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Celery is found in the market from August to April, but is in its prime and is cheapest from November to the first of March. Before the frost comes it is slightly bitter, and after the first of March it grows tough and stringy. Unless one has a good cellar in which to bury celery, it is best to purchase as one has need from time to time.
Celery is a delicious salad. It is also considered one of the best vegetables that a nervous, rheumatic or neuralgic person can take. The heads should be close and white, and the stalks should break off crisply. Save the tr.i.m.m.i.n.gs for soups.
Lettuce is found in the market all the year round, being now raised in hot houses in winter. It then costs two and three times as much as in summer; still, it is not an expensive salad. There are a number of varieties having much the same general appearance. That which comes in round heads, with leaves like a sh.e.l.l, is the most popular in this country, because it can be served so handsome. There is another kind, high in favor in Paris and in some localities in this country for its tenderness and delicate flavor, but not liked by marketmen, because it will not bear rough handling. The tune will come, however, when there will be such a demand for this species that all first-cla.s.s provision dealers will keep it. The French call it Romaine, and in this country it is sometimes called Roman lettuce. It does not head. The leaves are long and not handsome whole; but one who uses the lettuce never wishes for any other. Lettuce should be crisp and green, and be kept until used in a very cold place--in an ice chest if possible.
Mushrooms are in the market at all seasons. In summer, when they are found in pastures, they are comparatively (fifty or seventy-five cents a pound), but in winter they are high priced. Being, however, very light, a pound goes a great way. The French canned mushrooms are safe, convenient and cheap. One can, costing forty cents, is enough for a sauce for at least ten people. There is nothing else among vegetables which gives such a peculiarly delicious flavor to meat sauces.
Mushrooms are used also as a relish for breakfast and tea, or as an entree. In gathering from the fields one should exercise great care not to collect poisonous toadstools, which are in appearance much like mushrooms, and are often mistaken for these by people whose knowledge of vegetables has been gained solely by reading. The confusion of the two things has sometimes resulted fatally. There can hardly be danger if purchases are made of reliable provision dealers.
Green corn is sent from the South about the last of May or the first of June, and then costs much. It comes from the Middle States about the middle of July and from the Eastern in August, and it lasts into October in the North Eastern States. It should be tender and milky, and have well-filled ears. If too old it will be hard, and the grains straw colored, and no amount of boiling wilt make it tender. Corn is boiled simply in clear water, is made into chowders, fritters, puddings, succotash, etc.
There are two kinds of artichokes, the one best known in this country, the Jerusalem artichoke, being a tuber something like the potato. It is used as a salad, is boiled and served as a vegetable, and is also pickled. This artichoke comes into the market about July, and can be preserved in sand for winter use.
The Globe Artichoke.
A thick, fleshy-petaled flower grows on a plant that strongly resembles the thistle; this flower is the part that is eaten. It is boiled and served with a white sauce, and is also eaten as a salad. It is much used in France, but we have so many vegetables with so much more to recommend them, that this will probably never be common in this country.
Cuc.u.mbers are in the market all the year round. In winter they are raised in green houses and command a high price. They begin to come from the South about the first of April, and by the last of May the price is reasonable. They last through the summer, but are not very nice after August They are mostly used as a salad and for pickles, but are often cooked. They should be perfectly green and firm for a salad, and when to be pickled, they must be small. If for cooking, it does no harm to have them a little large and slightly turned yellow.
There are two forms of the radish commonly found in the market, the long radish and the small round one. They are in the market in all seasons, and in early spring and summer the price is low. Radishes are used mostly as a relish.
Chicory or Endive.
The roots and leaves of this plant are both used, but the leaves only are found in the market (the roots are used in coffee), and these come in heads like the lettuce. Chicory comes into the market later than lettuce, and is used in all respects like it. Sometimes it is cooked.
The housekeeper in large cities has no difficulty in finding all the herbs she may want, but this is not so in small towns and villages.
The very fact, however, that one lives in a country place suggests a remedy. Why not have a little bed of herbs in your own garden, and before they go to seed, dry what you will need for the winter and spring? Thus, in summer you could always have the fresh herbs, and in whiter have your supply of dried.
