The herbs chiefly of interest to our readers are to be found widely spread throughout Southern Europe and Northern Africa; many of them are indigenous to this country, but for purposes of commerce are not sufficiently plentiful in the wild state, and too costly in cultivation, to compete with the foreign grown produce. The neighbourhood of Nimes-Grasse, and indeed the whole of Southern Provence is rich in all kinds of aromatic herbs; and travellers tell us that the wild tracks of desert in Northern Africa are perfumed by the aroma of lavendar, rosemary, and thyme, and every kind of sweet smelling flower, which grows in such profusion in Morocco and Algeria, the smell of which is borne by the wind for miles across the desert. For commercial purposes the culinary herbs are chiefly used "rubbed,"i.e., the fresh plants cut just before they
bloom, are first dried artifically or in the sun, and afterwards rubbed by hand to separate from stalks. Merchants tell us that owing to facility for adulteration, great discrimination and knowledge of markets is needed to protect themselves in their purchases.
The following are the herbs most commonly met with :—
Basil.—Thought to have come originally from the East and much valued for its sweet perfume. It derives its name from a Greek word designating "royal,"and points to the probability of its high esteem by the ancients who named it, to signify its worthiness to be used by kings. It is said to have entered into the perfumed baths and ointments so much appreciated in ancient days.
Celery Seed.—Although commercially known as "seed," is really a fruit obtained from a biennial plant largely cultivated for trade in Provence and of late years in the United States. It is allied botanically to parsley, belonging to the order of Umbels. It is found wild in England in ditches and meadowlands, but in this state is unpleasantly acrid in taste and somewhat poisonous. Under cultivation it develops tuberous roots which are eaten as food. The "celery" in so much favour in England with dessert is the stalks of the same plant artifically bleached by excluding the
light with heaped up earth.
Bay Leaves.—The leaves of the Lauras Nobilis, the Noble Laurel, or Sweet Bay. It is the Classic Laurel used by the ancients to crown their heroes and called therefrom "the Victor's Laurel."It is probably the ezrack or green bay of Holy writ. The plant contains a strong volatile oil
and also a fixed fatty oil, the latter being extracted chiefly from the fruit or bay berry. The leaves are much esteemed by cooks for their aromatic properties.
Marjoram. -In the wild state this favourite cooking herb is to be found throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is perennial in growth and contains a large amount of essential oil, much esteemed for its use as an external stimulant in veterinary medicine. For domestic purposes,
the plant is cultivated (chiefly in Provence), and imported to this country, either in bunches or else rubbed off the stalks. It is also now largely cultivated in America.
Mint.—This name, of Greek origin, is used to designate a very large number of species indigenous to the Northern temperate regions. The three following, interest us most:—
1. Peppermint largely cultivated in England for the essential oil, especially at Mitcham in Surrey;
2. Spearmint, sweet or garden mint, so much appreciated in our kitchens;
3. Pennyroyal which is less known in cooking, but is none the less employed largely in flavouring manufactured meats, and is considered a great aid to digestion. Medicinally it was formerly much used and is even now appreciated as an emmenagogue. The mints are perennial plants and belong to the order labiatoe, the charactistics of which are lip-shaped flowers. In most cases this group has reservoirs of essential oils.
Parsley.—This, like celery, belongs to the largely distributed umbel bearing order (so called from the shape of the flower). The parsley plant is very extensively cultivated for cooking purposes, and the so-called curled parsley is especially sought after for culinary decoration. A large market garden trade is done in it throughout England. Parsley in the rubbed state is chiefly imported from Northern Central Europe, a certain degree of cold being required to bring the colour and flavour to perfection. The parsley plant is analogous to the fennel, caraway, parsnip, chevril, and other excellent umbels.
Rosemary.—Another of the lip-shaped flower group, and allied to the minis, is a stiff bushy plant very widely distributed throughout Europe. It is largely cultivated round about Narbonne, where the air is laden with its perfume. The Narbonne honey derives its special flavour from being drawn from the rosemary flowers. The chief use in commerce for rosemary is in the perfumery and hairdressing trade. Medicinally it is a strong nerve stimulant, and was esteemed by the ancient Cirecks and Romans for its reputation as a strengthener of the memory. In food it is
employed for flavouring certain made up meats.
Sage.—This is perhaps the most widely known of cooking herbs, and forms a staple market garden industry in England. For commercial purposes it is imported extensively from Austria, Hungary, and Northern Italy where it grows wild in great profusion. It used to be much taken as a medicine in the form of tea, and in country districts is still esteemed as a cure for sore throats. A variety known as red sage is specially rich in astringent properties, and is sold by herbalists as a throat remedy.
Savory.—This is a common herb in our kitchen and is of two kinds, the garden or summer savory, an annual plant, and the mountain or winter savory of heavier growth. In certain countries savory is esteemed as a remedy in intermittent fever. Botanically it belongs to the lip-shaped group, and is imported from the Mediterranean district.
Thyme—In culinary art there are two kinds of thyme employed, the common garden thyme and the wild or lemon thyme. Indigenous to Southern Europe, it is also cultivated in America and the East. It yields an essential oil known as oil of thyme, of similar uses to oil of origanum, for which it is frequently substituted. Its oil is not used much outside veterinary medicine, but is considered to be, in
addition to a strong local stimulant, an excellent disinfectant. Thymol obtained from the oil is used for surgical dressings in the same way as carbolic acid. In the middle ages the art of healing and the knowledge of plants was almost entirely confined to the church, and we have a remnant of this in the liqueurs known as chartreuse and benedictine, the former of which is still made from a secret receipt held by the monks of the Grande Chartreuse or Carthusians, and which is distilled from a number of aromatic herbs. Benedictine liqueur, now in the hands of a company, had a similar origin in the benedictine order.
