Nothing is more important In the affairs of housekeeping than the choice of wholesome food. We have been amused by a conundrum which is as follows: - "A man went to market and bought two fish. When he reached home he found they were the same as when he had bought them; yet there were three!" How was this? The answer is - "He bought two mackerel, and one smelt/" Those who envy him his bargain need not care about the following rules; but to others they will be valuable: -
2. Mackerel must bo perfectly fresh, or it is a very indifferent fish; it will neither bear carriage, nor being kept many hours out of the water. The firmness of the flesh and the clearness of the eyes, must be the criterion of fresh mackerel, as they are of all other fish. (See 65.)
3. Flounders, and all flat white fish, are rigid and firm when fresh; the under side should be of a rich cream colour. When out of season, or too long kept, this becomes a bluish white, and the flesh soft and flaccid. A clear, bright eye in fish, is also a mark of being fresh and good.
4. Cod is known to be fresh by the rigidity of the muscles (or flesh); the redness of the gills, and clearness of the eyes. Crimping much improves this fish.
The flavour and ex cellence of this fish depends upon its freshness, and the shortness of time since it was caught; for no method can completely preserve the delicate flavour it has when just taken out of the water.
6. Herrings can only be eaten when very fresh, and like mackerel, will not remain good many hours after they are caught.
The remarks as to firmness and clear, fresh eyes, apply to this variety of fish, of which there are pike, perch, etc.
8. Lobsters, recently caught, have always some remains of muscular ac tion in the claws, which may be excited by pressing the eyes with the finger, when this cannot be produced, the lobster must have been too long kept. When boiled, the tail preserves its elasticity if fresh, but loses it as soon as it becomes stale. The heaviest lobsters are the best; when light, they are watery and poor. Hen lobsters may generally be known by the spawn, or by the breadth of the "flap."
9. Crabs must be chosen by obser vations similar to those given above in the choice of lobsters. Crabs have an agreeable smell when fresh.
10. Prawns and Shrimps, when fresh, are firm and crisp.
If fresh, the shell is firmly closed; when the shells of oysters are opened, they are dead, and unfit for food. The small-shelled oysters are the finest in flavour. Larger kinds, called rock oysters, are general ly considered only fit for stewing and sauces, though some persons prefer them.
The grain of ox beef, when good, is loose, the meat red, and the fat inclinging to yellow. Cow beef, on the contrary, has a closer grain, a whiter fat, but meat scarcely as red as that of ox beef. Inferior beef, which is meat obtained from ill-fed animals, or from those which had become too old for food, may be known by a hard skinny fat, a dark red lean, and, in old animals, a line of horny texture running through the meat of the ribs. When meat pressed by the finger rises up quickly, it may be considered as that of an animal which was in its prime; when the dent made by pressure returns slowly, or remains visible, the animal had probably past its prime, and the meat consequently must be of inferior quality.
13. Veal should be delicately white, though it is often juicy and well flavoured when rather dark in colour. Butchers, it is said, bleed calves purposely before killing them, with a view to make the flesh white, but this also makes it dry and flavourless. On examining the loin, if the fat enveloping the kidney be white and firm-looking, the meat will probably be prime and recently killed. Veal will not keep so long as an older meat, especially in hot or damp weather; when going, the fat becomes soft and moist, the meat flabby and spotted, and somewhat porous, like sponge. Large, overgrown veal, is inferior to small, delicate, yet fat veal. The fillet of a cow-calf is known by the udder attached to it, and by the softness of the skin; it is preferable to the real of a bull-calf.