If you are one of those people who believe that game is like love (the best appreciated when it begins to go), that vegetables are at their best (like brunettes) just before they are fully matured, and that a good pre-dinner savoury should be small, neat, and alluring (like a nicely-turned ankle,) then I am sure you will enjoy the following words from the Preface of The Belgian Cookbook (New York, 1915) by Mrs. Brian Luck.
The recipes in this little book have been sent by Belgian refugees from all parts of the United Kingdom, and it is through the kindness of these correspondents that I have been able to compile it. It is thought, also, that British cooking may benefit by the study of Belgian dishes.
The perfect cook, like Mrs. 'Arris or the fourth dimension, is often heard of, but never actually found, so this small manual is offered for the use of the work-a-day and inexperienced mistress and maid. It is not written in the interests of millionaires. The recipes are simple, and most inexpensive, rather for persons of moderate means than for those who can follow the famous directions for a certain savory: "Take a leg of mutton," etc. A shelf of provisions should be valued, like love-making, not only for itself but for what it may become.
Savories: If you serve these, let them be, like an ankle, small and neat and alluring. This dish is not obligatory; recollect that it is but a culinary work of supererogation.
Soup: Let your soup be extremely hot; do not let it be like the Laodiceans. You know what St. John said about them [that they were lukewarm in their spiritual life], and you would be sorry to think of your soup sharing the fate which he describes with such saintly verve. Be sure that your soup has a good foundation, and avoid the Italian method of making consommé, which is to put a pot of water on to warm and to drive a cow past the door.
Fish: It is a truism to say that fish should be absolutely fresh, yet only too many cooks think, during the week-end, that fish is like the manna of the Hebrews, which was imbued with Sabbatarian principles that kept it fresh from Saturday to Monday. I implore of you to think differently about fish. It is a most nourishing and strengthening food — other qualities it has, too, if one must believe the anecdote of the Sultan Saladin and the two anchorites [who were tempted from their vows by the lustful effects of a fish diet supplied them by the Sultan].
Meat: If your meat must be cooked in water, let it not boil but merely simmer; let the pot just whisper agreeably of a good dish to come. Do you know what an English tourist said, looking into a Moorish cooking-pot? "What have you got there? Mutton and rice?" "For the moment, Sidi, it is mutton and rice," said the Moorish cook; "but in two hours, inshallah, when the garlic has kissed the pot, it will be the most delicious comforter from Mecca to Casa Blanca." Simmer and season, then, your meats, and let the onion (if not garlic) just kiss the pot, even if you allow no further intimacy between them. Use bay-leaves, spices, herbs of all sorts, vinegar, cloves; and never forget pepper and salt.
Game is like Love, the best appreciated when it begins to go. Only experience will teach you, on blowing up the breast feathers of a pheasant, whether it ought to be cooked today or tomorrow. Men, as a rule, are very particular about the dressing of game, though they may not all be able to tell, like the Frenchman, upon which of her legs a partridge was in the habit of sitting. Game should be underdone rather than well done; it should never be without well-buttered toast underneath it to collect the gravy, and the knife to carve it with should be very, very sharp.
Vegetables: Nearly all these are at their best (like brunettes) just before they are fully matured. So says a great authority, and no doubt he is thinking of young peas and beans, lettuces and asparagus. Try to dress such things as potatoes, parsnips, cabbages, carrots, in other ways than simply boiled in water, for the water often removes the flavor and leaves the fiber. Do not let your vegetable-dishes remind your guests of Froissart's account of Scotchmen's food, which was "rubbed in a little water."
Sweets: It is difficult to give any general directions for sweets. They should be made to look attractive, and they should be constantly varied. The same remarks apply to savories, which last ought always to be highly seasoned, whether hot or cold.
Made Dishes are a great feature in this little book. I have tried to help those small households who cook, let us say, a leg of mutton on Sunday, and then see it meander through the week in various guises till it ends its days honorable as soup on the following Friday. Endeavor to hide from your husband that you are making that leg of mutton almost achieve eternal life. It is noticeable that men are attracted to a house where there is good cooking, and the most unapproachable beings are rendered accessible by the pleasantness of a soufflé, or the aroma of a roast duck. You must have observed that a certain number of single men have their hearts very "wishful" towards their cook. Not infrequently they marry that cook; but it is less that she is a good and charming woman than that she is a good and charming cook. Ponder this, therefore; for I have known men otherwise happy, who long for a good beef-steak pudding as vainly as the Golden Ass longed for a meal of roses. Try these recipes, for really good rissoles and hashes. Twice-cooked meat can always be alleviated by mushrooms or tomatoes. Remember that the discovery of a new dish is of more use than the discovery of a new star, — besides which, you will get much more praise for it. And if on Wednesday you find that you have to eat the same part of the very same animal that you had on Monday, do not, pray, become exasperated; treat it affectionately, as I treat my black hat, which becomes more ravishing every time that I alter it. Only, do not buy extravagant make-weight for a scrap of cold meat that would be best used in a mince patty, or you will be like a man keeping a horse in order to grow mushrooms.
And, lastly, the good cook must learn about food what every sensible woman learns about love — how best to utilize the cold remains.
Naturally the recipe for the day comes from the same book: if you have a gentle hand with carrots, may I suggest the following idea?
Take some young carrots, wash and brush them as tenderly as you would an infant, then simmer them till tender in with pepper and salt. When cooked, draw them to the side of the fire and pour in some cream to make a good sauce. If you cannot use cream, take milk instead and stir with it the yolk of an egg. To thicken for use, add a pinch of sugar and some chopped parsley.