Condiments are simply seasoning or flavoring agents, and, though hardly coming under the head of food, yet have an important part to play. As food by their use is rendered more tempting, a larger amount is consumed, and thus a delicate or uncertain appetite is often aided. In some cases they have the power of correcting the injurious character of some foods.
Salt stands foremost. Vinegar, lemon-juice, and pickles owe their value to acidity; while mustard, pepper black and red, ginger, curry-powder, and horse-radish all depend chiefly upon pungency. Under the head of aromatic condiments are ranged cinnamon, nutmegs, cloves, allspice, mint, thyme, fennel, sage, parsley, vanilla, leeks, onions, shallots, garlic, and others, all of them entering into the composition of various sauces in general use.
Salt is the one thing indispensable. The old Dutch law condemned criminals to a diet of unsalted food, the effects being said to be those of the severest physical torture. Years ago an experiment tried near Paris demonstrated the necessity of its use. A number of cattle were fed without the ration of salt; an equal number received it regularly. At the end of a specified time, the unsalted animals were found rough of coat, the hair falling off in spots, the eyes wild, and the flesh hardly half the amount of those naturally fed.
A class of extreme Grahamites in this country decry the use of salt, as well as of any form of animal food; and I may add that the expression of their thought in both written and spoken speech is as savorless as their diet.
Salt exists, as we have already found, in the blood: the craving for it is a universal instinct, even buffaloes making long journeys across the plains to the salt-licks; and its use not only gives character to insipid food, but increases the flow of the gastric juice.
Black pepper, if used profusely as is often done in American cooking, becomes an irritant, and produces indigestion. Red pepper, or cayenne, on the contrary, is a useful stimulant at times; but, as with mustard, any over-use irritates the lining of the stomach.
So with spices and sweet herbs. There should be only such use of them as will flavor well, delicately, and almost imperceptibly. No one flavor should predominate, and only a sense of general savoriness rule. Extracts, as of vanilla, lemon, bitter almond, &c., should be used with the greatest care, and if possible always be added to an article after it cools, as the heat wastes the strength.
Tea and coffee are the most universal drinks, after water. The flavor of both is due to a principle, theine in tea, caffeine in coffee, in which both the good and the ill effects of these drinks are bound up. It is hardly necessary the principles should have different names, as they have been found by chemists to be identical; the essential spirit of cocoa and chocolate,—theobromine,—though not identical, having many of the same properties.
Tea is valuable chiefly for its warming and comforting qualities. Taken in moderation, it acts partly as a sedative, partly as a stimulant, arresting the destruction of tissue, and seeming to invigorate the whole nervous system. The water in it, even if impure, is made wholesome by boiling, and the milk and sugar give a certain amount of real nourishment. Nervous headaches are often cured by it, and it has, like coffee, been used as an antidote in opium-poisoning.
Pass beyond the point of moderation, and it becomes an irritant, precisely in the same way that an overdose of morphine will, instead of putting to sleep, for just so much longer time prevent any sleep at all. The woman who can not eat, and who braces her nerves with a cup of green tea,—the most powerful form of the herb,—is doing a deeper wrong than she may be able to believe. The immediate effect is delightful. Lightness, exhilaration, and sense of energy are all there; but the re-action comes surely, and only a stronger dose next time accomplishes the end desired. Nervous headaches, hysteria in its thousand forms, palpitations, and the long train of nervous symptoms, own inordinate tea and coffee drinking as their parent. Taken in reasonable amounts, tea can not be said to be hurtful; and the medium qualities, carefully prepared, often make a more wholesome tea than that of the highest price, the harmful properties being strongest in the best. If the water is soft, it should be used as soon as boiled, boiling causing all the gases which give flavor to water to escape. In hard water, boiling softens it. In all cases the water must be fresh, and poured boiling upon the proper portion of tea,—the teapot having first been well scalded with boiling water. Never boil any tea but English-breakfast tea; for all others, simple steeping gives the drink in perfection.
