One of the objects of cooking is to develop flavors, as in broiling a steak, roasting coffee, etc. Here the skill of the cook is tested, and a knowledge of the intensity and continuance of heat is required.
In cereals, dry beans, etc., the flavor depends largely on the cooking, though a few additions are made, as salt, pepper, etc. In order to use such common things as salt and pepper wisely, the taste must be educated. There is but one object in using such things, and that is to give pleasure to the eater. The Germans have well named them "enjoyment givers." We are so constituted that we cannot long enjoy anything fully if it is used in excess, hence the necessity for both those who cook and those who eat to train themselves in enjoying the flavor of the article itself, rather than the salt and pepper or other condiments or spices showered over it.
Flavors should always be delicate. A flavoring ma-terial which is added to a food while cooking is less harmful than that added at the table, because the wise cook uses only enough to prevent the food being insipid, - a sufficient amount to make the mouth water,- while over-seasoned food weakens digestion by over-stimulating the secretive glands, and irritating the delicate membranes of the digestive tract.
There are many substances besides salt and pepper which, added to food, give variety of flavor, or a better flavor to an insipid food. These are usually classed under two heads, - condiments and spices. Those which are used with meats are called "condiments." Those which are combined with sugar and used with fruits are called "spices." Many of these flavoring materials are of vegetable origin. Among them are cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, mace, pepper, caraway seed, celery seed, bay leaves, summer savory, parsley, thyme, sage, sweet marjoram, mint, tarragon, capers and curry powder. These are simply aromatic, but some are both aromatic and pungent, as mustard, horseradish, and ginger. Salt is chief among condiments. A little of this heightens the flavor of almost any food.
Cloves are the flower bud of an evergreen tree indigenous to the Molucca or Spice islands. The clove tree is cultivated in the West Indies and Guiana, but the cloves off trees from there are less aromatic than those of the Spice islands.
Allspice is a native of the West Indies. It is the green berries of the tree, dried in a rather low heat.
Cinnamon is a bark stripped from the young shoots of a tree allied to the laurel. The inner bark only is used. It is very thin and papery in appearance, and dries in small tight rolls, and has a decidedly pleasant and spicy taste. Cinnamon, like most spices, comes from the East India islands. Cassia bark resembles cinnamon a little, but the bark is very much thicker, the rolls shorter and the taste much less pleasant, and not nearly so strong. Cassia comes from China. In the ground spices, one must depend upon the taste to distinguish between cassia and cinnamon.
The nutmeg tree, a native of the East Indies, is grown principally in the island of Banda. The fruit is of a yellow color, about the size of a pear. It is a drupe or stone fruit, and the kernel is the portion used as a spice. Mace is similar to nutmeg, being derived from the same fruit. It is the second coat which covers the nutmeg. It is a thin membranous substance divided in such a way as to give a lace like effect. It is used in the same way as nutmeg.
Pepper is a native of the East Indies, the island of Penang producing it in largest quantity. The cultivation of pepper has been introduced into the West Indies. Pepper is the fruit of a vine, and is gathered before it is ripe, which gives a wrinkled appearance when dry. White and black pepper are made from the same berry, the white having the dark outer covering removed before it is ground. White pepper is preferable for all uses in which black or white pepper are chosen. Red pepper or cayenne pepper is very pungent. It is the product of a species of capsicum. Paprica is also a product of capsicum, the cayenne pepper being the strongest, and the paprica the mildest, variety. Our garden pepper may well be substituted for both. The common red pepper is very strong, and what is known as "sweet pepper" is very much milder.
Celery is a plant very susceptible to cultivation and the tender white stalks found in our gardens bear little resemblance to the wild celery of Europe. There are few plants which are so near wholly edible as celery. The dainty green tops are used for garnishes especially with salads. The coarser green parts are used with the roots for flavoring soups. The tougher white parts make a delicious cream soup, while the tender white portions are delicious just as they are. The seeds of celery are used to flavor soups, croquettes, etc.
Bay leaves are the dried leaves of a shrub growing in the countries bordering the Mediterranean sea. Bay leaves are used for flavoring soups, pickles and sometimes stews.
Summer savory is a hardy annual which grows wild in Southern Europe, and is cultivated in our gardens. It is used mostly for seasoning sausages and gravies.
Parsley has been much improved by cultivation since it left its native Sardinia. It is much used for seasoning soups and salads, and is a very great favorite as a garnish. The curly variety is preferable.
Thyme is a pungent aromatic plant, and is used for flavoring soups.
Sage is a plant with light green leaves, common in our gardens, and is often freely used in flavoring sausages and dressing for fowls.
Sweet marjoram grows wild in Spain and is cultivated in the United States and Europe. It is a pungent and aromatic plant of the mint family, used mostly in soups.
Spearmint is a member of the mint family, used much in cookery, and is relished in a mint sauce for a lamb, roast. It gives piquancy to an ice. Mint may be used also in making a sauce for fish or fowl, but is not so generally used in this way.
Tarragon is a small aromatic plant, native of Liberia. It is used for flavoring vinegars, which, in turn, give variety in salad dressings.
Capers are the unopened flowers of a trailing plant, which, like tarragon, is a native of Africa. It also grows wild in Southern Europe. It is cultivated in France. The small green berries only are used. These are preserved in salt and vinegar, and are used in salads and meat sauces. The smaller capers are best.
Curry powder is a manufactured condiment. Many of the above described ingredients enter into its composition, and all are finely ground and thoroughly mixed.
Mustard is a common plant, and some varieties of it grow plentifully in neglected places in our own country. There are two varieties of mustard, - the black and the white. The black mustard has small black seeds. The white variety has larger yellow seeds. The seeds of both varieties are used whole in making pickles, but the white are preferable in most cases. Ground mustard is desirable for seasoning salads. This is often adulterated, but one can judge whether genuine by the dull yellow appearance, and the very pungent odor of pure mustard. When good mustard is wet with cold water, it will affect the eyes, like peeling a raw onion.
Horseradish is a well-known plant, possessing a very pungent odor. It can be grated in its season, bottled in vinegar, and kept tightly corked for use later in the year.
Ginger is used mostly in pickles, beverages and desserts. The young and succulent roots are preserved in sugar or dried. Powdered ginger should be free from woody fiber. Ginger comes from both the East and West Indies.
Many of these aromatic plants can be easily grown in our kitchen gardens, and it is far wiser to grow these than to depend on the market for every bouquet of herbs and all salad seasoning we may wish.
References: Food Products of the World - Green - pp. 83-103; U. S. Dept. Agr., Farmers' Bulletin No. 122, pp. 16-18.