It is almost too hot to eat." How often do we hear this remark during what is popularly known as the dog days ! There is no doubt that as a nation we do not make sufficient allowance for the variations of our climate, and are too apt to feed ourselves and children on almost the same food both in summer and winter. The hotel waiter will give exactly the same answer both in July and December : u Dinner, sir—yes, sir— chops, sir—steak—cutlet," and he stops, having exhausted the English bill of fare.
But it is not so much in hotel life that the difficulty of getting suitable summer food is found as in home life. How many tens of thousands of men are there who from sheer necessity are compelled for the greater part of the summer to be cooped up in broiling weather in a hot, close office, their day's employment being varied but by occasional visits to hotter salerooms, etc, containing an atmosphere ten times more close and vitiated!
The unfortunate husband returns to his home with wearied brain and jaded appetite. Too often mingled carelessness and selfishness has provided such unappetising food for his dinner, that he is fain to seek for that nourishment of which his body stands in need in fluids rather than solids, and then the seeds are sown which eventually grow up and produce a harvest of wretchedness and misery.
I overheard a conversation once in a little back room in a famous pastrycook's, now done away with, between two wives, on their husbands' selfishness, each one of course trying to make out her own the worst. They had started with a basin of mock-turtle soup, and had followed with two oyster patties each. I left before they had finished. It was before wine was allowed to be sold by pastrycooks, or, judging from appearances, they would probably have remained there during the better part of the afternoon.
It is the way of the world all over. I recollect a man about five foot three passing one who was fully five foot two and a half, and remarking :—
" Dear me, what a terrible misfortune it must be to be so short!"
Do you know any one who breakfasts in bed every day, who never attends at all to household duties, and whose health requires a rarer wine at dinner than others ? You may be quite sure that person will be most intolerant to any approach to self-indulgence in others, and will be given to hold forth little homilies on the duties of early rising, industry, and self-denial.
Charity begins at home, and those only who deny themselves can make allowances for the want of self-denial in others.
Great allowance should be made for those who, after a hard day's mental work, return home on a hot day, irritable, thirsty, exhausted, without being hungry. There is a great art in adapting the food for the occasion. There are a certain class of persons, especially in this country, who seem to fail to perceive that what is suitable at one season of the year is quite unsuited at another. For instance, hot pea-soup, followed by an Irish stew, on a broiling July day, is quite as much out of character as ices at Christmas-time.
In England, too, people do not seem to understand how to make the most of the means at their disposal for making themselves comfortable. How many thousands there are who, having good gardens, yet never use them except to walk in ! For breakfast or tea what better spot can be chosen than a shady corner of the lawn; yet how often do we find this done?
Probably many would say, " Oh, but the people next door can see us." As a nation we are undoubtedly very shy and ungregarious. This latter quality, if one may be allowed to use the expression, is particularly shown at railway-stations. You may walk down a long train and find one man in each compartment, and each one glares at you if you attempt to enter.
The constitutional shyness of the middle classes has a strong ally in the constitutional rudeness of the lower.
Many years ago almost the only lunch obtainable in London was a Bath bun, washed down with tepid ginger-beer. But this bun had to be eaten under difficulties. First, the extraordinary height of the stool on which one was bound to sit made one giddy; then a crowd of small boys, with noses flattened white against the window outside, would carry on a running conversation, such as " Give us a bit, guv'nor," etc. Unfortunately, the faster you tried to eat the bun, the more it choked you ; and as to the ginger-beer, it too often refused to go anywhere except to the nose. A lunch is still a great difficulty in certain parts of London. It would be an interesting Parliamentary return—first, the number of licensed victuallers in London ; secondly, the number of licensed victuallers who sold victuals.
Were any one, some hot day, to place a small table on the pavement, and sit down and eat an ice, like thousands do in Paris, the result would be such a crowd that one would probably be locked up for the night, for obstructing the public thoroughfare.
There is, perhaps, no dish so suitable for hot weather as curry. But there are curries and curries. I have seen some that have made me shudder to look at them. If you see pieces of meat on a large dish, almost swimming in a quantity of bright light-coloured yellow gravy, people will probably call it curry; but my advice is, don't eat any if you can get anything else. I will try and describe how it ought to be done. Say the dish is curried sweetbreads. The sweetbreads must be fried as directed in the article entitled " Uses and Abuses of a Frying-pan." The curry sauce must be poured round them directly they are done, and this sauce is made as follows : —
We will describe how to make enough for about six people.
First, take six large onions, and peel and slice them, and fry them a nice brown-colour in a stew-pan, using about two ounces of butter. Next take two apples, about the same size, or rather larger than the onions, and as sour as possible. Peel them, remove the core, slice, and add to the onions in the stewpan, then add a pint of good strong stock. Stir it all up, and let the whole boil till the apples are quite soft. Add to this a large brimming dessert-spoonful of Captain White's curry-paste, and a good-sized tea-spoonful of ordinary curry-powder. The whole of this must be rubbed through a fine wire sieve, with a large wooden spoon. If you have not patience to rub it all through, you can't make curry.