This section is from the "The New Home Cook Book" book, by Ladies Of Chicago Et Al. Also available from Amazon: The Home Cook Book: Tried, Tested, Proved.
Every lady, whatever her position in life, ought to understand how to select and purchase such stores as are needed in her family. Possibly she may never be called upon to put this knowledge into practice. No matter. It is surely worth knowing; and if never brought into active use, it will do its possessor no harm. This kind of knowledge, more than almost any other of practical worth, must be acquired in girlhood.
All knowledge, and every acquirement for daily use, will be better and more thoroughly established through the mother's teachings and under her immediate supervision. As far as possible, let the daughters accompany their mother in their marketing, and watch her proceedings. Let the mother explain, as they pass from one stall to another, examining the various articles needed, the reasons that lead her to reject one while she accepts another of the same kind of article, but differing in quality. Domestic economy - that part of the daughters' education which is of more importance than almost any other, and on which they will be most dependent when called upon to build up a home of their own — is the one we are all most inclined to neglect or put off till a more "convenient season."We are too much occupied," or "There is time enough by and bye," is an oft-repeated excuse, when in truth the real motive for procrastination is the mother's own disinclination to take up this duty, because she thinks such teaching will be irksome.
To be of lasting benefit, or at all effective, instruction of this kind should not only commence early, but be systematically carried out, or else, before she is aware, the mother will find the little girl has discarded her dolls, and stands by her side a lovely woman; but, through that mother's neglect, utterly ignorant of the duties that are rising up before her.
Many wives leave all household purchases, and among them all the marketing, to their husbands. It is because we do not think this a wise arrangement that we would so earnestly enjoin on all mothers to give their daughters a perfect knowledge of the duties they must understand, if they expect to become the true mistresses of their own homes — the real "helpmeets "for their husbands. There are some articles, doubtless, that a man can buy for the family with better judgment than his wife will exercise; but this is seldom the case, and ought not to be. As he is not expected to superintend the use of the materials to be sent home, how is it possible that he can judge as correctly as the mistress of his house as to what and how much is needed, or what articles are best suited for each meal? To be sure, his wife may prepare a list of what she needs; but is she safe in trusting to his taking such a list for his guide in his purchases? Is there not danger that some conversation with a friend, in going to the market, may put these instructions entirely out of his mind ? These are but a small part of the many reasons why the housekeeper should, as far as possible, keep all that belongs to her special department in her own hands.
In the evening it is a good plan to take a few moments of quiet, before retiring, to arrange the work for the coming day, and decide what must be done in the way of marketing the next morning.
As far as practicable, buy all imperishable stores by the wholesale. If tea, coffee, sugar, flour, spices and seasoning, salt beef, pork and hams, coal and wood, soap and starch, are bought in wholesale quantities, and paid for as soon as delivered, much money will be saved in the course of a year. If nothing more, one saves the retail commission by wholesale purchases, beside many small items, which in the course of a few months would amount to a larger sum than one could know until she had tried the experiment. The extra price charged, where small parcels are bought at retail, for the wrapping paper used, small as it may seem on first thought, will prove no trifling addition to the sum total at the end of a year. There need be no trouble in managing to buy by wholesale everything that will keep well, if one is blessed with suitable storage rooms; or, if thus favored, in securing many kinds of vegetables and fruit by this same practice. Of course, in this advice, it must be understood that to be truly economical everything must be paid for as soon as the articles are delivered and carefully examined, to be certain that the order has been correctly filled. This should never be neglected, for any error can be more readily righted if noticed at once, and before payment. By paying in this way, one has the benefit of the lowest market, and many other advantages which we have not space to enumerate.
All marketing, especially of vegetables and perishable articles, should be done early in the morning, because the earlier this work is done the surer are the prospects of securing what is needed in the best and freshest condition.
We should not advise roaming from store to store, or from one market stall to another, after having become well acquainted with what the city or village has to offer, and having formed as correct a knowledge as possible of the character of the vender and the quality of the goods offered. Until this knowledge is well established, it is of course necessary, for one's own security, to make a fair trial of all, but having done this, we think it wise to hold fast to that which, all things considered, is best. The grocer, butcher, fish and poultry dealer, as well as the dry goods merchant, will take greater interest in faithfully serving a regular customer, at the most reasonable rates, than one who may not buy of him again. This much is certainly gained, aside from a great saving of time and fatigue to the purchaser. If those you thus patronize or trust cannot supply your present needs, it is for their interest to send out and procure what is needed; and this they usually do with great cheerfulness, and with a hearty wish to give the best they can. But, having decided with whom you think it most desirable to trade, do not feel that you can lay on them the responsibility of selecting the articles you need. Accept gratefully such hints as may be given, and which may be valuable, because of the vender's larger experience; but every housekeeper should know how to choose the best and most economical articles herself, and to feel so certain of the correctness of her judgment as to decide for herself. We are sorry to say that very few modern housekeepers do understand how to select wisely, or how to buy economically, particularly when buying meats, poultry, fish, etc.
