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One may buy food with good judgment, and yet fail to be an economical provider because she does not take proper care of it. Perfect cleanliness is essential for the best preservation of food. The cellar, pantries, storerooms, refrigerators, and all the receptacles in which food is kept, should be frequently inspected and thoroughly cleaned.
Heat and moisture tend to cause decay; therefore it is important that all foods should be surrounded with pure, cool, dry air. When it is possible, expose every closet and food receptacle to the sun and air several times a week.
All kinds of cooked food, particularly the animal foods, spoil quickly when covered closely while still warm. All soups, meat, fish, bread, etc., that are to be kept for many days or hours, should be cooled thoroughly and quickly in a current of cold air. In hot weather it is a good plan, when cooling soups, milk, or any liquid mass, to place the vessel containing the food in another of cold water,—with ice, if convenient,—and set it in a cool draught.
All meat, when not hung up, should be placed on a dish and set in a cool place. If poultry be drawn, and a few pieces of charcoal be placed in the body, it will keep longer than if hung undrawn. It must not be washed until it is to be cooked. The dryer the meat is kept the better.
A dish of charcoal placed in the refrigerator or pantry helps to keep the atmosphere dry and sweet.
Milk and butter should be kept in a cool place, and away from all strong odors.
Bread and cake must be thoroughly cooled before being put in boxes or jars; if not, the steam will cause them to mould quickly. The bread box should be washed, scalded, and thoroughly aired in the sun, twice a week. The crusts and stale pieces of white raised bread, for which there is no other use, should be put in a pan, be dried slowly in a warm oven, and then be pounded, sifted, and put in glass jars for future use.
All the trimmings of fat should be rendered while they are sweet; then strained into jars or pails kept for that purpose. Put beef, pork, and chicken fat together; this will answer for deep frying.
Ham, bacon, and sausage fat answers for frying potatoes, hominy, mush, etc. All the strong-flavored fats, such as mutton, duck, turkey, and the skimmings from boiled ham, are to be kept by themselves for making soap.
It should be remembered that pure fat will keep sweet many months, but if water or any foreign substance be left in it, it will spoil quickly. When rendering or clarifying fat, cook it slowly until there are no bubbles. As long as bubbles form, you may be sure that there is water in the fat. If put away in that condition it will become rancid.
To clarify fat that has been used for frying, put it into a frying kettle, being careful not to let the sediment go in, and place the kettle on the fire. When the fat becomes hot, add three raw potatoes cut into slices, and stir well. The impurities gather on the potatoes. Three potatoes will be enough for four pounds of fat. Whenever there are any trimmings of fat from any kind of meat cut them in bits and place in a frying-pan on the back part of the stove, where they will cook slowly until all the liquid fat has been extracted. Strain this into a pot kept for this purpose.
As soon as the fat is skimmed from soups, gravies, and the water in which meat has been boiled, it should be clarified, as the water and other objectionable particles contained in it will cause it to become rancid if it stands a long time. Put it on the stove, in a frying-pan, and heat it slowly. When it becomes melted, set it where it will simply bubble, and keep it there (being careful not to let it burn) until there is no motion, and all the sediment has fallen to the bottom of the pan. When this stage is reached the fat is clarified.
Sometimes fat that has been used several times for frying, and has not been strained, will become dark and unfit for use. This may be put into a kettle with about six times as much hot water, boiled for twenty minutes, turned into a large pan, and set in a cold place. When the contents of the pan become cold, the fat will be found in the form of a solid cake on the surface of the water. It must be removed, and clarified in the manner already described.
To clarify butter, put it in a stewpan, and set it on the back part of the range, where it will heat slowly. When a clear, oily substance is found on top, and a cloudy sediment at the bottom of the pan, lift the pan gently and pour off the clear substance, which will be the clarified butter.
When the fat is ready to strain, draw it back where it will partially cool; then strain it through a piece of cheese-cloth.
Tin or stoneware vessels are the best in which to keep fat. The pails in which lard comes are very good for soap grease, because, knowing their exact capacity, one knows just how much grease there is on hand. Have the pails covered, and keep them in a cool place.
Save for stock all the bones and trimmings from fresh meat, the bones from roasts or broils, and such pieces of cooked meat as are too tough or hard to serve cold or in made dishes. Put these in a stewpan, with water enough to cover them, and simmer for five or six hours. Strain into a bowl, and cool quickly. No matter how little bone or meat there may be, cook it in this way while it is fresh and sweet. A gill of stock has great value in warming over meats, fish, and vegetables.
Odds and Ends.
It is true that the care of remnants and their preparation for the table is not a slight matter; but in the household where attention is given to this matter there is no waste, and a pleasant change of fare can be made daily.
If a housekeeper looks into her larder each morning, and avails herself of the opportunities she finds to make little dishes of the bits of food which she sees before her, the work of caring for the odds and ends may become a pleasure rather than a burden; the preparation of this food giving a bright woman an opportunity to exercise much taste and skill in producing dainty and healthful dishes.
Pieces of cold meat or fish may be divided into small pieces, and warmed in a white or brown sauce; or the sauce and meat or fish may be put in a small baking dish, covered with grated bread crumbs, and then browned in the oven.
If there be not enough fish or meat to serve to the entire family, use an extra quantity of sauce, and fill up the dish with either well seasoned mashed potatoes, hominy, rice, or macaroni. Cover lightly with grated bread crumbs, and dot with butter. Bake this for half an hour in a moderately hot oven.
Cold meat or fish may be hashed fine and mixed with potato, rice, or hominy, and a sauce, and made into croquettes.
Bits of cooked ham or sausages may be minced fine and mixed with hashed potatoes; the mixture being then well seasoned and put into a frying-pan, with a little butter or sweet drippings, and browned. If there be a little gravy of any kind, it may be added to any of the above-mentioned dishes.
Nearly all kinds of vegetables may be combined in a salad or a hash.
Tough pieces of meat and bones may be used in making little stews or a little soup stock. All kinds of meats may be combined in making a stew or soup.
A few spoonfuls of almost any kind of meat, fish, or vegetable may be heated in a sauce and spread over a plain omelet, just before rolling it up, thus giving a change in this dish of eggs.
A soft-boiled egg left from a meal may be boiled until hard, and then used in a salad or an egg sauce.
Pieces of bread may be used for puddings and griddle-cakes, and, in the form of dried crumbs, for breading.
Pieces of cake and gingerbread may be used in puddings.
Gravies, sauces, and soups, no matter how small the quantity, should be saved to use in warming over meat, fish, or vegetables.
A few tablespoonfuls of cold rice or hominy are often a pleasing addition to muffins or griddle-cakes. Indeed, it is rarely necessary to waste a particle of food if the proper attention be given to the little details of kitchen management.