By VIRGINIA L. OPPENHEIMER, M.D., Seymour, Ind."We may live without poetry, music, and art,
Thus saith the poet, and forthwith turns the world over into the hands of the cook. And into what better hands could you fall? To you, my fat, jolly, four-meals-a-day friend, Mr. Gourmand, but more especially to you, my somber, lean, dyspeptic, two-meals-a-day friend, Mr. Grumbler, the cook is indeed a valuable friend. The cook wields a scepter that is only second in power to that of love; and even love has become soured through the evil instrumentality of the good-looking or bad-cooking cook. This is no jest, it is a very sad fact.
Now, the question arises, how can the cook preserve the health of her patrons, maintain happiness in the family, and yet not throw the gourmands into bankruptcy? Very simple, I assure you.
When one arrives at adult age, he should have learned by experience what articles of food do, and what articles of food do not, agree with him, and to shun the latter, no matter how daintily served or how tempting the circumstances. The man who knows that pates de foie gras, or the livers of abnormally fattened geese, disagree with him, and still eats them, is not to be pitied when all the horrors of dyspepsia overtake him.
The cooking of any article of food has evidently much, very much, to do with its digestibility. It is not the purpose of this paper to teach cooking, but merely to give some general hints as to the best as well as the simplest methods of preparing staple articles of food. The same articles of food can and should be prepared differently on each day of the week. Changes of diet are too likely to be underestimated. By constant change the digestive organs in the average person are prevented from having that repulsion of food which, to a greater or less extent, is likely to result from a sameness of diet continued for a long time.
We often hear from our scientific men that this or that article of food is excellent for muscle, another for brain, another for bone, etc., etc. Now, stubborn facts are like stone walls, against which theories often butt out their beauty and their power. It is well known to almost every one nowadays that well-cooked food, whether it be potatoes, meat and bread, fish, or anything else worthy the name of food, will well maintain, indefinitely, either the philosopher or the hodcarrier.
Many of you know, and all of you ought to know, that the principal ingredients of nearly all our foods are starch and albumen. Starch is the principal nutritive ingredient of vegetables and breadstuffs. Albumen is the principal ingredient of meats, eggs, milk, and other animal derivatives.
Starch never enters the system as starch, but must first be converted into sugar either in the body or out of it. The process of this transformation of starch into sugar is beautifully exemplified in certain plants, such as the beet, the so-called sugar cane, and other growths. The young plant is, to a great extent, composed of starch; as the plant grows older, a substance is produced which is called diastase. Through the influence of this diastase the starch is converted into a peculiar non-crystallizable substance called dextrine, and as the plant matures, this dextrine is transformed into crystallizable sugar.
"Dextrine is a substance that can be produced from starch by the action of dilute acids, alkalies, and malt extract, and by roasting it at a temperature between 284° and 330° F., till it is of a light brown color, and has the odor of overbaked bread."
A simple form of dextrine may be found in the brown crust of bread - that sweetish substance that gives the crust its agreeable flavor. Pure dextrine is an insipid, odorless, yellowish-white, translucent substance, which dissolves in water almost as readily as sugar. As stated above, it is easily converted into dextrose, or glucose, as it is usually named.
This glucose is often sold under the name of sugar, and is the same against which so many of the newspapers waged such a war a year or two ago. These critics were evidently, for the most part, persons who knew little about the subject. Glucose, if free from sulphuric acid or other chemicals, is as harmless as any other form of sugar. Most of our candies contain more or less of it, and are in every way as satisfactory as when manufactured wholly from other sugars.
It is, therefore, self-evident that, as sugar is a necessary article of food, the process which aids the transformation of our starchy foods must necessarily aid digestion. Do not understand me to say by this that, if all our starchy foods were converted into sugar, their digestion would thereby be completed. As I stated a moment ago, this sweet food, if taken into the stomach day after day, would soon cause that particular organ to rebel against this sameness of diet. In order the more clearly to illustrate this point, I will briefly show you how some of the every-day articles of food can be each day differently prepared, and thus be rendered more palatable, and, as a consequence, more digestible; for it is a demonstrated fact that savory foods are far more easily digested than the same foods unsavored.