The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett

Chapter XI.

On Salads; Salad Plants and Herbs; and Salad Making.


Although for some years past any information pertaining to salads and salad-making has been eagerly welcomed by the writer, yet it must be admitted that great difficulties in obtaining such know-ledge in Australia do exist, because the use and value of salads are not widespread and understood, and thus it is that their health-conferring properties are passed by seemingly without regret. And if the topic, therefore, is one possessing an attractive personal interest, for that very reason it is felt that the present chapter falls far short of what might be achieved; yet it may be permissible to plead in extenuation thereof that its composition has not proved the easiest of tasks, and its shortcomings must consequently be condoned by an indulgent public. I shall begin, then, by saying that if ever there was a form of food which was intended for our semi-tropical climate it is undoubtedly the salad, and as thus constituting an article of diet so well adapted for Australia it should certainly be seen daily in every household. It is so appropriately suitable for use amongst us that it deserves to be intituled “the sea-breeze of the table,” for in addition to its invigorating qualities, it cleanses, while at the same time it enriches, the blood. The late gifted George Dallas did not go too far when he asserted that a salad was not merely food, but that it had also an exhilarating effect and a distinct action upon the nervous system, which was immensely agreeable and acted like a spell.

It seems more suitable, however, instead of abruptly plunging into the matter of salad concoction, to say a few words from a culinary point of view on the art of making life enjoyable, and thus to draw attention to the curious neglect which is shown to a form of food within the reach of all classes, and whose use would be of the greatest advantage to the health and pleasing to the palate. At the same time, although an ardent believer in the distinct benefit which would be derived by the entire community from the adoption of a mode of living more in harmony with their climatic surroundings, yet I must disclaim any desire to pose as a “faddist.” In truth, there are too many worthy people who would submit all the world to their theories in a Procrustean fashion, and who see in their particular hobby a panacea for the whole of human frailties and human sufferings. Instead, therefore, of dilating on the undeniable consequences attached to the reasonless use of animal food at present followed throughout Australia, I shall content myself with a few remarks on the art of living. By far the greater number of people pay too little attention to the present, and imperil their happiness with the hope that at some future period, when they will have put a little together, they will be enabled to thoroughly lay themselves out for enjoyment. But in the vast majority of cases these halcyon days never arrive, or, if they do, it is more than probable the health is undermined by the neglect of those very matters which should form part and parcel of one’s daily existence. It is the exact parallel to a man hurrying through many fields and parks and gardens for the purpose of enjoying, from some high eminence, the scene through which he has passed. In his desperate haste to attain his object he disregards all that is beautiful and interesting, only to find that his travelling is nearly over, and that his steps cannot be retraced. On the other hand, a far more philosophic frame of mind belongs to him who, as he proceeds onwards through life’s journey, gets a rational enjoyment out of his existence, so that his days pass pleasantly and his health receives the consideration it deserves. It will appear somewhat mundane in this connection to assert that the latter and, therefore, happiness are to a great extent dependent upon the mode of living, but nevertheless it is absolutely true, and thus it is that I come back to the quotation at the beginning of this chapter — “A salad is a delicacy which the poorest of us ought always to command.”

You will remember that the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, in those marvellous essays and maxims of his, says that notwithstanding the disparity of men’s fortunes happiness is equally distributed. He was doubtless right, more especially as he looked at the matter from a Frenchman’s point of view, for it must be remembered that to the great body of people in that country life is more pleasant than to the rest of humanity. Indeed, on this point Mr. Sept. Berdmore declares that in France dishes are cooked by the humblest which would be appreciated if they appeared on the menu of the best club in London, and he avows, moreover, it possesses the greatest national school of cookery that has ever existed. But, on the contrary, as far as Australia is concerned, the state of affairs in the culinary art with the bulk of the people is simply deplorable, and it seems. well nigh hopeless for any improvement to be brought about. There is, however, one little ray of light at the end of this dark tunnel we are in, and it is the knowledge that the cookery classes in the public schools will by-and-by bring about important changes, resulting in the amelioration of the whole of the culinary habits at present, curiously, supposed to exist. And it is gratifying to know that the admirable cookery classes at the Technical College, under the able guidance of Mrs. Wicken, are making the most excellent progress and producing brilliant results.

