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Another article that is very useful, but seldom, if ever, to be found in small kitchens, is a salamander; but when you wish to brown the top of a dish, and putting it in the oven would not do, or the oven is not quick enough to serve, an iron shovel, made nearly red, and a few red cinders in it, is a very good salamander. It must be held over the article that requires browning near enough to color it, yet not to burn.
In the recipes I have given nothing is required that cannot be obtained, with more or less ease, in New York. For syrups, fruit juices, etc., apply to your druggist; if he has not them he will tell you where to obtain them. We often make up our minds that because a thing is not commonly used in this country, it is impossible to get it. Really there are very few things not to be got in New York City to the intelligent seeker. You need an article of French or Italian or may be English grocery, that your grocer, a first-cla.s.s one, perhaps, has not, and you make up your mind you cannot get it. But go into the quarters where French people live, and you can get everything belonging to the French _cuisine_. So prejudiced are the French in favor of the productions of _la belle France_, that they do not believe in our parsley or our chives or garlic or shallots; for I know at least one French grocer who imports them for his customers. On being asked why he brought them from France to a country where those very things were plentiful, he answered:
"Oh, French herbs are much finer."
Needless to say tarragon is one of the herbs so imported, and can thus be bought; but, as several New Jersey truck gardeners grow all kinds of French herbs, they can be got in Washington Market, and most druggists keep them dried; but for salads, Montpellier b.u.t.ter, and some other uses, the dried herb would not do, although for flavoring it would serve; but the far better way is to grow them for yourself, as I have done. Any large seedsman will supply you with burnet, tarragon, and borage (very useful for salads, punch, etc.) seeds, and if you live in the country, have an herb bed; if in town, there are few houses where there is not ground enough to serve for the purpose; but even in these few houses one can have a box of earth in the kitchen window, in which your seeds will flourish.
Parsley is a thing in almost daily request in winter, yet it is very expensive to buy it constantly for the sake of using the small spray that often suffices. It is a good plan, therefore, in fall, to get a few roots, plant them in a pot or box, and they will flourish all winter, if kept where they will not freeze, and be ready for garnishing at any minute.
Always, as far as your means allow, have every convenience for cooking.
By having utensils proper for every purpose you save a great deal of work and much vexation of spirit. Yet it should be no excuse for bad work that such utensils are not at hand. A willing and intelligent cook will make the best of what she has. Apropos of this very thing Gouffe relates that a friend of his, an "artist" of renown, was sent for to the chateau of a Baron Argenteuil, who had taken a large company with him, unexpectedly crowding the chateau in every part. He was shown into a dark pa.s.sage in which a plank was suspended from the ceiling, and told this was to be his kitchen. He had to fashion his own utensils, for there was nothing provided, and his pastry he had to bake in a frying-pan--besides building two monumental _plats_ on that board--and prepare a cold _entree_. But he cheerfully set to work to overcome difficulties, achieved his task, and was rewarded by the plaudits of the diners. Such difficulties as these our servants never have to encounter, and a cheerful endeavor to make the best of everything should be the rule. Yet, let us spare them all the labor we can, or rather make it as easy and pleasant as possible; they will be more proud of their well-furnished kitchen, more cheerful in it, than they will of one where everything for their convenience is grudged, and such pride and cheerfulness will be your gain.
There is always a great deal of talk about servants in America, how bad and inefficient they are, how badly they contrast with those of England.
Certainly, they are not so efficient as those of the older country; how could they be? There, girls who are intended for servants have ever held before their eyes what they may or may not do in the future calling, and how it is to be done. But take one of these orderly, efficient girls, put her in an American family as general servant or as cook, where two are kept, washing and ironing to do, and a variety of other work, and see how your English servant would stare at your requirements. She has been accustomed to her own line of work at home; if housemaid, she has been dressed for the day at noon; if cook, she has never done even her own washing.
