which the meal is served.
Some people are particularly sensitive to external impressions; and to them a dinner, or any other meal, however costly, served in an untidy room, with table-cloth soiled, silver tarnished, glasses smeared, and above all a slovenly servant, would be enough to give a feeling of depression that would anything but aid digestion.
A great point to be attended to is to have everything perfectly clean and orderly, however old and plain. Clean table-cloths make a wonderful difference to the look of a table; a few flowers also will do much to give it a bright appearance. Servants should be neat in their dress, and quiet in their movements. If only one is kept, that is no reason why she should wait at table in a slovenly dress and with ruffled hair.
The dining-room should be, if possible, a bright room with a good aspect. Heavy, sombre furniture, however fashionable, should be avoided. It is unfortunate that so little attention is paid to the influence of colour; a warm colouring will do much to give a bright look to a room which would otherwise be dull.
The influence of the mental emotions on the digestion is so great that it is important that the conversation at meals should be as cheerful as possible, and no unpleasant subject should be discussed: anything that disturbs the appetite disturbs the digestion also.
With these points carefully attended to—a bright room, neatly-laid table, well-cooked food, and cheerful conversation—dinner, or any other meal, will become what it should be, a refreshment to both mind and body.
A few hints to beginners on the proper way to set about their work may be, perhaps, of some use; as I know many people get disgusted with cookery at the very outset, and after one attempt, form a resolution never to enter the kitchen again. They have spent the whole morning trying to make a single dish, and that has proved a failure; they have become hot, tired, and irritable, and ill able to bear the laughter their failure has excited. There has been a waste of material to no purpose, and they conclude, therefore, that it is useless for them to make any further attempts. At any rate, they determine that they will not try again ‘just yet;’ and that often means that they do not try again at all. This disappointment and fatigue is generally the result of want of method and forethought. A recipe has been taken into the kitchen to be tried; very probably one half of the terms used in it have not been understood by the would-be cook. She at once begins to make the dish, going to the recipe to look for each article required as she wants to use it. If some of the supplies have run short, she has perhaps to wait in the middle of her operations while she sends to purchase them. Moreover, when the cake, pastry, or whatever it may be, is made, the fire has very likely been forgotten. In this way, even if the dish has been properly prepared, it is spoiled in the cooking.
Those, too, who have some knowledge of the art and perhaps, can cook fairly well, will often find the work a great fatigue and toil. They spend double or treble the time they need in the kitchen, just for the want of a little judicious management.
Before trying a recipe read it over, carefully notice how a dish is to be cooked, and make up the fire accordingly. If it is pastry, take means to get the oven hot; if a boiled pudding, make a good fire, and put a large saucepan of water on to cook it in before doing anything else. When this most important matter is attended to, put all the materials required on the table with the weights and scales; notice what cooking utensils will be required, see that they are all clean and ready for use, and put them near to hand. If, for example, you want to make a cake, proceed in this manner:—Attend first to the fire to get the oven lightly heated, then put out the weights and scales and all necessary materials; put a basin on the table for mixing, two or three cups for breaking eggs in, one or two plates to put the different ingredients on as they are measured, a grater, and anything else that may be required. Then carefully weigh the materials, taking the exact quantities named in the recipe. Prepare them all before mixing any of them. Wash and pick over the currants, and while they are drying, cut up all the candied peel; beat up the eggs, and grease and prepare the cake-tin. The butter should then be rubbed into the flour, and the other dry ingredients should be added. The cake should then be quickly mixed, put into its tin, and placed at once in a hot oven.
If several dishes are to be made, a little thought beforehand will often prevent a very great deal of fatigue and waste of time. Suppose, for example, that you wish to prepare two or three dishes for supper and to make some cakes for tea. You have, perhaps, decided to have a chicken coated with Béchamel sauce, a gâteau of apples with whipped cream, a custard pudding, and some rock cakes. Make, the day before, if possible, a list of the articles required for the different dishes, and order what is necessary in good time, so that there may be no delay the next morning. Have the kitchen quite clear from all litters before you begin to work. No one can cook well in a muddle. Then commence operations by making up the fire and putting a saucepan of stock, or water, on to boil for the chicken. Next put the gelatine to soak for the gâteau, not forgetting a little in the Béchamel sauce. The longer gelatine soaks, the more quickly it will dissolve. Then slice the apples and put them to stew with the sugar, so that they may be cooking while you are preparing something else. Afterwards truss the chicken; and probably, by the time it is ready, the water or stock in the saucepan will be boiling. Put the chicken into it to simmer gently, noticing the time, so that it may not be over-cooked. Then prepare the ingredients for the rock cakes; mixing them—as they require a quick oven—before the pudding. While they are cooking, prepare the custard; and by the time it is made, the cakes, if the oven is properly hot, will be sufficiently set to admit of the heat being moderated. Now make the Béchamel sauce; strain it and add the dissolved gelatine. Take up the chicken, remove the skewers, place it on a dish, and coat it nicely with the sauce. Then rub the apples through the sieve, and finish making the gâteau. By this time the chicken, gâteau, and rock cakes are made, and the custard will be cooking. While waiting for the custard, whip the cream for the gâteau and put it on a sieve to drain; prepare any decorations you may intend to put on the fowl, and lay them on a plate near to it in the pantry, ready to put on just before serving. Everything will now be ready. With just a little management, even a slow worker would scarcely take a longer time to make these dishes than an hour and a half.
Whatever failures and disappointments you may meet with at first, do not be discouraged. Success is certain if you will only have a little patience and perseverance. Do not be disheartened because you feel very awkward, and because you not unfrequently forget the oven, and let your cakes and pastry burn. Try not to mind the banter of your relations and friends at any possible failure. Many well-meaning efforts to acquire this useful knowledge have been nipped in the bud by the thoughtless, silly way in which some people will laugh at any mistake or blunder. A cake which has caught in baking, or a pudding with the sugar left out, will probably afford them an inexhaustible subject of