"A salad is a delicacy which the poorest of us ought always to command."
Although for some years past any information pertaining to salads and salad-making has been eagerly welcomed by the writer, yet it must be admitted that great difficulties in obtaining such knowledge in Australia do exist, because the use and value of salads are not widespread and understood, and thus it is that their health-conferring properties are passed by seemingly without regret. And if the topic, therefore, is one possessing an attractive personal interest, for that very reason it is felt that the present chapter falls far short of what might be achieved; yet it may be permissible to plead in extenuation thereof that its composition has not proved the easiest of tasks, and its shortcomings must consequently be condoned by an indulgent public. I shall begin, then, by saying that if ever there was a form of food which was intended for our semi-tropical climate it is undoubtedly the salad, and as thus constituting an article of diet so well adapted for Australia it should certainly be seen daily in every household. It is so appropriately suitable for use amongst us that it deserves to be intituled " the sea-breeze of the table," for in addition to its invigorating qualities, it cleanses, while at the same time it enriches, the blood. The late gifted George Dallas did not go too far when he asserted that a salad was not merely food, but that it had also an exhilarating effect and a distinct action upon the nervous system, which was immensely agreeable and acted like a spell.
It seems more suitable, however, instead of abruptly plunging into the matter of salad concoction, to say a few words from a culinary point of view on the art of making life enjoyable, and thus to draw attention to the curious neglect which is shown to a form of food within the reach of all classes, and whose use would be of the greatest advantage to the health and pleasing to the palate. At the same time, although an ardent believer in the distinct benefit which would be derived by the entire community from the adoption of a mode of living more in harmony with their climatic surroundings, yet I must disclaim any desire to pose as a "faddist." In truth, there are too many worthy people who would submit all the world to their theories in a Procrustean fashion, and who see in their particular hobby a panacea for the whole of human frailties and human sufferings. Instead, therefore, of dilating on the undeniable consequences attached to the reasonless use of animal food at present followed throughout Australia, I shall content myself with a few remarks on the art of living. By far the greater number of people pay too little attention to the present, and imperil their happiness with the hope that at some future period, when they will have put a little together, they will be enabled to thoroughly lay themselves out for enjoyment. But in the vast majority of cases these halcyon days never arrive, or, if they do, it is more than probable the health is undermined by the neglect of those very matters which should form part and parcel of one's daily existence. It is the exact parallel to a man hurrying through many fields and parks and gardens for the purpose of enjoying, from some high eminence, the scene through which he has passed. In his desperate haste to attain his object he disregards all that is beautiful and interesting, only to find that his travelling is nearly over, AMD that his steps cannot be retraced. On the other hand, a far more philosophic frame of mind belongs to him who, as he proceeds onwards through life's journey, gets a rational enjoyment out of his existence, so that his days pass pleasantly and his health receives the consideration it deserves. It will appear somewhat mundane in this connection to assert that the latter and, therefore, happiness are to a great extent dependent upon the mode of living, but nevertheless it is absolutely true, and thus it is that I come back to the quotation at the beginning of this chapter - "A salad is a delicacy "which the poorest of us ought always to command."
You will remember that the Due de la Rochefoucauld, in those marvellous essays and maxims of his, says that notwithstanding the disparity of men's fortunes happiness is equally distributed. He was doubtless right, more especially as he looked at the matter from a Frenchman's point of view, for it must be remembered that to the great body of people in that country life is more pleasant than to the rest of humanity. Indeed, on this point Mr. Sept. Berdmore declares that in France dishes are cooked by the humblest which would be appreciated if they appeared on the menu of the best club in London, and he avows, moreover, it possesses the greatest national school of cookery that has ever existed. But, on the contrary, as far as Australia is concerned, the state of affairs in the culinary art with the bulk of the people is simply deplorable, and it seems well nigh hopeless for any improvement to be brought about. There is, however, one little ray of light at the end of this dark tunnel we are in, and it is the knowledge that the cookery classes in the public schools will by-and-by bring about important changes, resulting in the amelioration of the whole of the culinary habits at present, curiously, supposed to exist. And it is gratifying to know that the admirable cookery classes at the Technical College, under the able guidance of Mrs. Wicken, are making the most excellent progress and producing brilliant results.
These altruistic reflections, however, have somewhat drifted us away from the matter under consideration, so that it becomes necessary to revert again to the main subject. Now, even at the risk of being regarded as wearisome, I propose to consider somewhat fully the different steps to be followed in the preparation of a simple salad, for it will be noticed that in all the cookery books the directions given for the concoction of a salad are most meagre and wanting in detail. In addition to this want of information, too, it is quite evident that the instructions have never been actually followed by the compilers of these works themselves, or they would signally fail if they attempted to follow their own advice. Furthermore, even those who pride themselves on the knowledge of the preparation of food for the table are often surprisingly misinformed on the subject of salad-making. It will be as well at this stage, consequently, to refer to the plan usually followed by English people, so as the better to contrast the two methods - the faulty or English with the correct or French. Well then, English people almost invariably cut their lettuce first into halves, and next into quarters. These latter are then placed in water to soak for some time, and are afterwards laid on a plate to drain. In this way the leaves are supposed to be thoroughly cleansed, but as a matter of fact deep down between the leaves are the minute insects, which are left undisturbed. The next proceeding is to cut the leaves into very fine shreds, to add a few slices of hard-boiled egg, and finally to pour over the whole a mysterious mixture known as salad-dressing. Thus is produced the orthodox English salad, which everyone, probably from patriotic motives, pronounces to be extremely nice. In the French preparation of a salad, however, each single leaf is detached and carefully cleansed, some needing simply wiping, while others require absolute washing. Every leaf, be it borne in mind, before going into the salad bowl must be perfectly dry, or else the first great principle of salad making will be infringed, for oil and water refuse to mingle. In preparing a French salad, too, the stalks or coarse ribs are removed from the middle part of each leaf, and the larger leaves also are carefully divided into halves. The whole leaf is not chopped up into shreds, as in the English salad. After this the drying of the leaves is best accomplished by placing them within a clean towel. Instead of the towel a wire basket, panier a salade, is more convenient and is generally used in France; it should be easily obtainable" for a shilling or two. In using the towel the four corners are held together in the right hand, and the whole is repeatedly brought sharply round with a swing of the arm, stopping with a sudden jerk, till all the water is driven off on the floor. Herein consists the excellence of the French method, for the leaves are thoroughly cleansed, the acrid parts are removed, and the leaves are perfectly dry. On a small plate, near by, are usually three or four heaps of finely-chopped herbs (fines herbes), namely, burnet, chervil, chives, tarragon, mustard and cress, or even parsley; these constitute what is known as " the fourniture " of the salad. The lettuce leaves, on being taken out of the towel, are then placed within the bowl, and over them is daintily spread whatever is required from each of the little heaps of herbs already referred to. A little salt is next to be quietly tapped over the salad, and the spoon salad-server is then filled once or twice with the best salad-oil, and this is now sprinkled on the salad, carefully turning the leaves over the while so as to obtain the thinnest possible film of oil equally distributed over the whole surface of each leaf. The salad spoon is next half-filled with the best vinegar, and the latter liquid is now most carefully added, only a drop or so at a time, so as to diffuse it uniformly throughout the whole. The thorough incorporation of the oil, but more particularly of the vinegar, with the salad requires to be done with a light hand to avoid bruising the leaves, and consists in stirring it and dexterously bringing up the under leaves.