These altruistic reflections, however, have somewhat drifted us away from the matter under consideration, so that it becomes necessary to revert again to the main subject. Now, even at the risk of being regarded as wearisome, I propose to consider somewhat fully the different steps to be followed in the preparation of a simple salad, for it will be noticed that in all the cookery books the directions given for the concoction of a salad are most meagre and wanting in detail. In addition to this want of information, too, it is quite evident that the instructions have never been actually followed by the compilers of these works themselves, or they would signally fail if they attempted to follow their own advice. Furthermore, even those who pride themselves on the knowledge of the preparation of food for the table are often surprisingly misinformed on the subject of salad-making. It will be as well at this stage, consequently, to refer to the plan usually followed by English people, so as the better to contrast the two methods — the faulty or English with the correct or French. Well then, English people almost invariably cut their lettuce first into halves, and next into quarters. These latter are then placed in water to soak for some time, and are afterwards laid on a plate to drain. In this way the leaves are supposed to be thoroughly cleansed, but as a matter of fact deep down between the leaves are the minute insects, which are left undisturbed. The next proceeding is to cut the leaves into very fine shreds, to add a few slices of hard-boiled egg, and finally to pour over the whole a mysterious mixture known as salad-dressing. Thus is produced the orthodox English salad, which everyone, probably from patriotic motives, pronounces to be extremely nice. In the French preparation of a salad, however, each single leaf is detached and carefully cleansed, some needing simply wiping, while others require absolute washing. Every leaf, be it borne in mind, before going into the salad bowl must be perfectly dry, or else the first great principle of salad making will be infringed, for oil and water refuse to mingle. In preparing a French salad, too, the stalks or coarse ribs are removed from the middle part of each leaf, and the larger leaves also are carefully divided into halves. The whole leaf is not chopped up into shreds, as in the English salad. After this the drying of the leaves is best accomplished by placing them within a clean towel. Instead of the towel a wire basket, panier a salade, is more convenient and is generally used in France; it should be easily obtainable for a shilling or two. In using the towel the four corners are held together in the right hand, and the whole is repeatedly brought sharply round with a swing of the arm, stopping with a sudden jerk, till all the water is driven off 011 the floor. Herein consists the excellence of the French method, for the leaves are thoroughly cleansed, the acrid parts are removed, and the leaves are perfectly dry. On a small plate, near by, are usually three or four heaps of finely-chopped herbs (FINES HERBES), namely, burnet, chervil, chives, tarragon, mustard and cress, or even parsley; these constitute what is known as “the fourniture” of the salad. The lettuce leaves, on being taken out of the towel, are then placed within the bowl, and over them is daintily spread whatever is required from each of the little heaps of herbs already referred to. A little salt is next to be quietly tapped over the salad, and the spoon salad-server is then filled once or twice with the best salad-oil, and this is now sprinkled on the salad, carefully turning the leaves over the while so as to obtain the thinnest possible film of oil equally distributed over the whole surface of each leaf. The salad spoon is next half-filled with the best vinegar, and the latter liquid is now most carefully added, only a drop or so at a time, so as to diffuse it uniformly throughout the whole. The thorough incorporation of the oil, but more particularly of the vinegar, with the salad requires to be done with a light hand to avoid bruising the leaves, and consists in stirring it and dexterously bringing up the under leaves.

