There is nothing in which the difference between an elegant and an ordinary table is more seen than in the dressing of vegetables, more especially greens. They may be equally as fine at first, at one place as at another; but their look and taste are afterward very different, entirely from the careless way in which they have been cooked.
They are in greatest perfection when in greatest plenty, i. e. when in full season.
By season, I do not mean those early days, that luxury in the buyers, and avarice in the sellers, force the vegetables; but that time of the year in which by nature and common culture, and the mere operation of the sun and climate, they are in most plenty and perfection.
As to the quality of vegetables, the middle size are preferred to the largest or the smallest; they are more tender, juicy, and full of flavor, just before they are quite full-grown. Freshness is their chief value and excellence, and I should as soon think of roasting an animal alive, as of boiling a vegetable after it is dead.
The eye easily discovers if they have been kept too long; they soon lose their beauty in all respects.
Roots, greens, salads, etc. and the various productions of the garden, when first gathered, are plump and firm, and have a fragrant freshness no art can give them again, when they have lost it by long keeping; though it will refresh them a little to put them into cold spring water for sometime before they are dressed.
To boil them in soft water will preserve the color best of such as are green; if you have only hard water, put to it a tea-spoonful of carbonate of potash.
Take care to wash and cleanse them thoroughly from dust, dirt, and insects: this requires great attention. Pick off all the outside leaves, trim them nicely, and, if not quite fresh gathered and have become flaccid, it is absolutely necessary to restore their crispness before cooking them, or they will be tough and unpleasant: lay them in a pan of clean water, with a handful of salt in it, for an hour before you dress them.
They should always be boiled in a saucepan by themselves, and have plenty of water; if meat is boiled with them in the same pot, they will spoil the look and taste of each other.
If you wish to have vegetables delicately clean, put on your pot, make it boil, put a little salt in it, and skim it perfectly clean before you put in the greens, etc.; which should not be put in till the water boils briskly: the quicker they boil, the greener they will be. When the vegetables sink, they are generally done enough, if the water has been kept constantly boiling. Take them up immediately, or they will lose their color and goodness. Drain the water from them thoroughly before you send them to table.
This branch of cookery requires the most vigilant attention.
If vegetables are a minute or two too long over the fire, they lose all their beauty and flavor.
If not thoroughly boiled tender, they are tremendously indigestible, and much more troublesome during their residence in the stomach, than under-done meats.
Once for all, take care your vegetables are fresh: for as the fishmonger often suffers for the sins of the cook, so the cook often gets undeservedly blamed instead of the green-grocer.
Succulent vegetables are best preserved in a cool, shady, and damp place.
Potatoes, turnips, carrots, and similar roots, intended to be stored up, should never be cleaned from the earth adhering to them, till they are to be dressed.
They must be protected from the action of the air and frost, by laving them in heaps, burying them in sand or earth, etc, or covering them with straw or mats.
When vegetables are quite fresh gathered, they will not require so much boiling, by at least a third of the time, as when they have been gathered the usual time of those that are brought to public markets.
Vegetables are always best when newly gathered, and should be brought in from the garden early in the morning; they will then have a fragrant freshness, which they lose by keeping.
They must be cleaned with the greatest care, the outside leaves of every description of greens removed, and they, and all other vegetables, more particularly when not recently gathered, should be laid for several hours in cold water, and well shaken to throw out the insects. A tea-spoonful of salt should always be put into the water in which they are to be boiled, and if it is hard, a tea-spoonful of salt of tartar, or potash, may be added to preserve the green color of the vegetables.
All vegetables should be boiled quickly, and, with the exception of spinach, in an open vessel, skimming them carefully.
Kitchen greens should be kept in a cool and shady place. Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and beet root should be stored up, without being cleaned from the earth adhering to them, in layers of sand, or laid in heaps, and covered with earth and straw. Parsnips and skirrets not being injured by frost, are generally left in the ground, and taken up as wanted. Onions are stored in a warm, dry place, never in a cellar; they are sometimes strung in bunches, and suspended from the roof, and, more effectually to prevent their growing, some people select the finest bulbs, and singe the roots with a hot iron.
Herbs of all sorts should be gathered when in flower, and on a dry day, and being well cleaned from dust and dirt, they are tied up in small bunches, and dried before the fire in a Dutch oven. They may then be kept in paper bags labelled; or rubbed to a powder, sifted, and put into bottles.
The flavor of the various sweet and savory herbs may be obtained by combining their essential oils with rectified spirit of wine, in the proportion of one drachm of the former to two ounces of the latter, or by picking the leaves, and laying them for a couple of hours in a warm place to dry, and then filling a large-mouthed bottle with them, and pouring on them wine, brandy, proof spirit, or vinegar, and letting them steep for fourteen days.
Is fit for use when about the size of a turkey's egg. After being washed clean, it is put on in boiling water, with a little salt, and when tender, it is drained from the water, cut into half, and served on toasted bread, over which some melted butter has been poured. Or, after being boiled in milk and water, they may be fricasseed as Jerusalem artichokes, or stewed like cucumbers.
Pick and wash very clean as much spinach as will make a dish; mince finely three small onions, pick and chop two handfuls of parsley; put all into a saucepan, with rather more than half a pint of gravy, a bit of butter dusted with (lour, a little salt and pepper. Cover the pan closely, stir it now and then, and when the spinach is tender, mash it smooth, serve it with slices of broiled ham. or with sausages.