I fear that as a nation taste is not our forte. I wonder, too, if there is any French expression that would fully convey the idea, " Wanted, a good plain cook." Wanted, a woman who can convert joints of raw meat into some state sufficiently intermediate between blue-ness and cinders as to render them eatable, and who also can make certain plain puddings, more or less heavy, as the case may be, but who has no more conception of artistic taste than a cabbage, and would be as incapable of making a dish look elegant as of singing the shadow dance from " Dinorah." And yet many of these persons are good honest souls, who mean well and do their best, but somehow or other it is not in them, and what is more, it never will be.
They have been born in an uncongenial clime. For instance, contrast the dress of an English workman's wife whose husband earns, say, ¿2 a week, with that of a Frenchwoman in a similar station of life, and yet probably the latter spends less in dress than the former.
We have already compared a French pastrycook's window with an English one, but if there is ever a time in which we feel that Waterloo is indeed avenged, it is when we contrast a French salade with the ordinary English specimen.
It is somewhat strange, too, that the generality of cookery-books intended for household use signally fail to explain how to make dishes look nice. For instance, "garnish with beetroot and hard-boiled eggs," is a very poor direction to give to one of the above-mentioned good plain cooks. Some again give the lucid direction—"garnish prettily." Other works, too, are at times extremely tantalising to young housekeepers with plenty of natural good taste, yet without the faintest knowledge of the principles of cookery; they of course consult the cookery-book, which has perhaps been made attractive by some beautiful coloured engravings of dishes.
We can well imagine a young wife in deep consultation %ith her next sister a week before her first dinner-party, the cookery-book between them.
" Oh ! what a pretty-looking dish," exclaims one; " let's have that."
Alas ! the index is hunted over in vain, no description of how to make the dish appears at all; the next pretty-looking dish determined on shares a similar fate; and at last they give it up in despair, and either fix on dishes of which they have no idea what the appearance will be when done, or more probably leave it to the cook to do as she likes, with one or two little things from the pastrycook's—an expensive way of going to work, it should be borne in mind. I have been asked several times in strict confidence the question, "But ought it to have looked like that?" —a question often involving a necessary sacrifice of either truth or politeness.
Francatelli observes : " The palate is as capable and nearly as worthy of education as the eye and the ear." Now, without entering into the question as to whether a patty to eat is equal to a Patti to hear or see in the way of enjoyment, there is no doubt that the palate is to a great extent influenced by the eye. For instance, a large cold sirloin of beef on the sideboard at a good old-fashioned hotel, neatly decorated with bright green parsley and snow-white curly horseradish ; the dish resting on an equally snow-white cloth; its companions consisting of as tempting-looking a York ham, and some bright silver flagons, the latter enabling the looker-on almost to realise the " nut-brown ale " talked about of old, though what it was like we have not the least idea. There is a common saying, "It makes one hungry to look at it" • or " It makes one's mouth water." Yet contrast this same piece of cold beef with a joint I recollect being once brought up for supper at some lodgings, where Mary Ann was, to say the least, inartistic. She brought it up just as it was in the dish in which it had got cold—the dish smeary round the rim with Mary Ann's thumb-marks. The gravy had of course settled, and was thickly studded over with hard white wafers of fat. Some of the fat, too, had of course settled on the meat itself. Yet the meat was in every respect equal to the decorated joint, and many a poor hungry man would see no difference between the two, any more than a hungry bull-dog would. At least, some might even prefer the latter, in order to lap up the cold gravy with the blade of their knives.
A poached egg nicely done, the yellow yolk surrounded with an equal rim of clear white, in contradistinction to one badly done, in which the yolk has broken and run and got mixed up with the white, is another instance of how much depends upon appearances, for both eggs would be equally wholesome.
Now, there are few nicer and at the same time prettier-looking dishes than a salade mayonnaise. Yet toe often when directions are given, in books or otherwise, how to make mayonnaise sauce, the latter point—that is, appearance—is altogether left out of the question. Making mayonnaise sauce, and simply mixing it up with some lettuce, and lobster, and hard-boiled egg, is certainly making a very nice lobster salade. Just in the same way the most beautiful clear jelly might be handed round in white pudding-basins, or even in the saucepan in which it was boiled; but how different to a handsome mould with a few preserved fruits inside it, placed in the centre of a bright cut-glass dish, and a little cut lemon by way of garnish !
But we have been long enough on the subject, " How not to do it," and must begin at once.
First the ingredients :—A lobster; and if there is any coral in it, take it out, and make some lobster butter with it, as it will do no good to the salade. This lobster butter will keep, and enable you at a future period to make lobster sauce in a hurry out of a preserved tin of lobster; and .this cannot be done without lobster butter. Next, some fresh lettuces (French are by far the best for mayonnaise salades), two fresh eggs—as we are only going to describe how to make enough for about four persons—some oil, and a little parsley. We will also suppose the house to contain some vinegar, a bottle of capers, a bottle of anchovies, and a bottle of olives, at the same time reminding timid housekeepers that these latter will do over and over again, and that probably a shilling bottle of each will last a twelvemonth.