This is the first article in February of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on February 3, 1907, and is the first in a series of talks on Lenten food which a specific look at fish.
Transcribed from the Sunday edition of Boston Sunday Post.
Savory and Nourishing Lenten Fare
AN EMINENT metropolitan divine has put upon record as his opinion that, were it not for the intervention of Lent between the fashionable winter season and the almost as gay summer campaign, the women who compose the major proportion of his cure of souls would never remember that there is any other life than this.
“In Lent it is the fashion to go to church,” he said, “and women must, perforce, get some idea of the reason for holding church services.”
A learned Judge who belonged to a communion which does not enjoin church services during the forty days observed as a penitential period by other sects took another view of the expediency of abstaining from flesh-foods in the late winter and early spring. Chancing to go into his coachman’s house, and finding the family at dinner, he noted that there was no meat on the table.
“Ah, it is Lent!” he remarked. “And a very sensible thing it is to abstain from meat on three or four days a week in the spring! We should all be better off for following your example. We eat too much flesh-food.”
“You mean better for the body, sir,” rejoined the man, respectfully. “We think fasting good for the soul’s sake!”
THE PHYSICAL SIDE
This is not the place for a dissertation upon the spiritual benefit to be gained from denial of the grosser dispositions of the body, nor for a computation of the influence of a purified body upon religious experience. For the present I range myself with the jurist who claimed that we should all be in better condition physically if meat were stricken from the family bill-of-fare for three days in each week as a relief from the congestion wrought by winter diet and habits and in preparation for summer heats.
The national appetite for flesh- foods may be called a passion with certain classes. Conspicuous among these are adopted citizens of our lavish land. It would be a curious and a melancholy study—the comparison of statistics as to the quantity of flesh per capita, eaten by the transplanted immigrant and that eaten by the brother or sister left in the old country. As curious and more melancholy would be the difference between the doctor’s bills and the death rates of the two.
It is not to be denied that we need carbon in winter and that meat supplies more carbon than vegetables. It is as undeniable that continuous consumption of meat and a scanty use of esculents begets bile and uric acid. A third and consecutive truth is that to these two evil agents may be traced at least one-half of the maladies from which residents of the United States suffer and die.
Let us begin a much-needed reform by inquiring how the national menu may be modified without making it less attractive; in other phrase, add to our culinary repertoire Lenten dishes that will commend themselves to the popular palate. The average eater does not take kindly to fare the chief recommendation of which is wholesomeness. He wants what “tastes good.” Savoriness is a prime essential. And savoriness is a natural characteristic of meat. Having once eaten thereof, and frequently, the sophisticated palate accounts all else insipid. As my oft-quoted Hibernian maid—“three years in the coontry”—complained when eggs were put before her at breakfast—“I moight ate six, and rise hoongry! The mate corner must be filled!”
She is a wise caterer who contrives to fill the meat corner with food that is at once nourishing, acceptable to the taste and, at this time of the year, gently alterative.
The object of this and the next paper will be to direct the housemother’s efforts into channels that may lead to these desirable ends.
If in dealing with Lenten fare I seem to make less than might be expected of these, the usual main stays of cook and caterer who exclude animal food from their daily menus while Lent holds on, it is because so much has already been written of the multifarious ways of cooking eggs—and with respect to a fish diet in winter I have grave misgivings. Fresh fish is wholesome—to some digestions. Others cannot assimilate it. Stale fish is poison. And fish that has been laid up in cold storage for weeks and months is as stale as if it were not advertised as “fresh.”
DANGERS OF FISH DIET
Have you ever paused to consider how many more cases of ptomaine poisoning occur in the winter than in summer? I have been led to look into the subject by several severe and two fatal cases that have come under my immediate observation. In each instance the fish—cod, salmon, halibut and shad—was purchased from a reputable dealer at a high price. It lay buried in ice on the stall, and the buyer assured that it had been drawn from cold storage within a few hours. A majority of women marketers do not ask themselves questions as to the age of fish thus glibly recommended. They know that salmon are not caught in ice-locked rivers and that the shad season in the Northern States is not January and February. They accept the fishmongers’ word for the wholesomeness of their wares, and take no further thought in the matter.
Cold storage is a blessing when the antiseptic process is complete. Because it is faulty sometimes, and the vender’s conscience is elastic, I drop a word of caution to my fellow-housewife touching fish caught in the autumn and kept over for Lent. Southern shad are brought into Northern markets before the Hudson and Connecticut rivers are free of ice. Unless you are wise in determining the age of finny creatures, coax the fisherman of your family into doing this part of your purchasing for you (I do!).
