" We had such an awful time of it with Mary Ann !" Probably, never have the domestic trials and difficulties of young housekeepers been summed up in fewer or more expressive words. However, the more we look into the world, the more we find it to be the case that we make our Maty Anns, and not our Mary Aims us.
It is a good old saying that the master makes the man; equally true is it that the mistress makes the maid. Let each of our readers pause for an instant, and look round mentally among his relations and friends with whom he is in the habit of dining. Each one, probably, has had many changes of servants, yet there are some houses where the dinner is invariably good, others where it is equally invariably bad. Who has not, on entering a house where he expects to dine, been greeted at the door with a whiff of the smell of the cooking, from which whiff he could pretty well determine in his own mind the style of dinner he may expect ?
No cooking is so good as the French, none so bad as a certain style of English. Compare the smell of a good French restaurant, or outside the kitchen of a first-class hotel, like the " Pavilion" at Folkestone, an hour before the table d'hote, with the smell of an ordinary cook-shop, with its steam-pipes keeping warm large flabby joints and greasy Yorkshire pudding, the whole being impregnated with that peculiar smell of greens in which one can almost fancy he detects the flavour of caterpillars.
I think it may be laid down as a rule that if, on entering a house, you smell greens, you may make up your mind for a bad dinner. On the other hand, a gamey smell, with perhaps just a dash of garlic in it, is favourable, especially if mingled with the smell of rich pastry.
It would, however, require many volumes to enter into a minute description of a good and a bad dinner. We would rather be practical, and, if possible, useful.
The natural resource of young housekeepers is the cookery-book. After the pathetic statement with which our article commences, David Copperfield proceeds as follows :—
"In search of the principle on which joints ought to be roasted—to be roasted enough and not too much —I myself referred to the cookery-book, and found it there established as the allowance of a quarter of an hour to every pound, and say a quarter over. But the principle always failed us by some curious fatality, and we never could hit any medium between redness and cinders."
Here is the old story, and one that, probably, happens every day, and will happen—viz., reference to a cookery-book ; the directions followed; the result— failure. Who is most to blame—the cook, or the book ?
That the book is often in fault there can be no doubt. So long as we meet with such absurdities as "and flavour to taste," or "add seasoning," etc, we shall continue to maintain that recipes that contain these directions might just as well have never been written.
But in the present article we wish to confine ourselves to the " frying-pan," one of the most useful, and, at the same time, abused articles of kitchen use.
We will suppose that a certain dish consists of something fried. Perhaps one or two are expected to dinner who are known or supposed to be rather particular. The mistress has consulted the cookery-book, which gravely recommends as follows :—" Fry of a nice golden-colour, and serve hot." How to do it, however, we are not informed. Suppose the dish to be a fried sole or a sweetbread. We all know the real thing—a sweetbread at the Cafe Bignon—soft and white inside, and a perfect golden-brown out, without even a shade of colour varying in the whole dish. On the other hand, a sweetbread a la Mary Ann, covered with bread-crumbs, some a whitey-brown, some brown, and some black, but still containing patches with no bread-crumbs at all, looking like a cat's back where the cook had accidentally spilt some boiling water.
Or, perhaps, a still greater blunder has been made. On this particular occasion Mary Ann, who means well, endeavours to do her utmost to make things look nice, and in trying to obtain this nice golden-colour, fries the sole till it is so dried up that it becomes scarcely eatable. Who has not occasionally in small families noticed the slight passing shadow of annoyance on the face of the hostess, as she becomes aware of some such little contretemps ?—in which, perhaps, a very close observer of human nature might detect the thought: " It will never warm up for breakfast."
Now, is it possible to write clear directions, so that any one with an average amount of common sense can, by following them, fry fish, sweetbreads, etc, which will combine colour with quality? We believe it is possible ; at any rate, it is worth the attempt.
All fish that has to be fried with egg and breadcrumbs must be treated alike in this respect. The fish must first be thoroughly dried. Next, it must be floured. This is done in order to ensure its being dry, just as a baby's neck is powdered for a similar purpose after being dried with a towel. Next, the egg must be thoroughly beaten up before it is used; otherwise, the white of the egg especially is apt to slip off, leaving those bald patches we have mentioned. Again, the bread-crumbs must be dry and fine. It is no use to attempt to use bread-crumbs 'made from new bread, which will be necessarily coarse.
Now, we will suppose these conditions complied with—say a sole has been carefully dried and floured, has been carefully egged over, and then covered with some very fine bread-crumbs. Most cooks will say : "Well, then fry it in plenty of hot fat, allow it to drain on a napkin, and that's all."
Wait a minute. If you have a frying-pan two feet in diameter, filled with boiling fat three inches deep, this would do very well. A few minutes would suffice to cook the sole a nice colour, " all over alike." But have you this ? Probably, to start with, the fish is a trifle longer than the frying-pan. The fat is a quarter of an inch deep, and won't cover the fish. How, under these very common circumstances, will you get your fish to look nice ?