Water is not always considered to be strictly a food in itself, but by its aid many foods and flavors are put in forms more acceptable to the palate and more readily absorbed by the body than they could be in any other way.
Immense quantities of water are necessary for the preparation of food and the cleansing of dishes in addition to what is needed for laundry and bathing purposes. Cities make provision from some source safe from contamination for the water needed by their inhabitants. In small communities the individual family must each be responsible for its water supply. This is not the place to discuss the medical aspect of the water question, but all agree that water should be above the suspicion of danger of transmitting disease. Moreover, for household purposes water should be clean and soft, since hard water containing mineral salts hinders processes of cooking and cleaning.
A limited water supply or inconvenient arrangements for its use and disposal afterward, tend to reduce the consumption to such an extent as to interfere with the proper cooking and service of food, if not below the actual standards for health.
Importance of Water in Cooking
Nearly three-fourths of the human body is water and a similar proportion will hold in most foods served at our tables. The total amount of water taken by a human being daily averages two or three quarts, or from four to six pounds. The portion of this which is taken as a beverage depends upon the solidity of the food.
The benefit gained from mineral waters often is quite as much due to an increased consumption of water as to the mineral constituents they contain. The tendency of civilized man in feeding himself is toward too concentrated foods, too little water as a beverage and too little watery food. Water not only brings solids into the stomach in an acceptable form, but it is essential in building new tissues and removing wastes. The inside of the body, as well as the outside, sometimes requires washing.
The temperature at which water is taken into the stomach is an important point. A glass of cool water sipped slowly may have as stimulating an effect as one of wine. Often more ice than water is found in the glasses on American tables, and the ice water is taken hurriedly and interferes with digestion.
Hot water taken slowly will often revive tired people as effectually as tea or coffee. The merit of soup as a first course at dinner probably is due to the fact that it contains ninety to ninety-five per cent hot water and that the solids are largely in solution and absorbable.
If clear hot water is an unpalatable beverage, salt or lemon juice may be added to give a distinct flavor.
There is a marked difference in flavor between water freshly boiled and that which has been kept hot for a long time. The latter has lost the gases which give life to fresh water. For any purpose in cooking stale water will injure the flavor of foods whether it be taken from a hot water faucet or from a teakettle where it has stood for hours.
Other ill flavors come into our foods because of imperfect utensils, badly washed. A rough surface or seam will retain something from previous cooking to add to the next substance cooked therein, or greasy dishwater or soap may be left in sufficient quantity to give an appreciable change of flavor.
Another important use of water essential in good cooking is for the cleaning of utensils.
Dishwashing is not a popular occupation probably because repairing or setting to rights is never quite as interesting as the construction of something definite. Insufficient appliances and inconvenient conditions for the work are other causes for its unpopularity.
With a convenient sink of the right height, ample table room for soiled and clean dishes, abundance of towels and hot water, dishwashing loses its terrors.
A knowledge of the composition of each food and the way it is affected by different degrees of heat is as desirable in dishwashing as in cooking. For example, where gelatine has dried on a strainer it should be softened in cold water, but that treatment would not be helpful if the strainer had been used for fry fat, while an egg beater plunged in boiling water would be all the harder to wash because the egg would be cooked. Time is saved by careful sorting and scraping of dishes before washing. Detergents are helpful but less important than abundance of water.
Strong soda water boiled in a utensil will remove food that has burned on. Soaking is as helpful in dishwashing as in the laundry and dishes that cannot be washed as soon as used should be covered with water. After washing, any dishes are improved by rinsing in scalding water.
The usual plan is to wash dishes in this order, glass, silver, crockery, cooking pans, or kettles. Often it is more desirable to get the large pieces out of the way first.
It is half a century since the first dishwashing machine was invented and though they are in general use for hotels, hand work seems better adapted to most households.
To illustrate the effect of the range of temperature from the block of ice at 32 ° F to the steaming kettle at 2120 F let us follow the process of making a simple gelatine jelly. The gelatine has been extracted for us in factories from bones of animals and needs no cooking, but must be dissolved and combined with liquid and flavoring. It is first softened in cold water, the time required varying according to the size of the particles of gelatine. Then it must be dissolved with boiling liquid. Use only as much boiling liquid as is necessary to dissolve the gelatine. The sugar, if that is to be used, added next, because it will dissolve more rapidly in a warm medium, and then is put in the fruit juice or whatever is to flavor the jelly.
The compound is to be strained and cooled. The larger the mass the slower the cooling.
Experiment. To illustrate this put half the jelly in one mould and the other half in several cups. The cup will be firm before the large mould at any temperature.
To illustrate another point put one cup in a pan of snow or cracked ice mixed with coarse salt. When some of the jelly is half thickened combine with it whipped cream or white of egg.
If possible take temperature of each with a thermometer. The key to all gelatine desserts, is to have proper proportions of gelatine and liquid and to have the right temperature for the different stages. The proportions are given by each manufacturer on the package.