The cereal products and potatoes make up the bulk of the vegetable substance of our diet. There are, however, other vegetables which should be daily used. Some of these cannot be said to have a large amount of nutriment, yet there is something in their cool and crisp natures, their vegetable acids and other constituents, which exert a beneficial effect upon the system. It is said that the early Romans so fully appreciated the use of vegetable foods that they enacted laws compelling their people to combine them freely with meats in their dietaries. If the American people would use vegetables freely with their diet of bread, meat, and potatoes, they would have much more reason to hope for happy and healthy old age.
Lettuce is chief among the salad plants. It has many virtues. It is dainty and delicate; wholesome at any meal, but generally used at dinner. It combines harmoniously with almost any kind of meat. It admits of a number of different dressings, but is almost universally relished, even when dressed in the simplest manner. The leaves of lettuce should never be bruised. The tender leaves brought fresh from the garden should be washed in clean, cold water, and relieved from moisture by tumbling about in a white cloth. It may be served just as it is, allowing each guest to dress it simply with vinegar and salt, or more elaborately, as is preferred.
Endive or winter lettuce is also valuable, because, being more hardy than lettuce proper, it can be had in early spring, when green vegetables are scarce. When exposed to the air, the leaves are more acrid and tough than those of lettuce. It can be bleached so that it is crisp, tender and appetizing. It is dressed and used in the same way as lettuce.
Watercress, that aromatic and pungent herb which grows wild in some localities along the edges of ponds of fresh water, near springs, and upon the banks of small streams, - always where there is plenty of water, - has a very pleasant flavor, and is relished by many. The cultivated varieties are more tender than the wild ones.
Rhubarb, on account of its pleasant flavor and early appearance in the spring, is a welcome visitor. It is ready for use long before any fruit, or even the principal salad plants. It can be used in a variety of ways, so that one does not readily tire of it. When stewed in a very little water and sweetened, it makes a good substitute for fruit sauce. It is very acceptable in pie, and those who have tried it in a shortcake served with whipped cream can give evidence of its merits in this capacity.
There are many plants belonging to the cabbage family, - different kinds of kale, Brussells sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. A dish of sauerkraut makes a pleasant variety during the long winter months, when vegetables are scarce. This German dish is said to prevent scurvy quite as efficiently as lemon juice or green vegetables.
Crisp, tender cabbage, when finely shredded and dressed for the table raw, is, for many, more wholesome and digestible than cooked cabbage. Young onions are to most people very agreeable and digestible. Celery has a tenderness and delicacy of flavor which, added to the benefit which the system derives from its use, should gain for it a place in every farmer's garden.
There are other vegetables used as salads, but these which are mentioned are all common, and with such a variety there need never be a time during the summer season when one feels the need of anything further in the line of food materials.
Spinach is an early spring vegetable, and makes a fine dish of greens.
All vegetables lose something either in flavor or constituents, or both, by cooking. White beans are easily had for winter use, and are a food rich in the flesh forming elements. Dry beans, like cereals, seem to benefit the person eating them very little unless thoroughly cooked. Twelve to twenty hours' cooking is necessary to render them the most palatable and digestible; but as the fire seldom goes out in the kitchen range during winter, their preparation requires little extra time or attention. The small white kidney bean is best, on account of its thin skin and fine flavor. There are several reasons for the long, slow cooking necessary in dry beans, peas, and lentils. One is to soften the paper-like membrane in which each nutritive particle is bound up. Another is to so soften and change the proteid matter as to render it more palatable and more easily acted on by the digestive fluids. Another reason for long cooking is that the legume softens and is penetrated by the seasonings used, which renders it more palatable. Split peas have the outside skin removed and are for this reason easier made use of by those who are disturbed by the skins of legumes. All legumes may be passed through a sieve to free from skins, as in making purees. Some beans may be soaked until the skins can be rubbed off between the hands.
In seasoning cooked vegetables, our object is to emphasize and bring out delicate flavors, and tone down such flavors as are too prominent. A little cream adds much to the flavor of some vegetables.
Some green vegetables can be dried for winter use and be as palatable as when canned. The process of drying requires little, if any, more time or labor than does canning.