Wednesday Wisdom: The Art of Cooking

Today’s wisdom covers the broad art of cooking, hailing from 1905.

THERE is a science and there is an art of cooking. The science tells what should be done and why; the art takes hold and does the thing, without, in most cases, knowing and reason why certain methods produce certain results. The one is theoretical, the other practical; the one deals with principles, the other with performances.

Cookery rises to the supreme height of exquisitely delighting the taste…

The science of cookery proceeds on the basis that man needs certain elements of repair and growth for the various tissues of his body, that these elements exist in nature in various forms, and that the mission of the cook is so to prepare these suitable substances that man may receive them in their most enjoyable and assimilable forms, and thus have his waste repaired and his growth provided for. This basis is solid. On it the whole culinary system is founded. But, from the merely utilitarian idea of repairing waste and supplying force, cookery rises to the supreme height of exquisitely delighting the taste while doing its most important work of feeding the body. Indeed, the art of cooking well, and of serving well-cooked victuals well, is “a fine art” in the best sense of the term. There are artists in this line. Meals may be served artistically; they may become a delight to the most refined natures and a real benefaction to both body and soul.

The great aim of all cooking is to retain all the valuable elements of the food, and to put them into such forms as shall awake desire, stimulate digestion, and secure to the eater, in the readiest and most pleasing way, all the nutriment these viands afford. For instance, in cooking meats it is desirable to retain all the natural juices. To this end, when meat is to be boiled it should be plunged into hot water, which at once renders the outer part measurably impenetrable, and so confines the juices. On the other hand, if the juices are to be drawn out for the production of soup, it must be placed in cold water, and gradually warmed and slowly boiled, so as to allow the exudation of the juices. On the same principle, broiling and roasting, by quickly closing the surface of the meat, retain the juices as well as the odors, and make the meat both juicy and savory. The retention of the fatty substances renders such preparations somewhat less digestible, however, than boiled food or lean meat.

Good food, well cooked and well served, goes far to make home happy and its inmates healthy.

High art in cookery, as elsewhere, demands high rates of expenditure. Instructions on that grade alone would not meet the want of American homes. But high aims in this department are equally commendable with high aims elsewhere. So important a factor in domestic economy as cooking cannot be ignored and should not be treated lightly. Good food, well cooked and well served, goes far to make home happy and its inmates healthy.

The chemical aspect of food and cooking may be left to the chemist and the physiologist. They will perfect the scientific aspects of the case. But the art of cooking, which teaches just how and when to do the right things, is for us to learn and to practice day by day. Such is the relation of stomach and brain on the one side, and of stomach and cook on the other side, that the cook becomes the sovereign, to whom many a brain mightier than his own bows in servile allegiance.

What cookery was practiced in the garden of Eden history does not tell. Vegetarians insist that permission to eat animal food was not given until after the flood, when, by indulgence, man’s appetites had become abnormal. If vegetable food only were used in Eden, and that mainly of the nature of fruits, but little cooking was needed, and the simplest forms would suffice amply.

Source: New England Cook Book 1905

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