This comparison, however, between the methods of preparing salads according to the English and the French fashion is not quite complete, and consequently it will be advisable to refer to one or two other matters, of which it is necessary to be apprised in order to produce a perfect salad. In the first place, the form of the salad bowl itself is very important, for it will readily be apparent that it must be of such a shape as to facilitate the complete blending of the oil and vinegar with the materials used. That which is nearest to half a perfect sphere is by far the best; and another essential is that it should be of sufficient size to afford room for free manipulation. On looking in the windows orle is fairly astonished at the diversity of shapes that are exposed for sale. In most of them the floor of the bowl is flat, with a sort of recess all round its margin. This, of course, is most ill-adapted for the purpose for which it is intended. Nearly all of them, again, are by far too small; it is impossible to mix a salad properly in a vessel very little larger than a soup plate. So that in the selection of a salad bowl see that it is the nearest approach to half a perfect sphere in shape, and take care that it is roomy enough for freely working the salad. Lastly, do not waste money on the meretricious ornamental world which besets so many of the bowls exposed for sale. A very good substitute can be made in the ordinary large earthenware basin used in the kitchen, the deeper the better, which will be found to answer every purpose, and its cost brings it within the reach of every purse. Next, with regard to the servers, these are usually supplied with the bowl, but wooden servers are considered by many to be the best, and price is certainly no drawback. The oil, too, must be the purest you can buy, and Crosse and Blackwell’s is as good as any; at least, I do not know of a better oil at present, as it is sweet and without the slightest suspicion of rankness. So, too, with regard to vinegar: pay a little more for a good article, and you will have no cause to regret it. The best French, or Crosse and Blackwell’s white wine vinegar, is good enough for anybody. You will find that the oil and the vinegar will last a long time, and that the cost of making a salad is actually the veriest trifle. In making a plain lettuce salad such as has been described, you will, of course, have to do without the chopped herbs, because, unfortunately, we in Australia have not risen to the necessity for their cultivation, but you can make shift with small pieces of celery, which taste admirably in the salad, or little bits of radish, or thin slices of cucumber — whatever, in fact, happens to be in season.

There is a remarkable condition of affairs obtaining in Sydney, and the same applies to the other metropolitan centres of Australia. On turning up our directory for the current year it will be found on reference that the number of butchers for the city and suburbs is nearly 600. On the other hand, the number of those whose calling is given as that of greengrocer does not reach 300. Now, it is not to be denied that a goodly proportion of vegetables are sold by dealers whose address is not to be found under the latter heading. Nevertheless, it is still a significant fact that while many of the butchers’ establishments possess quite an attractive and inviting appearance, on the contrary those devoted to the sale of greengrocery are represented by dingy-looking places, and by a collection of faded vegetables which seem always to be apologising for being on view at all. The show of meat which is to be found in our Australian capitals is certainly worthy city in the world, and if the display of vegetables were only equal to it, as it assuredly should be, there would be at least something on which we might congratulate ourselves.

Another fact which is equally to be deplored with this small display of vegetables seen throughout the city is the few varieties which are cultivated. In a former chapter attention was drawn to the nutritious properties and exquisite flavour of many vegetables which are easily grown, but which are most unaccountably passed over, and it will be remembered that the tomato was instanced in particular as having a desperate struggle for existence, and that it was years and years before it was finally received into favour. Similarly in the case of salad plants there is the same matter for complaint, and beyond the ordinary cabbage lettuce, celery, cucumbers, and radishes, there is nothing grown. And yet there ought to be inducement enough for many of our young men to devote themselves to such a healthy occupation as market gardening, with profit to themselves and with benefit to the community. The market gardens around Paris, although small, are cultivated to perfection. The French market gardeners, moreover, are, as a rule, a very prosperous class; they keep to themselves, and marry among themselves. On making inquiries from the leading seedsmen throughout Australia, and asking what varieties of salad plants are mostly in vogue, you find that the cabbage lettuce is almost the sole representative. And thus it is that in the very climate where the system calls for salads, so to speak, there is absolutely no attempt made to supply a crying want. A brief reference to a few of these salad plants will better illustrate the importance of their culture. Here, as with the different vegetables, I applied to headquarters for information, namely, to Mr. F. Turnen, of the Department of Agriculture, Sydney, who once more came to my assistance and courteously indicated the localities in which they are likely to do well. And it only seems fitting and appropriate here to remark that Australia’s road to prosperity lies through her agriculture; the hydro-cephalic growth visible in every colony is unnatural and needs rectification.

Lettuce. —— Of this there are two varieties, the ordinary cabbage lettuce and the cos, so named from the Island of Cos in the Aegean Sea, which is also known as the upright, or smooth-leaved lettuce. Although this latter is to be obtained, yet in nine cases out of ten only the cabbage lettuce is procurable. But, as a matter of fact, the upright or smooth-leaved cos lettuce is of a more delicate flavour, and when grown properly by having the leaves loosely tied together at the top about ten days before cutting, it is more crisp and juicy, and better adapted for saladings. In the old country, too, the cos variety, with its long leaves, is common enough, and is there preferred to the cabbage lettuce. It is to be regretted, therefore, that we see so little of it.