A disregard of these rules gives one the rank, black, unpleasant infusion too often offered as tea; while, if boiled in tin, it becomes a species of slow poison,—the tannic acid in the tea acting upon the metal, and producing a chemical compound whose character it is hard to determine. Various other plants possess the essential principle of tea, and are used as such; as in Paraguay, where the Brazilian holly is dried, and makes a tea very exhilarating in quality, but much more astringent.
The use of Coffee dates back even farther than that of tea. Of the many varieties, Mocha and Java are finest in flavor, and a mixture of one-third Mocha with two-thirds Java gives the drink at its best. As in tea, there are three chief constituents: (1) A volatile oil, giving the aroma it possesses, but less in amount than that in tea. (2) Astringent matter,—a modification of tannin, but also less than in tea. (3) Caffeine, now found identical with theine, but varying in amount in different varieties of coffee,—being in some three or four per cent, in others less.
The most valuable property of coffee is its power of relieving the sensation of hunger and fatigue. To the soldier on active service, nothing can take its place; and in our own army it became the custom often, not only to drink the infusion, but, if on a hard march, to eat the grounds also. In all cases it diminishes the waste of tissue. In hot weather it is too heating and stimulating, acting powerfully upon the liver, and, by producing over-activity of that organ, bringing about a general disturbance.
So many adulterations are found in ground coffee, that it is safest for the real coffee-lover to buy the bean whole. Roasting is usually more perfectly done at the grocers', in their rotary roasters, which give every grain its turn; but, by care and constant stirring, it can be accomplished at home. Too much boiling dissipates the delicious aroma we all know; and the best methods are considered to be those which allow no boiling, after boiling water has been poured upon it, but merely a standing, to infuse and settle. The old fashion, however, of mixing with an egg, and boiling a few minutes, makes a coffee hardly inferior in flavor. In fact, the methods are many, but results, under given conditions, much the same; and we may choose urn, or old-fashioned tin pot, or a French biggin, with the certainty that good coffee, well roasted, boiling water, and good judgment as to time, will give always a delicious drink. Make a note of the fact that long boiling sets free tannic acid, powerful enough to literally tan the coats of the stomach, and bring on incurable dyspepsia. Often coffee without milk can be taken, where, with milk, it proves harmful; but, in all cases, moderation must rule. Taken too strong, palpitation of the heart, vertigo, and fainting are the usual consequences.
Cocoa, or, literally, cacao, from the cacao-tree, comes in the form of a thick seed, twenty or thirty of which make up the contents of a gourd-like fruit, the spaces between being filled with a somewhat acid pulp. The seeds, when freed from this pulp by various processes, are first dried in the sun, and then roasted; and from these roasted seeds come various forms of cocoa.
Cocoa-shells are the outer husk, and by long boiling yield a pleasant and rather nutritious drink. Cocoa itself is the nut ground to powder, and sometimes mixed with sugar, the husk being sometimes ground with it.
In Chocolate—a preparation of cocoa—the cocoa is carefully dried and roasted, and then ground to a smooth paste, the nuts being placed on a hot iron plate, and so keeping the oily matter to aid in forming a paste. Sugar and flavorings, as vanilla, are often added, and the whole pressed into cakes. The whole substance of the nut being used, it is exceedingly nutritious, and made more so by the milk and sugar added. Eaten with bread it forms not only a nourishing but a hearty meal; and so condensed is its form, that a small cake carried in traveling, and eaten with a cracker or two, will give temporarily the effect of a full meal.
In a hundred parts of chocolate are found forty-eight of fatty matter or cocoa-butter, twenty-one of nitrogenous matter, four of theobromine, eleven of starch, three of cellulose, three of mineral matter, and ten of water; there being also traces of coloring matter, aromatic essence, and sugar. Twice as much nitrogenous, and twenty-five times as much fatty matter as wheaten flour, make it a valuable food, though the excess of fat will make it disagree with a very delicate stomach.