EXPERIENCE ALONE IS SAFE
He may tell you, as my especial John has told me, times without number, what are the hall-marks of really fresh, therefore safe, fish. All the same, join him in his walk downtown—or get on the same car with him, and beguile him into looking into the market with you. The subtle flattery of your confiding appeal to his superior wisdom will do the work—if he be a real fisherman.
As to eggs, I have fifty ways, all told, of preparing them for the table, and I prefer giving the space these would occupy to recipes that have to do with the kindly fruits of the earth.
If eggs are used, however, as they will be by thousands of devotees, be sure to use only those that are fresh. A simple test, and one which is well known, should be given by the housewife if she is not sure of her grocer. Hold the egg before a lighted candle with both hands and scrutinize it between the thumbs. The reflection of the candle light will tell the story. If the shell is clear and opaque, the egg is good; if it appears dark and mottled, throw it aside.
It is my intention more particularly in this paper to talk of a branch of the culinary art which is sorely neglected by our native cooks. I mean the making of meatless soups, known in the inventory of the French chef as “soupes maigres.”
Wash and pick over a half peck of spinach and, while still dripping wet, put it into the inner vessel of a double boiler, and fill the outer with boiling water. Fit a close top on the inner vessel and cook steadily until the spinach is soft and broken. Turn it into a bowl with the water that has oozed from it, and mince very line. When run it through a vegetable press. Return to the double boiler with boiling water in the outer kettle. Season with Hungarian sweet pepper (paprika), salt, a teaspoonful of white sugar and a teaspoonful of onion juice. While it simmers, heat in another boiler a quart of milk, putting in a good pinch of soda to prevent curdling. The richer the milk the better the soup. Put two heaping tablespoonfuls of butter into a frying pan, and when it hisses, stir in a tablespoonful of flour. Cook, stirring all the time until you have a smooth “roux.” When the milk is scalding hot, add the roux, cook two minutes, and pour, keeping the spoon going all the time, into the spinach broth. Boil up once, stirring faithfully, and serve. Scatter croutons of fried bread on the top.
An excellent “soupe maigre,” if properly made.
Stew a quart can of tomatoes soft and rub them through a colander or a vegetable press. Return to the fire, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, two teaspoonfuls of white sugar, the same of onion juice and a tablespoonful of butter. Meanwhile, scald a pint of milk in a double boiler, adding an even teaspoonful of baking soda. Make a “roux” – as directed in the last recipe—of two tablespoonfuls of butter and one of flour, stir into the milk, boil one minute and add the boiling tomato soup. It will foam up furiously. Pour out and serve.
This may be made into a perfect company soup by laying a tablespoonful of whipped cream upon the surface of each plateful when served.
Cook a can of tomatoes soft, run through the vegetable press and return to the fire. In another farina kettle scald two quarts of milk with an even teaspoonful of baking soda. When it is hot add three tablespoonfuls of butter, and, simmer gently. Season the tomatoes with pepper and salt and a heaping teaspoonful of white sugar, also one of onion juice and, if you can get it, one of Hungarian catsup. Cook for three minutes after the seasoning goes in and add an even cupful of finely rolled cracker crumbs. Simmer for two minutes, add the milk and stir smooth. Then pour into the tureen or plates at once.
Browned Potato Soup,
Pare and cut into thick slices ten large potatoes, and leave them in cold water for an hour. Dry them between two towels and brown in butter, cottolene or in oil. They should be nicely browned, but not crisped. Fry with them a sliced onion. The frying should be done in a deep saucepan and not in a frying pan. Pour upon the browned potatoes the onion and the fat in which they were cooked two quarts of boiling water, cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are boiled soft. Add a tablespoonful of browned flour rolled in butter. Rub through a colander, return all to the kettle, season with pepper and salt and a tablespoonful of minced parsley.
Have ready in another vessel a cupful of scalding milk, add a pinch of soda and, a minute later, two well-beaten eggs. Pour the potato broth into a tureen or bowl, stir in the milk and eggs and serve.
A most palatable puree. Some cooks omit the browned flour, but it gives a richer color to the soup and prevents wateriness.
White Potato Soup.
Pare, boil and mash ten fine potatoes. Heat a quart of milk in a double boiler with a pinch of soda, and when it is scalding add an onion that has been parboiled, then chopped. Simmer for three minutes, and rub through a colander to get rid of the onion. Make a roux of two tablespoonfuls of butter and one of flour, stir into the milk and set in boiling water while you beat into the hot mashed potato, pepper and salt to taste and a tablespoonful of minced parsley. Stir the boiling milk into this, set over the fire and add two beaten eggs swiftly and with deft whirls of the eggbeater. The instant they are fairly mixed with the soup pour out the latter and serve.
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