Perhaps no season in the year is more eagerly welcomed than that of spring—earth's great annual resurrection from death unto life! How beautiful the first really spring morning ! A warm, balmy air, a deep blue sky without a cloud, and bright sun lighting up like diamonds the water-drops on the fresh green grass, o'er which the feathery cobwebs drift for the first time in the year, the very spiders, in their wondrous instinct, preparing to set their houses in order, to welcome to their hearts the new-born fly.
The whole earth seems, like a huge chrysalis, to burst forth from its uniform-coloured shell, and vie with the butterfly's wings in beauty and variety of colour. Spring is, of all times of the year, the brightest, and the freshest, and the most beautiful!
" The rose is fairest when 'tis budding new."
Nor does the change of food come less acceptably than the change of scene. A moderate enjoyment of the good things of this world is perfectly justifiable, or our palates would never have been created; and while green hedges and fresh bright flowers delight the eye, a new set of dishes, rendered doubly welcome by a year's abstinence, delight the palate.
Who is there so lost to taste as not to appreciate the first dish of fresh green peas or new potatoes ?— genuine healthy-grown ones, not forced, which latter are barely better than those preserved in tins. Then, again, the first piece of bright-red salmon, when it is well cooked; or the nicely-browned forequarter of lamb, with good wholesome English mint sauce with it—i.e. mint moistened in vinegar, and not a pint of vinegar to a small pinch of mint.
There is some very old riddle about spring being a lamb-on-table season. Whether lamb is really nicer than mutton is a question we will not now discuss; indeed, the question is entirely a matter of taste. There are, however, several little niceties in cooking lamb that inexperienced cooks and housekeepers should bear in mind. One very common fallacy is that lamb, being young and tender, does not require so much cooking as mutton. Such, however, is not the case. Well-cooked mutton, such as a haunch, should be cooked so as to be not exactly red, but very, very near it, and should hold what is called red gravy. Those who have seen a good haunch of mutton well carved will know how the gravy will settle in it after several slices have been taken out. I believe, at some regimental messes, many years ago, there used to be a fine for carving a haunch so that this gravy was allowed to run out.
Now, lamb should be cooked thoroughly, and should never even border on being red; underdone lamb is as bad as underdone veal. Of course, lamb bears the same relation to mutton as veal to beef. The climax of mismanagement is graphically expressed in the pathetic appeal of David Copperfield to his poor little "child-wife" when he said—" You know, my dear, I was made quite unwell the other day by being obliged to eat underdone veal in a hurry."
Another point to be remembered in connection with lamb is the gravy. A roast forequarter of lamb will not make the gravy that a sirlion of beef or haunch of mutton will.
Now, I daresay there are many persons who really do not know where the gravy comes from that usually surrounds a sirloin of beef; and as these articles are intended to instruct absolute novices, I will describe the process, reminding those who may think anything so simple unworthy of explanation, that even royalty some years back is reported to have puzzled over the intricate problem as to how the apples got into the dumpling.
We will suppose the beef to have been hanging on the spit the sufficient time, and the cook has arrived at the critical moment called dishing-up. Of course, under the meat to catch the fat, etc, that drops, have been placed that large tin vessel with a well in the centre, called the dripping-pan, which will be found to contain a pint, or a quart, according to the size of the joint, of melted fat, or, as it is usually called, dripping. The cook takes this dripping-pan, and carefully and slowly pours off all the fat into a basin; at the bottom of the fat will be found a sediment, brown or red; this is the gravy. Now, the great art is to pour off all the fat, and yet to avoid losing any of the gravy. What is requisite is—first, common-sense ; secondly, a little experience and a steady hand.
As a rule, it is best to go on pouring till just a little sediment has run with the fat, and then stop. Next, take some boiling water, about half a pint or a little more, and pour it into the dripping-pan, and stir it about, taking care to scrape those parts where the gravy is dried on and the dripping-pan looks brown; by this means the gravy will not merely look darker, but will be absolutely richer. This must now be poured through a fine strainer over the meat. If the cook sees that the gravy has got a little cold in the operation, of course she would pour it, just as it is, into a saucepan and make it hot, but not let it boil, and then pour it through the strainer over the meat. When the party at dinner is large, and yet the joint put on the table, it is a very good plan to pour only half the gravy over at first, and to send up the rest hot about ten minutes afterwards, when it can be poured over in the dining-room.
Now, we have said that lamb does not make good gravy; when, therefore, it is possible, get some thin stock, and use that to pour into the dripping-pan instead of boiling water, only take care that the stock is tasteless—anything like rich gravy would destroy the delicate flavour of the lamb.
It should be borne in mind, too, that lamb is one of the few meats that are none the better for keeping ; the quicker it is cooked, the nicer will it be. In hot weather, lamb has an unamiable property of getting high quicker than other meat, especially the shoulder. The reason of this is probably that it is " open," and not close meat, like a silverside of beef. A loin of mutton that has been jointed will get bad quicker than one not jointed.