Alcohol is last upon our list, and scientific men are still uncertain whether or not it can in any degree be considered as a food; but we have no room for the various arguments for and against. You all know, in part at least, the effects of intemperance; and even the moderate daily drinker suffers from clouded mind, irritable nerves, and ruined digestion.
This is not meant as an argument for total abstinence; but there are cases where such abstinence is the only rule. In an inherited tendency to drink, there is no other safe road; but to the man or woman who lives by law, and whose body is in the best condition, wine in its many forms is a permissible occasional luxury, and so with beer and cider and the wide range of domestic drinks. In old age its use is almost essential, but always in moderation, individual temperament modifying every rule, and making the best knowledge an imperative need. A little alcoholic drink increases a delicate appetite: a great deal diminishes or takes it away entirely, and also hinders and in many cases stops digestion altogether. In its constant over-use the membranes of the stomach are gradually destroyed, and every organ in the body suffers. In ales and beers there is not only alcohol, but much nitrogenous and sugary matter, very fattening in its nature. A light beer, well flavored with hops, is an aid to digestion, but taken in excess produces biliousness. The long list of alcoholic products it is not necessary to give, nor is it possible to enter into much detail regarding alcohol itself; but there are one or two points so important that they can not be passed by.
You will recall in a preceding chapter the description of the circulation of the blood, and of its first passage through veins and arteries for cleansing, before a second round could make it food for the whole complex nervous system. Alcohol taken in excess, it has been proved in countless experiments by scientific men, possesses the power of coagulating the blood. The little corpuscles adhere in masses, and cannot force themselves through the smaller vessels, and circulation is at once hindered. This, however, is the secondary stage. At first, as many of you have had occasion to notice, the face flushes, the eyes grow brighter, and thought and word both come more freely. The heart beats far more rapidly, and the speed increases in proportion to the amount of alcohol absorbed. The average number of beats of the heart, allowing for its slower action during sleep, is 100,000 beats per day. Under a small supply of alcohol this rose to 127,000, and in actual intoxication to 131,000.
The flush upon the cheek is only a token of the same fact within; every organ is congested. The brain has been examined under such circumstances, and "looked as if injected with vermilion ... the membrane covering both brains resembling a delicate web of coagulated red blood, so tensely were its fine vessels engorged."
At a later stage the muscular power is paralyzed, the rule of mind over body suspended, and a heavy, brutal sleep comes, long or short according to the amount taken. This is the extreme of alcoholism, and death the only ending to it, as a habitual condition. Alcohol seems a necessary evil; for that its occasional beneficence can modify or neutralize the long list of woe and crime and brutality following in its train, is more than doubtful.
"Whatever good can come from alcohol, or whatever evil, is all included in that primary physiological and luxurious action of the agent upon the nervous supply of the circulation.... If it be really a luxury for the heart to be lifted up by alcohol, for the blood to course more swiftly through the brain, for the thoughts to flow more vehemently, for words to come more fluently, for emotions to rise ecstatically, and for life to rush on beyond the pace set by nature; then those who enjoy the luxury must enjoy it—with the consequences."
And now, at the end of our talks together, friends, there is yet another word. Much must remain unsaid in these narrow limits; but they are wide enough, I hope, to have given the key by which you may find easy entrance to the mysteries we all may know, indeed must, if our lives are truly lived. If through intemperance, in meat or drink, in feeling or thought, you lessen bodily or mental power, you alone are accountable, whether ignorant or not. Only in a never-failing self-control can safety ever be. Temperance is the foundation of high living; and here is its definition, by one whose own life holds it day by day:—
"Temperance is personal cleanliness; is modesty; is quietness; is reverence for one's elders and betters; is deference to one's mother and sisters; is gentleness; is courage; is the withholding from all which leads to excess in daily living; is the eating and drinking only of that which will insure the best body which the best soul is to inhabit: nay, temperance is all these, and more."
THE EASIEST WAY IN HOUSEKEEPING AND COOKING.
Adapted to Domestic Use or Study in Classes