This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
As a general rule typical American cookery is liable to be flat and uninteresting, not necessarily because of the use of poor ingredients, but because the average housewife does not understand the importance of good seasoning. The thing that starts the digestive juices - "makes the mouth water" - is the delicious aroma arising from food well-cooked and seasoned, and this savor cannot be obtained by salt and pepper alone. Besides, the use of too much of these "stand-bys" has a bad effect on the body, the excess salt irritating the mucous membranes, and pepper having an injurious action on the blood and liver.
During the warm weather it is not at all difficult to obtain the enticing food-flavors that make eating something more than a necessity for Nature is bountiful; garden, market and roadside combining to furnish a variety of herbs. Years ago when everyone had a kitchen garden the herb corner was the special care of the housewife, for she realized that not only the savoriness of her meats and soups depended upon herbs, but frequently the charm of her cakes and confections as well. Moreover, though she may not have known it, she was unwittingly supplying her family with some of Nature's best medicines.
If possible, herbs, like all other foods, should be used fresh. Even in winter, some of them can be grown in the house in window boxes and others may be obtained from large markets throughout the year. Further, it is an easy matter to put up, or dry, almost any of the herbs. To preserve them so that they will be fresh enough to use at any time, even as garnishes, arrange alternate layers of salt and sprigs of the desired herb (parsley, dill, sage, mint, etc.) in wide-mouthed jars and keep them well covered with salt, in a cool place. Dill, parsley, celery tips, mint, sage, thyme, marjoram and other herbs can also be put up in cold water, like cranberries or rhubarb. Select fresh, green sprigs, rinse well and put them into jars which have been thoroughly scalded and then cooled. Let cold water run from the faucet into the jars for at least ten minutes so that all the air will be dislodged, then seal with a rubber band and cap as usual.
Herbs may be dried in two ways: They should be free from dirt; if necessary, they can be washed and thoroughly dried before the actual process of evaporation begins. Pick off the sprigs and lay them on clean papers in a warm room where no sweeping will be done for at least two days. Turn occasionally till thoroughly dry and store in tightly-closed tin boxes, for the savor is best preserved if the herbs are kept dark and the receptacle is air-tight. The second method is more rapid; place the sprigs on brown paper and dry, either in a slow oven or on wire trays which may be suspended on pulleys above the stove. In country districts these trays are invaluable for drying corn, lima beans and other vegetables, as well as fruit. To freshen dried herbs, place in a little warm water for a few minutes.
There are times when a food needs the enlivening touch of sour, or sweet-sour, pickles. For sauce to serve with lamb or fish, capers are usually suggested, but they are rather expensive and may be substituted by nasturtium seed, which can be used plain, as a relish, in salads, or as a decoration for salads or canapes. Cucumber pickles of medium size may be sliced lengthwise, very thin, spread out in fan-shape and used to garnish baked beans. Finely chopped, they add a good note to boiled or mayonnaise dressing, or they may be added direct to a salad. Pickled string beans, or flowerets of cauliflower, are delicious with ham or tongue. Olives may often be used to give variety, either with salads or sandwiches, or in various cooked dishes, as creamed shrimps or salmon. There are times when plain or spiced meat or fish absolutely palls. When this occurs, it is a good plan to introduce a tart flavor or a sour sauce. Beef a la mode is a good example of a commonly known tart meat. It is often advisable to add a little vinegar or lemon to boiling meat or fish; a dash of vinegar is indispensable when cooking kidneys, and sour cream may be added to the gravy of different meat dishes, or may be made into a delicious fish sauce when a faint tart flavor is desired; plain sliced lemon is delicious with tongue.
Tomatoes, which are acid and at the same time very pungent, may be called upon for tart sauces, and are invaluable for seasoning casseroles and soups. However, it should not be repeated too often, for the spice of seasoning lies in frequent change. Certain meats demand a sweet-sour flavor; cider when added to boiled ham being an example, or thin slices of ham baked in grape juice is another. Tongue with raisin sauce shows still a third possibility. Sometimes a bit of sweet will help a meat more than anything else, a few grains of sugar either plain or caramelized greatly improving veal or a brown beef stew and other meats.