Vegetables used for culinary purposes comprise roots and tubers, as potatoes, turnips, etc.; shoots and stems, as asparagus and sea-kale; leaves and inflorescence, as spinach and cabbage; immature seeds, grains, and seed receptacles, as green peas, corn, and string-beans; and a few of the fruity products, as the tomato and the squash. Of these the tubers rank the highest in nutritive value.
All roots and tubers should be plump, free from decay, bruises, and disease, and with fresh, unshriveled skins. They are good from the time of maturing until they begin to germinate. Sprouted vegetables are not good food, neither those which have begun to decay.
Green vegetables, to be wholesome, should be freshly gathered, crisp, and juicy; those which have lain long in the market are a very questionable article of food.
If necessary to keep green vegetables for any length of time, do not put them in water, as that will dissolve and destroy some of their juices; but lay them in a cool, dark place, - on a stone floor is best, - and do not remove their outer leaves until you are ready to use them. They should be cooked the same day they are gathered, if possible. The best way to freshen those with stems, when withered, is to cut off a bit of the stem-end, and set only the cut part in water. The vegetables will then absorb enough water to replace what has been lost by evaporation.
Peas and beans should not be shelled until wanted. If, however, they are not used as soon as shelled, cover them with pods and put in a cool place.
Winter vegetables can be best kept wholesome by storing in a cool, dry place of even temperature, where no warmth, moisture, or light is present to induce decay or germination. They should be well sorted, the bruised or decayed rejected, and the rest put into clean bins or boxes. They should be dry and clean when stored.
Most vegetables need thorough washing before cooking. Roots and tubers should be well cleaned before paring. A vegetable brush or a small whisk broom is especially serviceable for this purpose. If necessary to wash shelled beans and peas, it is best accomplished by putting them in a colander and dipping in and out of a large pan of water until clean. Spinach, lettuce, and other leaves may be cleaned in the same way.
A general rule, applicable to all vegetables to be boiled or stewed, is to cook them in as little water as possible without burning. Those to be cooked by boiling should be put into actively boiling water.
Vegetables not of uniform size should either be so assorted that those of the same size may be cooked together, or large ones should be divided. In the spring, when potatoes are beginning to shrivel, they are freshened by soaking several hours before cooking. Vegetables should be cooked until they are perfectly tender but not overdone. The time required for cooking depends upon the age and freshness of the vegetables as well as the method of cooking. If wilted, they require a longer time for cooking than when fresh.