Endive. — Now, here is a noble salad plant of which even the very name is hardly known by the greater number of our people. There are practically two classes of endive, the broad-leaved or Batavian variety, and the curly-leaved endive. Both sorts, however, must be well blanched if perfection is required. It is true that the curly-leaved endive is at times to be obtained here, but it is extensively cultivated in England, as it is very crisp and tender, while it also possesses a piquancy which is greatly appreciated. Nevertheless, the plain or Batavian kind (the ESCAROLE of the French) has also its admirers, particularly for salad purposes. Now, it is to be carefully noted that the accompaniments, or “fourniture,” of these two varieties of endive are vastly different. With the Batavian it usually is formed of chervil, tarragon, and that delicate alliaceous salad herb, chives. On the other hand, a chapon is used with the curly endive; it consists of a crust of bread over which a clove of garlic has been rubbed. This is thrown into the bowl and tossed about during the process of mixing the salad, and gives to it a delightful effect. In addition to its use as a salad, the curly-leaved endive makes a particularly good garnish for grills, such as chops, steaks, &c.; and, by the way, Sir Henry Thompson, the eminent surgeon, remarks that the sauce PAR EXCELLENCE for grills is mushroom ketchup. But before leaving the endive it is as well to refer to a blood relation, namely, the wild endive or chicory. When its large, fleshy roots are dried in a kiln, roasted and ground, they become familiarly known by their admixture with coffee. This plant, the succory of former days, is greatly esteemed by the French, by whom it is known as barbe de capucin. To meet the great demand for it large quantities are sold in the neighbourhood of Paris in order to produce this salading. Its young leaves are used for this purpose, but they must be thoroughly blanched so as to take away every particle of bitterness.

Corn Salad. — This hardy annual salad plant is believed to derive its name from the fact that it grows spontaneously in the grain-fields. It is also known as lamb’s lettuce, and in America as fetticus. Here is an example of a once well-known plant dropping out of use, for one of the earliest-known salads was this same corn salad, on which was laid a red herring. But now-a-days it is called MACHE in Covent Garden Market, where it has been sent over from France. This lamb’s lettuce is greatly appreciated on the Continent, and makes one of the best of salads, especially when mixed with celery. As it can be easily grown in all the coastal districts and in the cooler parts of Australia, it is certainly a matter for regret that we are not favoured with it.

In addition to the preceding, namely, the cos lettuce, the two varieties of endive, the chicory, and the corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce, there are one or two other salad plants which require a brief notice. Now, as far as celery and radishes are concerned, we may be said to be fairly well off; but the same is not the case with mustard, with garden cress, or even with watercress. The latter is to be obtained from John Chinaman, it is true; but it is curious that in Australia we see none of the watercress vendors so familiar in the streets of the old country.. Yet there is really a good living to be made out of it, and its use would prove of benefit to hundreds of families, as with a little salt it makes an exquisite sandwich between two thin pieces of bread-and-butter. A wise physician, Dr. T.K. Chambers, uttered a great truth when he remarked that the pale faces and bad teeth which characterised many of the inhabitants of cities were due to their inability to obtain a proper supply of fresh green vegetables, and that thus the watercress-seller was one of the saviours of her country. So great is the demand for watercress in New York when it first comes in that the prices range from 2s. to 4s. for a basket holding only three quarts. At this rate an acre of watercress under cultivation would represent almost a fortune. Of course all watercress should be thoroughly washed and then dried in a towel, like the lettuce for the salad, before it is eaten. Lastly, it must never be used from a source where any sewage contamination is suspected.