She may, and will no doubt, fall into the way of the country, after a while, and on account of her early habits of respect, will make a good servant perhaps. But many of them would be quite indignant at being asked to do the average servant's work here. I am speaking now of the _trained_ servants; but, comparing the London "maid-of-all-work" or "slavey" with our own general servants, and considering how much more is expected of the latter, the comparison seems to me vastly in the favor of our own Bridgets. We may rest a.s.sured, however smoothly the wheels of household management glide along in wealthy families across the water, people who can only keep one or two have all our troubles with servants and a few added, and their faults are just as general a subject of conversation among ladies.
France (out of Paris, from Parisian servants deliver me!) and Germany seem the favored lands where one servant does the work of three or four.
Yet even they, are, they say, degenerating. Let us, then, be contented and make the best of what we have, a.s.sured that even Biddy is not so hopeless as she is painted. Kindness (not weakness), firmness, and patience work wonders, even with the roughest Emerald that ever crossed the sea.
I have said somewhere else that you must beware of attempting too much at once; perfect yourself in one thing before you attempt another. Take breaded chops or fried oysters, make opportunities for having them rather often, and do not rest satisfied until you have them as well fried as you have ever seen them anywhere; "practice makes perfect," and you certainly will achieve perfection if you are not discouraged by one failure. But above all things never make experiments for company; let them be made when it really matters little whether you succeed or not, and let your experiments be on a _small_ scale; don't attempt to fry a _large_ dish of oysters or chops until it is a very easy task, or make more than half a pound of puff paste at first; for if you fail with a large task before you, you will be tired and disheartened, hate the sight of what you are doing, and, as a consequence, not be likely to return to it very soon. The same may be said of cooks; some of them are very fond of experiments, which taste I should always encourage; but do not let them jump from one experiment to the other; if they try a dish and fail, they often make up their minds that the fault is not theirs, that it is not worth while to "bother" with it. Here your knowledge will be of service; you will show them that it can be done, how it should be done, and order the dish cook failed in, frequently, giving it sufficient surveillance to prevent your family suffering from her inexperience; for, as a witty Frenchman said of Mme. du Deffaud's cook, "Between her and Brinvilliers there is only the difference of intention."
Few things add more to a man or woman's social reputation than the fact that they keep a good table. It need not be one where
"The strong table groans Beneath the smoking sirloin stretched immense;"
but a table where whatever you do have will be good, be it pork and beans, or salmi; the pork and beans would satisfy a Bostonian, the salmi Grimod de la Reyniere himself. I do not admit with Di Walcott that
"The turnpike road to people's hearts I find Lies through their mouths, or I mistake mankind."
But it is a fact that good living--by this I do not mean extravagant living--presupposes good breeding. Well-bred people sometimes live badly; but ill-bred people seldom or ever live well, in the right sense of the term.
Now, by way of valedictory, let me repeat that I do not think a lady's best or proper place is the kitchen; but it is quite possible to have a perfectly served table, yet spend very little time there. Only that one little hour a day that Talleyrand, the busy man full of intrigue and statecraft, found time to spend with his cook, would insure your table being well served. For, after devoting say a few winter months to perfecting yourself in a few things, you will be able to teach your cook, who is often ambitious to excel if put in the right way. A word here about cooks.
The knowledge that if they fail to do a thing well you will do it yourself, will often put them on their mettle to do their best; while the feeling that you don't know, will make them careless.
Servants have a great deal more _amour propre_ than people imagine; therefore, stimulate it by judicious praise and appreciation; let them think that to send in a dish perfect, is a glory to themselves as well as a pleasure to you. While careful to remark when alone with them upon any fault that results from carelessness, be equally careful to give all the praise you can, and repeat to them complimentary remarks that may have been made on their skill. Servants are usually--such is the weakness of feminine nature, whether in the drawing-room or the kitchen--very sensitive to the praise or blame of the gentlemen of the family. Indulge poor humanity a little when you honestly can.