In choosing poultry and game, regard must be had to: Color and skin of legs; condition and shape; age; freshness. All poultry when young should have smooth and pliable legs, with the scales overlapping very slightly. The spurs of male birds under a year old are represented only by scaly knobs, through which the true spur later pushes itself. The spur on the leg of the male bird must be short and not prominent, and the feet should be soft and rather moist. If the spur is large and the legs hard and dry, the bird is no longer young. The flesh should be smooth and without long hairs. The breast should be plump, and both the breastbone and the beak soft and pliable.
Be careful to note that the birds are free from all discoloration, and that the eyes are full and clear. Long thin necks with a purplish tint denote age, so also does a purplish tint on the thigh.
The weight should be great in proportion to size, but an over-fat bird is not economical, and owing to the flesh being greasy, it is less digestible and delicate in flavor.
For roasting choose a fowl with black or yellow legs, as they are more juicy and possess a better flavor.
For boiling, grilling, roasting, and frying, fowls of the first year are best; but for braising or stewing, old ones, which are both cheaper and larger, will do very well, because long slow cooking makes them tender.
Ducks and Geese. Young ducks have yellow feet and bills; as they become older these turn darker and redder. The wild duck is an exception, as it has small reddish feet even when young. The under bill should be soft and pliable and easily broken when bent. The legs should be smooth, and the webbing of the feet soft and easily torn. The breast should be plump, but not overfat.
The legs of geese should be pliable and yellow, and the webbing of the feet easily torn. The bill should also be pliable and yellow and with few bristles, and the under bill easily broken when bent. The breast should be plump and rounded, but without too much fat, and the skin smooth. A goose should always be eaten young. When over a year old, it is not good for table use.
Turkeys. When fresh and in good condition, the skin of a turkey should look clear and unwrinkled, and the flesh firm and plump. The wattles should be a bright red. Beware of birds with long hairs and flesh of a violet hue. Moderate-sized birds should be chosen. A hen is preferable for boiling on account of the whiteness of the flesh, but the cock is usually chosen for roasting. If freshly killed, a turkey should be kept for at least three or four days before cooking, or it will be neither white nor tender.
Pigeons. A dark-colored pigeon is thought to have the highest flavor, and a light-colored one the most delicate. Pigeons should have the flesh on the breast a light red, with the legs a pinkish color; when they are large and deeply colored, the bird is old. The breast should be fat and plump. Squabs are young tame pigeons.
Rabbits and Hares. When rabbits and hares are young, the claws are smooth, sharp, and pointed, the cleft in the jaws is narrow, the teeth white and small, and the ears soft and easily torn. They have large knee joints in comparison to their size. If old, they will have grayish fur, thick blunt claws, and tough ears. Rabbits should be used fresh. Choose one that is plump and short-necked, and with the flesh stiff and fresh, and without discoloration. Hares require to be well hung, and with these, as with other game, the condition of the eye will show approximately how long it is since the animal has been killed. The cleft in the lip should be narrow. A hare under a year old is best for roasting purposes.
Game Birds. In the young game birds the legs should be smooth, and the feet moist and supple; the beak so brittle that the under portion snaps across easily if it is bent backwards. The breasts should be plump, firm, and hard, and the long quills in the wings soft and not fully developed. The feathers help to indicate the age of the bird; when young there are soft and downy ones under the wing and on the breast. The plumage of the young bird is even and soft, the long feathers of the wing are pointed, while in the older bird these become round, and the colors are usually brighter. The bird should weigh heavily for its size. Do not choose a bird that has been badly shot, as when much shattered, some parts will become uneatable before the rest is tender.
Vegetables. Vegetables should be fresh to the eye, crisp to the touch, and have a cool refreshing odor. Withered or decayed vegetables are extremely unwholesome. The pods, leaves, and stalks of many varieties begin to lose bulk and flavor as soon as cut. Pods and stalks should snap across easily when they are bent by the fingers.
Cucumbers should be very stiff and thick. Cauliflowers should be very firm, close, and a creamy white, the leaves round the flower being green and crisp.
The pods of peas should be crisp and bright green with no sign of yellow. They should be full, but if very large they are apt to be old. If the peas be heard to rattle in the pods, they are worthless.
Potatoes with rough skins are usually the most floury when boiled. Select those free from "eyes", and remember large ones will be the most economical, as there is less waste in peeling them. New potatoes must have rough ragged looking skins, easily scraped off with the finger nail.