It is essential to have green parsley throughout the winter, and this can be managed very easily by having two or three pots planted with healthy roots in the fall. Or, a still better way is to have large holes bored in the sides of a large tub or keg; then fill up to the first row of holes with rich soil; put the roots of the plants through the holes, having the leaves on the outside; fill up again with soil and continue this until the tub is nearly full; then plant the top with roots. Keep in a sunny window and you will have not only a useful herb, but a thing of beauty through the winter.
For soups, sauces, stews and braising, one wants sweet marjoram, summer savory, thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon and bay-leaf always on hand. You can get bunches of savory, sage, marjoram and thyme for five cents each at the vegetable market. Five cents' worth of bay-leaves from the drug shop win complete the list (save tarragon, which is hard to find), and you have for a quarter of a dollar herbs enough to last a large family a year. Keep them tied together in a large paper bag or a box, where they will be dry. Mint and parsley should be used green.
There is but little difficulty in regard to mint, as it is used only in the spring and summer.
The manner in which a housekeeper buys her groceries must depend upon where she lives and how large her family is. In a country place, where the stores are few and not well supplied, it is best to buy in large quant.i.ties all articles that will not deteriorate by keeping. If one has a large family a great saving is made by purchasing the greater portion of one's groceries at wholesale.
There is now in use flour made by two different processes, by the old, or St. Louis, and the new, or Haxall. The Haxall flour is used mostly for bread and the old-process for pastry, cake, etc. By the new process more starch and less of the outer coats, which contain much of the phosphates, is retained; so that the flour makes a whiter and moister bread. This flour packs closer than that made in the old way, so that a pound of it will not measure as much as a pound of the old kind. In using an old rule, one-eighth of this flour should be left out. For instance, if in a recipe for bread you have four quarts (old- process) of flour given, of the new-process you would take only three and a half quarts. This flour does not make as good cake and pastry as the old-process. It is, therefore, well, to have a barrel of each, if you have s.p.a.ce, for the pastry flour is the cheaper, and the longer all kinds of flour are kept in a _dry_ place, the better they are. Buying in small quant.i.ties is extremely extravagant. When you have become accustomed to one brand, and it works to your satisfaction, do not change for a new one. The _best_ flour is the cheapest. There are a great many brands that are equally good.
The best Graham is made by grinding good wheat and not sifting it.
Much that is sold is a poor quality of flour mixed with bran. This will not, of course, make good, sweet bread. The "Arlington Whole Wheat Meal" is manufactured from pure wheat, and makes delicious bread. Graham, like flour, will keep in a cool, dry place for years.
In most families there is a large amount of this used, but the quant.i.ty purchased at a time depends upon the kind of meal selected.
The common kind, which is made by grinding between two mill-stones, retains a great deal of moisture, and, in hot weather, will soon grow musty; but the granulated meal will keep for any length of time. The corn for this meal is first dried; and it takes about two years for this. Then the outer husks are removed, and the corn is ground by a process that produces grains like granulated sugar. After once using this meal one will not willingly go back to the old kind. Indian meal is made from two kinds of corn, Northern and Southern. The former gives the yellow meal, and is much richer than the Southern, of which white meal is made.
This meal, like the old-process Indian, will grow musty in a short time in hot weather, so that but a small quant.i.ty of it should be bought at a time. The meal is much better than the flour for all kinds of bread and m.u.f.fins.
There are several kinds of oat meal--Scotch, Irish, Canadian and American. The first two are sold in small packages, the Canadian and American in any quant.i.ty. It seems as if the Canadian and American should be the best because the freshest; but the fact is the others are considered the choicest. Many people could not eat oat meal in former years, owing to the husks irritating the lining of the stomach.
There is now what is called pearled meal. All the husks are removed, and the oats are then cut. The coa.r.s.e kind will keep longer than the fine ground, but it is best to purchase often, and have the meal as fresh as possible.
This is the whole wheat just crushed or cut like the coa.r.s.e oat meal, but unlike the meal. It will keep a long time. It is cooked the same as oat meal. That which is cut makes a handsomer dish than the crushed, but the latter cooks more quickly.
This is made from corn, and it comes in a number of sizes, beginning with samp and ending with a grade nearly as fine as coa.r.s.e-granulated sugar. The finest grade is really the best, so many nice dishes can be made with it which you cannot make with the coa.r.s.e. Hominy will keep a long time, and it can be bought in five-pound package or by the barrel.