The art of keeping a good table consists not in loading on a variety at each meal, but rather in securing a successive variety, a table neatly and tastefully set, and every thing that is on it cooked in the best manner.
There are some families who provide an abundance of the most expensive and choice articles, and spare no expense in any respect, yet who have every thing cooked in such a miserable way, and a table set in so slovenly a manner, that a person accustomed to a really good table can scarcely taste a morsel with any enjoyment.
On the contrary, there are many tables where the closest economy is practiced; and yet the table-cloth is so white and smooth, the dishes, silver, glass, and other table articles so bright, and arranged with such propriety; the bread so light and sweet; the butter so beautiful, and every other article of food so well cooked, and so neatly and tastefully served, that every thing seems good, and pleases both the eye and the palate.
A habit of doing every thing in the best manner is of unspeakable importance to a housekeeper, and every woman ought to aim at it, however great the difficulties she may have to meet. If a young housekeeper commences with a determination to try to do every thing in the best manner, and perseveres in the effort, meeting all obstacles with patient cheerfulness, not only the moral but the intellectual tone of her mind is elevated by the attempt. Although she may meet many insuperable difficulties, and may never reach the standard at which she aims, the simple effort, persevered in, will have an elevating influence on her character; while, at the same time, she actually will reach a point of excellence far ahead of those who, discouraged by many obstacles, give up in despair, and resolve to make no more efforts, and let things go as they will. The grand distinction between a noble and an ignoble mind is, that one will control circumstances; the other yields, and allows circumstances to control her.
It should be borne in mind that the constitution of man demands a variety of food, and that it is just as cheap to keep on hand a good variety of materials in the store-closet, so as to make a frequent change, as it is to buy one or two articles at once, and live on them exclusively, till every person is tired of them, and then buy two or three more of another kind.
It is too frequently the case that families fall into a very limited round of articles, and continue the same course from one year to another, when there is a much greater variety within reach of articles which are just as cheap and as easily obtained, and yet remain unthought of and untouched.
A thrifty and generous provider will see that her store-closet is furnished with such a variety of articles that successive changes can be made, and for a good length of time. To aid in this, a slight sketch of a well-provided store-closet will be given, with a description of the manner in which each article should be stored and kept, in order to avoid waste and injury. To this will be added modes of securing a successive variety within the reach of all in moderate circumstances.
It is best to have a store-closet open from the kitchen, because the kitchen fire keeps the atmosphere dry, and this prevents the articles stored from molding, and other injury from dampness. Yet it must not be kept warm, as there are many articles which are injured by warmth.
A cool and dry place is indispensable for a store-room, and a small window over the door, and another opening outdoors, give a great advantage, by securing coolness and circulation of fresh air.
Flour should be kept in a barrel, with a flour-scoop to dip it, a sieve to sift it, and a pan to hold the sifted flour, either in the barrel or close at hand. The barrel should have a tight cover to keep out mice and vermin. It is best to find, by trial, a lot of first-rate flour, and then buy a year's supply. But this should not be done unless there are accommodations for keeping it dry and cool, and protecting it from vermin.
Unbolted flour should be stored in kegs or covered tubs, and always be kept on hand as regularly as fine flour. It should be bought only when freshly ground, and only in moderate quantities, as it loses sweetness by keeping.
Indian meal should be purchased in small quantities, say fifteen or twenty pounds at a time, and be kept in a covered tub or keg. It is always improved by scalding. It must be kept very cool and dry, and if occasionally stirred, is preserved more surely from growing sour or musty. Fresh ground is best.
Rye should be bought in small quantities, say forty or fifty pounds at a time, and be kept in a keg or half-barrel, with a cover.
Buckwheat, Rice, Hominy, and Ground Rice must be purchased in small quantities, and kept in covered kegs or tubs. Several of these articles are infested with small black insects, and examination must occasionally be made for them.
Arrowroot, Tapioca, Sago, Pearl Barley, Pearl Wheat, Cracked Wheat, American Isinglass, Macaroni, Vermicelli, and Oat-meal are all articles which help to make an agreeable variety, and it is just as cheap to buy a small quantity of each as it is to buy a larger quantity of two or three articles. Eight or ten pounds of each of these articles of food can be stored in covered jars or covered wood boxes, and then they are always at hand to help to make a variety. All of them are very healthful food, and help to form many delightful dishes for desserts. Some of the most healthful puddings are those made of rice, tapioca, sago, and macaroni; while isinglass, or American gelatine, forms elegant articles for desserts, and is also excellent for the sick.
Sugars should not be bought by the barrel, as the brown is apt to turn to molasses, and run out on to the floor. Refined loaf for tea, crushed sugar for the nicest preserves and to use with fruit, nice brown sugar for coffee, and common brown for more common use. The loaf can be stored in the paper, on a shelf. The others should be kept in close covered kegs, or covered wooden articles made for the purpose.