly the same size. Begin with the largest first, and continue to select the largest till all are gone. Be careful that the water does not stop boiling, as thus the potatoes will be watery. Never boil them very hard, as it breaks them. Medium-sized potatoes, when young, will cook in from twenty to thirty minutes; when old, it requires double the time. When peeled, they boil fifteen minutes quicker. In baking old potatoes with meat, now, it is better also to halve them. Leave them in the water until the meat is within half an hour of being done. See that the pan contains plenty of drippings, and with proper heat the potatoes will be brown and crisp without and white and mealy within. They may be fried in the meat gravy, or warmed up in butter for breakfast. The secret of having potatoes mealy and palatable is to cook them rapidly. Steam until the skin cracks, and a fork easily penetrates the center. If not to be served at once, continue steaming, as they become solid sooner than when boiled.
New potatoes should always be boiled in two waters, and old ones are better for it. Put on two kettles of water, set potatoes in one, when hot, in a wire basket, and when about half done transfer to the other.