Now, although these different forms of salad plants are not cultivated to any considerable extent, yet when we come to inquire into the salad herbs, we find that they are not grown at all, and indeed they are practically unknown. They constitute, however, the crowning grace of a proper salad, and confer upon it a delicacy which is unrivalled, and thus it is that any traveller will tell you that a salad in France tastes so infinitely better than one elsewhere. Now, these salad herbs are readily grown, and do not require any care in their cultivation, so that there is no opportunity for excuse on that score. In order, however, to prevent this paper becoming too diffuse, I must confine my remarks to those salad herbs which it is almost impossible to do without — that is, if we wish to have any salads worth speaking of. It will be convenient, for this purpose, to refer to the word “ravigote”; and by this term is meant a collection of four herbs, namely — burnet, chervil, chives, and tarragon. As has been already mentioned, each of these herbs, chopped up very finely, is usually placed in a little heap by itself on the one plate, and from these four heaps is selected whatever is required for the salad. This invariably forms the garniture of any lettuce salad, whether cabbage or cos, and also of the Batavian endive, though, as we have already seen, the curly endive is best suited with the chapon — i.e., the crust of bread rubbed over with a garlic clove. The very derivation of the word “ravigote,” from the French verb RAVIGOTER, to cheer or strengthen, shows that certain exhilarating virtues are ascribed to these herbs.

Burnet. — This is also known as salad burnet, and is a hardy herb, which will continue green during the greater part of the year. The young and tender leaves possess a smell and taste almost identical with cucumber, and greatly enhance the flavour of the salad. These leaves, when blanched, are sprinkled over the latter; but in addition burnet enters into the composition of ravigote butter, and helps to form green mayonnaise. It hardly requires any culture whatever, and will do well in the coastal districts and in all the cooler localities. With all these advantages, therefore, we can only marvel why it is denied us.

Chervil. — Of the two varieties which are cultivated elsewhere than in Australia — namely, the common chervil and the curled variety — the latter is generally considered the better. It grows about twenty inches high, and has deeply divided leaves, which are aromatic, and which are thus absolutely a necessary component of any well-ordered salad. The plant will grow everywhere, and, as it is never seen, it is only one instance out of the many which might be adduced, that much is neglected in Australian cultivation which would be of advantage to the whole community.

Chives. — This is the most delicate of all the onion family; it occupies the one end of the scale, while garlic presides at the other; and midway between these we find the spring onion, the shallot, and the onion itself. It is a delightful salad herb which is too much neglected, and it is worthily entitled to cultivation in Australia. It gives to the salad a piquancy and an agreeable pungent flavour, which, while it faintly recalls that of the onion, is yet free from the accentuated properties of the latter. In addition to lending such an enhancement to salads, chives may be used for soups. The plant itself is a hardy bulb, growing to a height of about eight inches, and it is the tender tops which are used for saladings. It can be easily propagated, and will grow readily in all the cooler districts.

Tarragon. — This used popularly to be known in the old country as “herb dragon,” whereas it is now vested with the newer title. It is frequently to be found there is the country gardens, where it is in repute for the preparation of tarragon vinegar. It, however, occupies a position second to none as a salad accessory. It is one of the most odoriferous of the pot herbs, and gives to a salad a delightful aromatic warmth. At present all that one can do in the concoction of a salad is to make use of the tarragon vinegar, which is so admirably put up by Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell. Those who are fortunate enough to possess the plant itself should keep the leaves, as when dried they retain their flavour for some time. It is recommended, however, that the young plants should be propagated each year by division of the roots, as the plants of the first and second years are more delicate than those of older growth. It can easily be grown over the greater part of Australia, but I am not going to say more than that we are needlessly bereft of what we might enjoy.

In drawing attention to any matter connected with the subject of this chapter, a brief reference to mayonnaise sauce must necessarily find a place. This may be used with all endless variety of salads, but it is particularly concerned in the preparation of chicken, and also of crayfish salad. On looking through the cookery-books one gets perfectly bewildered with the different directions laid down by the various authors. This mayonnaise sauce, however, is so very important that it becomes an absolute necessity to know the successive steps in its preparation, for, though easily made, yet there is a right and a wrong way of going about it. Through the kindly offices of that accomplished aristologist, Dr. A. Burne, I was enabled to have some practical instruction in making mayonnaise sauce at the hands of the CHEF of the Cosmopolitan Club, and I will endeavour, therefore, to give an account of how he went to work.

