Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/497

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481
FOOD AND FEEDING.

ducks, deviled whitebait, meringues, and Nesselrode puddings, if we hadn't been so persistently overdosed in our earlier years with things that we didn't want and knew were indigestible.

Of course, in our existing modern cookery, very few simple and uncompounded tastes are still left to us; everything is so mixed up together that only by an effort of deliberate experiment can one discover what are the special effects of special tastes upon the tongue and palate. Salt is mixed with almost everything we eat—sal sapit omnia—and pepper or cayenne is nearly equally common. Butter is put into the peas, which have been previously adulterated by being boiled with mint; and cucumber is unknown except in conjunction with oil and vinegar. This makes it comparatively difficult for us to realize the distinctness of the elements which go to make up most tastes as we actually experience them. Moreover, a great many eatable objects have hardly any taste of their own, properly speaking, but only a feeling of softness or hardness, or glutinousness in the mouth, mainly observed in the act of chewing them. For example, plain boiled rice is almost wholly insipid; but even in its plainest form salt has usually been boiled with it, and in practice we generally eat it with sugar, preserves, curry, or some other strongly flavored condiment. Again, plain boiled tapioca and sago (in water) are as nearly tasteless as anything can be; they merely yield a feeling of gumminess; but milk, in which they are oftenest cooked, gives them a relish (in the sense here restricted), and sugar, eggs, cinnamon, or nutmeg are usually added by way of flavoring. Even turbot has hardly any taste proper, except in the glutinous skin, which has a faint relish; the epicure values it rather because of its softness, its delicacy, and its light flesh. Gelatine by itself is merely very swallowable—we must mix sugar, wine, lemon-juice, and other flavorings in order to make it into good jelly. Salt, spices, essences, vanilla, vinegar, pickles, capers, ketchups, sauces, chutneys, lime-juice, curry, and all the rest, are just our civilized expedients for adding the pleasure of pungency and acidity to naturally insipid foods, by stimulating the nerves of touch in the tongue, just as sugar is our tribute to the pure gustatory sense, and oil, butter, bacon, lard, and the various fats used in frying to the sense of relish which forms the last element in our compound taste. A boiled sole is all very well when one is just convalescent, but in robust health we demand the delights of egg and bread-crumb, which are after all only the vehicle for the appetizing grease. Plain boiled macaroni may pass muster in the unsophisticated nursery, but in the pampered dining-room it requires the aid of toasted parmesan. Good modern cookery is the practical result of centuries of experience in this direction; the final flower of ages of evolution, devoted to the equalization of flavors in all human food. Think of the generations of fruitless experiment that must have passed before mankind discovered that mint-sauce (itself a cunning compound of vinegar and sugar) ought to