Mrs. Sterling’s Ways – The Knack of Retrieving Failures No. XVIII

This is the third article in June of the School for Housewives 1906 series published on June 17, 1906, and is an article on how to fix cooking failures.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Mrs. Sterling’s Ways – The Knack of Retrieving Failures No. XVIII

“ONE may take devout satisfaction in considering how few irreparable failures there are in the word we have a bad habit of calling ‘crooked.’”

The blessed woman said it with feeling. Evidently something deeper and of more vital importance than the subject in hand was in her mind. “At 70”—I have heard her say—“one learns to look under the surface of the things which are seen, and temporal, or one has lived to little purpose.”

We had been talking, of course, of the weather in general, and in particular of the disastrous effects of heat upon foodstuffs.

“Do what I will, my custards curdle before they are half done!” Mrs. White had lamented, “and yet, the milk is put into the refrigerator as soon as it is delivered, and the bottles are not opened until we are quite ready to use milk and cream.”

Then our hostess and mentor fell to moralizing, and produced the bit of practical wisdom I have cited. Recovering from her momentary reserve, she continued:

“My mother used to say (how naturally the phrase comes to every woman’s lips!)—my dear mother used to say that milk should have air and space. So I have my milk bottles emptied, as soon as they are brought in, into wide, shallow crockery bowls, and set in a compartment of the refrigerator where nothing but milk and butter are kept. As to cream—the ‘separated cream’ sold to us in small glass jars—of one thing you may rest assured – in nine cases out of ten it is doctored with some chemical preservative – I hope nothing worse than salicylic acid—before it is bottled.”

Mrs. Martin struck in impetuously here:

“That accounts for the bitterish ‘tang’ I detect in it sometimes! I thought it was incipient – corruption!” with an expressive grimace. “I’m relieved to know it is nothing worse than a vegetable ‘embalmer.’ But it is there, all the same, and account for much. For example, for the cream keeping—not sweet, perhaps, but without souring or thickening when the mercury touches the nineties.”

“But,” demurred Mrs. White—“I don’t like to mix your antiseptic drug with really pure milk, such as goes into my custards!”

“Drop into the milk a bit of baking soda, no larger than a green pea,” advised Mrs. Sterling. “Even cream twenty-four hours old may be boiled without clotting if this simple precaution be taken and the cream be brought slowly to a gentle simmer. I never omit the bit or pinch of soda when milk is to be cooked for any purpose. It arrest decomposition by neutralizing the acid generating in the milk. Old-fashioned people used to say, when this was faintly perceptible to the taste, that the milk, or bread, or meat was ‘just on the turn.’ There is nothing better or more harmless than soda for averting this evil ‘turn.’ Like the fire and water, kerosene and gasoline – and I might add mustard, cayenne and salt to the list—our bicarbonate of soda is a good and faithful servant, but a cruel master. The cook who has ‘a heavy hand with soda’ is not to be trusted to use it at all. I have save a ‘touched’ steak by a timely bath of soda and water. After leaving the suspected meat in it for an hour, I wiped it dry, washed it with lemon juice and proceeded to braise it with minced vegetables. We were in the country; the butcher had not come that day, and Mr. Sterling had!—bringing with him a couple of city men for dinner. Not another morsel of meat was to be had for love or money. My cook was sick in bed, and the waitress, a model in her own sphere, knew nothing of cooking, and ‘had never cared to learn.’ I had to cook the dinner. Whatever else was to be omitted from the bill of fare, I determined there should be no apologies. I had soup-stock, fresh vegetables, cake, berries and real cream, succulent lettuce for salad, and clear, hot, black coffee. The piece de resistance was the ‘high’ steak. It figured as ‘braised beef a la jardinière,’ was enjoyed by all. When I took my husband into my confidence after the guests had gone he assured me that it was ‘savory, tender and delicious, with never a suspicion of taint.’”

“Even your bicarbonate cannot redeem strong butter,” said Mrs. Black, mournfully.

“That depends upon the degree of ‘strength.’ I have washed butter that had entered upon the earlier stage of ruin in pure, cold water, working it with a wooden paddle, and not touching it with my hands. Then I kneaded it with the same spatula until not a drop of butter-milk was left in it. Finally, I buried in the heart of the lump a piece of charcoal wrapped in clean old linen. In twenty-four hours the work of redemption was complete. Another and a less hopeful case was treated to weak soda and water. The rinsing was done in clear iced water. The butter was left in this for an hour.”

“An old housekeeper once told me that cooking butter which was slightly rancid could be made tolerable by heating it slowly in a perfectly clean flying pan, adding, when it began to hiss, some pieces of raw potato, and cooking the two together for a few minutes, not allowing the butter to color. Then it was strained and put away for shortening, etc.”

This contribution was from Mrs. Bistre.

“I have corrected many a batch of sour dough by kneading into it a bit of saleratus dissolved in boiling water,” ventured Mrs. Black, who is not always ready to refer to the long ago in which she “did all her own work.”

Mrs. Sterling added encouragingly.

“Thank you! I was about to say the same of my early housewifely experiments. Coming down the hill—or up—it was only last week that my cook came to me in dire dismay to say that they ‘mayonnay’ (she always speaks of it in the singular number) had ‘gone back on her.’ That is, it had curdled and separated under the whip. We saved the day by beating smooth the yolk of a fresh egg and stirring it into the disintegrated mixture. It acted as a cohesive agent, and our salad was presentable. The study of redeemed failures is a large and interesting field of thought and adventure.”

“But”—said Mrs. White, whom irrepressible Mrs. Martin has nicknamed “Thomasine”—“nothing can be done with really sour bread when once baked—absolutely nothing.”

“I beg your pardon! Sliced and dried, then crumbled, it can be wrought into excellent puddings of divers sorts if soda be added judiciously. I made a most toothsome cheese fondu of such crumbs, some years ago.”

“Success along this line may be classed among the peaceable fruits of the discipline of failure.”

Marion Harland

Housemothers’ Exchange
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