It is not a difficult thing to secure such knowledge as will make imposition almost impossible. Careful observation, knowledge of certain rules to be observed in selections, with some experience secured before marriage, should enable any one to buy economically, as well as correctly.
Talking impatiently to and scolding those with whom one trades, aside from being unlady-like, is very poor policy. If not satisfactorily served, or if mistakes occur, seek an explanation at once. Name the grievance quietly, but so clearly that there can be no misunderstanding. Listen calmly to whatever excuse may be given, and, if possible, have it rectified. Firmness and gentleness can work together, and with more lasting effects than irritability and scolding. If the same mistakes occur a second time, probably it is from ignorance, or inability to supply the demand; and this being so, it will be advisable to transfer your custom elsewhere. But this can be done without argument or severity. Tradesmen who do a large business usually furnish articles of the best quality; and, as a general rule, they are not likely to charge exorbitantly. Their own interest, if no higher motive, will prompt them to supply their customers with the best, and at the most moderate rates.
There is no economy in buying an inferior article. Get the best, and let the economy be shown in the way it is used. Let no part that is suitable for use be wasted. What is left from the first serving of a piece of meat can be made into soups, hashes, ragouts, or croquettes, and be a most acceptable addition to the bill of fare.
This is not exactly the place to furnish rules for selecting the different articles needed in the household; but it may not be amiss to mention concisely some few points to be remembered when marketing, particularly in purchasing meat, fish, etc., although almost all books on domestic affairs are full of such directions. The "line upon line, and precept upon precept " principle is nowhere more needed, or more effective, than in domestic economy. In choosing fish, of every variety, bear in mind that if they are perfectly rigid, and the eyes bright, there is no fear of their being stale. Fish that live chiefly or altogether on the surface of the water will keep but a very short time. They die almost as soon as they are taken; and the change is so sudden that they lose their best flavor in a very few hours. Mackerel and herring are of this class. The fish that lie near the bottom of the water, like the cod, can be kept alive longer after being taken from the water, and their flesh keeps fresh longer than those first mentioned. Some think the flesh better if kept a day or two. Crabs, lobsters, etc., are worthless if they are light and watery. When they feel solid and heavy, they are good. One will soon learn to judge of them by comparing the weight. If oysters are in the least degree open, discard them; they are always good when the shell is tightly closed. Ox beef is the best. The animal should be five or six years old. If well fed, the flesh will be fine-grained, of a bright red color, with plenty of yellow fat running through it, and sufficiently elastic to rise up quickly when pressed by the fingers. If this is not so, it will be tough and of poor flavor. Cow or heifer beef is paler than ox beef, the fat a clear white, firmer grained, and the bones smaller; but it is not so rich or juicy. Veal should be small and white, the kidneys well covered with fat, and the flesh dry. If coarse-grained, moist and clammy, have nothing to do with it. Mutton must be dark color and fat; the color determines the age, and age is the mark of excellence. Five or six years is the age that epicures demand in mutton. Lamb, small, pale red, and fat. If fresh killed, the veins in the neck will be bluish; if stale, greenish. Never buy pork except from a butcher whose honesty is undoubted, and who knows where the animal was fattened. When good, the skin will be thin and smooth. Reject it if the flesh be flabby or clammy to the touch; and if there are kernels in the fat, it will be dangerous food. As soon as meat is brought in from the butcher's, wipe it dry with a clean cloth. Common fowls will be plump on the breast and fat on the back if good; when young, the legs and combs are smooth. Turkeys, when fresh killed, will have clear, full eyes and moist feet. In old birds the legs are rough and reddish; in the young, smooth and black. When geese are old, the bills and feet are red; when young, yellow. If fresh killed, the feet will be pliable; if too long kept, they will be stiff. Ducks and pigeons, when in good condition and fresh, will have plump breasts and pliable feet.
These are simply general directions, but quite necessary if one would be an expert in marketing. Without some guide, by which to judge of the quality and value of articles needed in the home department, and especially of the food, on which so much of health and comfort for the family depends, the most experienced would often find their duties very trying; but for those just entering the field, and too poorly fitted for the work before them, there must be something definite and reliable, to assist while learning the way.