The bowl he employed to mix it was about 9 in. across at the top, and its floor was rounded in shape, just as a salad bowl should be, to facilitate the thorough incorporation of the ingredients. Then, taking a couple of eggs, he broke each one by knocking its side midway between the two ends against the rim of the bowl. The greater part of the white of the egg was allowed to escape into a small vessel next the bowl, as it is not required for the mayonnaise, but comes in handy for other culinary purposes. He now, with the yolk in one half of the shell, poured away all the white remaining in the other half. Next he dexterously turned the yolk into this latter emptied shell and then got rid of the white left in the half previously occupied by the yolk. One egg was thus served in this way, and then the other, and the two yolks were slipped into the bowl and broken up with a few stirs of the egg-whisk. This latter is readily purchased from any ironmonger for the modest sum of one shilling. The next proceeding was a wrinkle which is worth knowing, and it consisted of placing, within the bowl about a salt-spoonful of the ordinary dry mustard. This was well beaten up in a second or two. About a tablespoonful of good vinegar was next added, the whisk going vigorously to work, and thus blending well together egg yolk, dry mustard, and vinegar. At this stage occurred a sort of halt or breathing time in the manipulation, as the chief peculiarity of the mayonnaise now began. The CHEF, with his left hand, managed to tilt up the salad bowl and to hold a bottle of salad oil at the same time. The latter being inverted, he kept it over the contents of the bowl in such a way as to allow only a drop or so of the oil to escape at a time. Drip, drip, drip, went the oil, and as his right hand kept unceasingly plying the mixture with the whisk I could not help noticing what a fine wristy action he had. Almost directly as the oil touched it the mayonnaise began to thicken, to swell, and to change in colour. The remorseless whisk almost seemed to lash it into foam, and now the oil came faster and faster till the amber-looking sauce was ready, and all this within the space of at most two or three minutes. I suppose he must have used quite a teacupful of olive oil. Only one thing more: after stirring in a sufficient quantity of pepper and salt, the CHEF desired me to taste the result, and as I did so I read the triumph in his eye — it was superb.

It has been my aim, indeed my only aim, all through this chapter, to bring into prominence the important fact that the salad is a dish which is at once within the reach of every family, and moreover that it is one which is fairly a necessity in our semi-tropical climate. For these very reasons, consequently, I have endeavoured to give the fullest directions for the mixing of a simple salad. But it may be that after becoming thoroughly expert at making this latter, and being flushed with success, the aspirant for saladic honours will be desirous of a more ambitious essay. Some instructions for the famous herring salad have therefore been added, and it can be reserved for high days and holidays, or as a lordly dish wherewith to entertain a much-esteemed guest. It is slightly altered from a valuable recipe given to me by my very good friend Mr. Ludwig Bruck, and is made as follows:— Two salt Dutch herrings are to be obtained. These are imported in casks, and when purchased have a somewhat pronounced odour, which is removed by the soaking. If milt herrings are used, the milt should be moistened with a little vinegar and rubbed up into a paste, and this should be kept to pour over the salad just before the dressing is added. If roe herrings are bought, the roe should be soaked in vinegar for a few minutes, the eggs then separated and kept for sprinkling over the salad similarly to the preceding. The herring heads and tails are to be removed and discarded; the bodies should be gutted, skinned, and washed, and then they must be soaked in water or milk for three hours — the latter enhancing the flavour greatly. After the soaking the bones should be removed and the flesh cut into small dice-like cubical pieces, and the latter are then set aside in a basin. The next thing is to peel and core two sourish apples, and then to cut them up into small cubes like the herrings. To the apples should DOW be added two pickled gherkins, and, if you like, some boiled beetroot and a few capers, and these — excepting, of course, the capers — should be divided into the same small pieces. If you wish to have the real herring salad, a quarter of a pound of cold roast veal, also in small pieces, will likewise be required. Whatever you may choose to use of these is now to be well mixed together while the next direction is attended to. It is only fair to note here that Mr. Lang, formerly of the German Club, who prepares the best herring salads in Sydney, always adds a little cold roast beef, cold ham, and boiled ox tongue. While all this is being prepared two potatoes should be boiled with their jackets on. They should then be immediately peeled and cut up into small pieces like the other ingredients. While now hot the potato is added to the preceding, and everything is thoroughly mixed together; it is necessary to use the potato warm, for if cold it would set hard. The methods of using the milt or the roe of the herring have already been respectively indicated, and after this matter has been attended to, all that is now needful to complete the herring salad is to pour over it some mayonnaise sauce, the preparation of which has been previously described.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58