Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Old New York Market Experience.

I am planning to be in the Big Apple today, so it seems appropriate to give you a Big Apple Story. May I take you back in time to 1867, when Thomas De Voe published a lovely book with the full and glorious title of

The Market Assistant: containing a brief description of every article of human food sold in the public markets of the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn; including the various domestic and wild animals, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruits &c., &c. with many curious incidents and anecdotes.

I doubt I will find the market experience in New York as De Voe described it a century and a half ago. He is already regretting the good old days himself. Here is part of his advice:


Some fifty years ago it was the common custom for the thrifty "old New Yorker” when going to market, to start with the break of day, and carry along with him the large “market-basket,” then considered a very necessary appendage for this occasion. His early visit gave him the desired opportunity to select the cuts of meat wanted from the best animals; to meet the farmer's choice productions, either poultry, vegetables, or fruit, and catch the lively, jumping fish, which, ten minutes before, were swimming in the fish-cars.

Soon after followed the "good housewife," who would not trust anybody but herself to select a fine young turkey, or a pair of chickens or ducks, which she kept hold of until the bargain allowed her to place the coveted articles in her capacious basket, that was being carried by a stout servant who also carried a bright tin, covered kettle, ready to receive several nice rolls of butter, so cleanly and neatly covered with white linen cloths.

The modem ''marketer" will still occasionally observe some "relics of the past," who cling to the old custom taught them in their youth, perhaps, by an honored sire, who was not too proud to carry home a well-filled market-basket, containing his morning purchase, which his purse or taste prompted him to select. These old-fashioned ideas, alas! are all lived down, and we reluctantly turn from them, as we would from an interesting but worn-out book to peruse the pages of modem composition.

We now find many heads of families who never visit the public markets, who are either supplied through the butcher or other dealers in our markets, or by their stewards or other servants, or by some that may be termed go-between-speculators who take orders for marketing, groceries, etc., on their own hook; and, of course, they purchase the various articles of those who will give them the largest percentages. I am sorry, however, to be compelled to state that there are but few of this species of help, or market assistants, who can lay claim to the title of trustworthy.

It is, therefore, as necessary for our health as it is to our interest to obtain the knowledge of what we desire to purchase, that the articles shall be what they are represented to be, and that they are famished at the regular market price.

To market well, then, requires much experience, although many rules might be introduced, but they would be seldom successfully followed. Practice gives the looks, smell, feeling, and many signs that are almost indescribable, and which are formed from close observation.

…. [a long section on the various dishonest dealers’ tricks] … The safest plan for the inexperienced is to select respectable dealers, on whom they can rely. They may charge higher prices for that which they furnish; in the end, however, more satisfaction is afforded, by less risk, and more saving and relish - in fact, cheaper in every way, because all good articles are with profit used – that, while the best articles may cost more money in the purchase thereof, they will be found to be the most economical in the end.

What to give you as the recipe for the day? Something from The New York cook book
a complete manual of cookery, in all its branches (1889) by Marie Martinelo perhaps? How about a nice piece of cod fresh from the market?

COD. A cod-fish should be firm mid white, the gills red, and the eye lively: a fine fish is very thick about the neck; if the flesh is at all flabby it is not good. Cod is in its prime during the months of October and November, if the weather be cold; from the latter end of March to May, cod is also very fine. The length of time it requires for boiling depends on the size of the fish, which varies from one pound to twenty: a small fish, about two or three pounds weight will be sufficiently boiled in a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes after the water boils. Prepare a cod for dressing in the following manner: empty and wash it thoroughly, scrape off all the scales, cut open the belly, and wash and dry it well, rub a little salt inside, or lay it for an hour in strong brine. The simple way of dressing it is as follows: Tie up the head, and put it into a fish-kettle, with plenty of water and salt in it ; boil it gently, and serve it with oyster sauce. Lay a napkin under the fish, and garnish with slices of lemon, horseradish, &c.

COD BAKED. (1) Soak a fine piece of the middle of a fresh cod in melted butter, with parsley and sweet herbs shred very fine; let it stand over the fire for some time, and then bake it. Let it be of a good color.

COD BAKED. (2) Choose a fine large cod, clean it well, and open the under part to the bone, and put in a stuffing made with beef suet, parsley, sweet herbs shred fine, an egg. and seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg, mace and grated lemon-peel; put this inside the cod, sew it up, wrap it in a buttered paper, and bake it ; baste it well with melted butter.

FRIED Cod-Fish. Take the middle or tail part of a fresh cod-fish, and cut it into slices not quite an inch thick, first removing the skin. Season them with a little salt and cayenne pepper. Have ready in one dish some beaten yolk of egg, and in another some grated bread crumbs. Dip each slice of fish twice into the egg and then twice into the crumbs. Fry them in fresh butter, and serve them up with the gravy about them.

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