"Nearly every woman - and certainly every cook - considers that she knows how to cook vegetables.
By that I mean "conserving" all the precious flavours, juices and "salts" which are contained in vegetables (and fruits), and which, instead, are usually thrown down the sink! Now, one of the first steps in the science of food reform cookery is this all-important one of conservative cookery.
Not long ago a friend asked me if she might show me her kitchen, of which she was very proud, and forthwith conducted me into its sacred precincts.
A double-pan cooker. Note that the water in the upper rim serves as a seal to keep in the heat.
The first thing that I noticed was a very-strong smell of cabbage water. She apologised to me, and said, "I am so sorry for this bad smell; it is from the cabbage that is being cooked." She then turned to the cook, and said, "Please throw away all the cabbage water, and put some clean water in the saucepan." At that order my hair nearly stood on end. I longed there and then to give a lesson in conservative cookery, which means retaining all the juices and throwing nothing away.
Instead, I had to watch the cook throw the precious juices and valuable salts down the sink, and then put the cabbage back (having deprived it of all that made it valuable) into the saucepan of fresh water.
She was peeling the carrots and turnips, and throwing the peel into a pail, to be thrown away (in which pail were already the outside leaves of the cabbages). She then tore off the outside leaves of the lettuces, and threw them also into the pail; and when she had robbed the carrots and turnips of a great deal of what was most health-giving she plunged them into a saucepan of water to be boiled, and the pailful of (supposed) "refuse" was thrown into the dustbin.
I should like to explain to the uninitiated what was wrong with these methods of cooking and preparing these vegetables. First, as regards the cabbage.
It ought not to have been put into water at all, except for the purpose of being washed.
Cabbages, after being washed, should be put into the inner pan of a double-pan cooker, with nothing in it but a small piece of butter and no water added, except what comes from the drops of water in which they have been washed. The outer pan only, and the rim round it, should have the boiling water in it, which water keeps perfectly pure and sweet from not coming into contact with the strong vegetable salts and juices.
The cabbage is then cooked by hot air, and not by water or steam. The illustration will explain how it is that the vegetable does not touch the water. Then when the cabbage (or any other vegetable) is sufficiently cooked the juices are used as a nourishing and cleansing sauce - one of the best cures for anaemia - and served with the vegetable, instead of being thrown down the sink. And, one of the best things of all, there is no smell from the cabbages whilst they are cooking.
The juices of vegetables are their very life-blood, and contain the precious salts of the earth, turned by the vegetables into a form which human beings can assimilate. These salts are essential for cleansing the blood, and for many other curative purposes.
The actual substance of the vegetables alone is of very little good to us when deprived of the salts and juices, for there is not enough nourishment in them to build the body, although there is plenty in their precious salts and juices to cleanse the body.
I now come to mistake number two. And that was in peeling the carrots and turnips before cooking them, and throwing the peel away as if it was so much refuse and rubbish.
When root vegetables are used for gravies or stock, the peel is of the greatest importance, for the most valuable salts of the vegetables lie just under the surface of the rind or skin.
This applies also to potatoes, for when they have been cooked in their skins by hot air (instead of by boiling or steaming), all the most valuable part lies just under the peel, and, when cooked in this way, the peel, which is very nourishing, can be eaten with perfect safety. Or else the potatoes can be peeled after they are cooked, and then tossed in a little butter and parsley, with a tiny pinch of salt.
I do not think anyone has really tasted a potato unless he has eaten one (peel and all) which has been cooked in a double-pan cooker by hot air. Of course, it is important to wash and scrub the potatoes well first.
The third mistake which I saw in the kitchen was throwing away the outside leaves of the cabbages and lettuces. In scientific vegetable cookery a "stockpot" is just as necessary as in meat cookery. The vegetable "trimmings" and outside leaves and the pieces of stalk can all be put into the stockpot, which should be kept simmering on the hob for these well-scrubbed and well-cleansed outside trimmings, that contain even more of the "virtues" of the vegetables than do their insides.
It is only too true that the cookery of vegetables is a sadly neglected art in England. The ordinary cook does not know or understand the value of the " salts" that vegetables of all kinds contain, and the importance that these salts have for us in cleansing and toning our blood. If possible, it is far better to grow one's own vegetables.
And cook them fresh from the soil. But, if this is impossible, it is best to buy them in small quantities, so that they may be quite fresh, and to keep them on stone or slate in a cool place until needed.
The cleansing of vegetables is most important. You should first soak green vegetables for an hour in cold water with some salt in it to bring out any insects. Then wash them in several changes of water (especially spinach), and trim off all the coarse and tough outside leaves and stalks, and then put these into the stockpot for vegetable soups or gravies. The vegetables themselves you then put into the inner pan of the double-pan cooker, as already described, to cook slowly and conservatively with a little butter; but for some vegetables, like artichokes or celery, you can add about half a gill of milk. The juices extracted from them in this process should always be served with the vegetable as a plain, clear liquid, or thickened and made into a nourishing sauce.
It is important to remember that it takes longer to cook vegetables conservatively than to boil or steam them. The heat, too, is of great importance. The water in the outside pan must be kept at boiling-point, and replenished with boiling water, and not with cold water (as cooks are so fond of doing) forgetting that the cold water lowers the temperature of the other water, and that therefore it ceases to boil for a few minutes, and the vegetables in consequence also cease to be cooked for that time too.
In the following recipes the approximate time that the vegetables should take to cook by hot air in a double-pan cooker will be given. But it is always best to allow more, not less, than the time specified.
If we sum up some of the advantages we shall find the following:
1. The delicate flavour of the vegetable is retained and enhanced. There is, therefore, no need for added condiments.
2. Valuable and health-giving juices are retained.
3. Little heat is needed.
4. There is no danger of explosion. The pressure is relieved automatically by the lifting of the inner pan.
5. Little watching is needed.
6. There is no chance of the food being spoilt by severe heat.
7. All-round economy is ensured.
8. No unpleasant smell arises.
The vegetables, by this process, are neither steamed nor boiled. They are cooked by dry heat of a not too fierce degree, the only moisture in the inner pan being that which comes from the vegetables themselves, and any added liquid, such as milk, etc.
The double-pan cooker can also be used for scalding milk, for stewing fruits, for puddings, frumenties, custards, porridges, and even soups; though the latter take a longer time than when cooked in the ordinary stockpot.