Cumberland Bacon.—In Cumberland, they simply lay down a body of salt on a clean stone floor and lay the sides, etc., in it, and throw more on top and lay the hams so that the thin end is downwards: it is mainly salt though they use about 1 lb. of saltpetre to each pig. The meat is turned three times within the first week and then left quiet in the salt for another fortnight, after which, it is lifted, washed, hung up, and ready for sale then or anytime thereafter. At home in a small way where a poor man cures his own pig that he has fed himself, he bestows more cure upon it, rubbing the pickle carefully in, etc. But there is more in the feeding than in the cure.
Curing Hams.—The general conditions under which hams may be successfully cured may be stated as follows: —
1. The fresh hams should be chilled to a uniform tempera-
ture of 38° Fahr.
2. The curing cellar should have a constant temperature varying between 40° and 42° and should be humid.
Primarily it may be stated that there is some disadvantage in collecting hams at a distance from the curing factory, inasmuch as in warm weather there may be some of these of high temperature and predisposed to taint. That difficulty may be minimised by instructing the consigners of the hams to press out the excess of blood from the blood vein, and to dust the hams over with food preservative (dry antiseptic).
When the hams are received they should all be pressed to see if any excess of blood remains in the blood vein. If there is any pressed out, it should be wiped off with a damp cloth, which has been soaked in a solution of 1 lb. Dry antiseptic and 1 gallon of water.
The hams should be hung up in a chill room where there is a constant circulation of dry air, and the temperature of the room should not be allowed to exceed 38° Fahr. The time which the hams are allowed to hang in the chill room must be regulated by means of the meat testing pocket thermometer. This little instrument is pressed into the ham and the temperature read off.
As soon as the hams are sufficiently chilled, they are nicely trimmed and shot down into the cellar, never getting into the outer atmosphere again until they issue cured. The hams are at once plunged into a pickle formed as
follows : —
Recipe for purging pickle for Hams.
Take the following quantities—
55 lbs. salt,
5 lbs.dry antiseptic,
5 lbs.pure cane sugar,
and add suffiicent water to make a total bulk of twenty gallons. Stir all together and wait till all is dissolved. Allow to settle, and when clear, decant off the liquor into pickle tanks in cellar. Another way of treating this liquor so as to clarify it is to boil it till clear.
The liquor, however made, is run into the pickle tanks which are made of a convenient size and placed in the cellar. The pickle should be allowed to remain there until on the floating thermometer it registers 40° to 42° F. The density should be about 100° on salinometer.
Plunge the hams into this pickle, and keep them down beneath the surface by means of a hard wood grating on which stones or weights are placed. Take the hams out the following day after they have been put in, and squeeze them so as to rid the blood vein of final traces of blood.
Immediately then, lay the hams on cellar floor or on slate or flag stone shelving, which may be also used in cellar. Put a bank of salt about four inches high along the line where hams are to be laid, and place the thick end of ham rind downwards, on this bank pointing the shanks down-
wards. The shanks should touch the floor. The hams should be laid down symmetrically all in line and with the shanks at equal distances apart and pointing diagonally to the bank of salt.
When one line is complete, lay a long lathe of hard wood on shanks, and fill the spaces with salt, then proceed as before. This process is carried out until each day's hams are laid down. Each day's hams should be kept separate in a square or section by themselves, and a lane provided
between them and other day's hams. A tally bearing date and other particulars should be placed on each section. When the hams are being laid down in the way described, each line should be salted in the following manner:—
Prepare an equal mixture of dry antiseptic and granulated saltpetre, and sprinkle this mixture lightly with a horsehair sieve all over the cut surfaces of the hams. Take an extra pinch of the mixture and press it into the blood vein opening. Now cover the whole over with fine salt—a layer of half-an-inch at least is necessary. This treatment should be followed with each row of hams.
The remainder of the process of curing must be regulated to a large extent by judgment. If the hams are averaging 14 lbs. in weight, they may be taken out of salt in fifteen days from date of putting in. These hams will be mild cured and must be consumed immediately. If, however, keeping hams are wanted, then 14 lb. hams will require twenty-one days for the cure, and many people would keep them thirty days. It depends altogether on the market to be supplied. The old fashioned farm cured York ham would be allowed to remain in salt thirty days if 14 lbs. in weight.
For modern curing it is safe to say that 1 lb. in weight requires one day in salt to cure for hams for immediate comsumption. But where hams are to be kept until they develop a " bloom," then two days per lb. weight is the rule to follow. When the hams are cured they are taken up and washed in lukewarm water and then hung up in a drying room kept at 85" Fahr. to dry. About two to three days will be sufficient length of time required for drying, but this again is a matter of judgment. To make pale-dried hams look white, plunge them for a few seconds in boiling water (212° Fahr.) and then proceed to dry them. If the hams are wanted smoked, then they are hung up in a properly constructed smoke-stove, with the heat capable of being regulated. This regulation is affected by means of steam gilled pipes. The temperature of the smoke-stove should not exceed 90° Fahr. The smoking material may consist of any hardwood sawdust. This is spread over the floor of stove and lighted either in centre or at four corners. In Ireland, peat is frequently used for smoking. It gives a rich flavour much appreciated by connoisseurs. Smoking requires generally about three days. To put the final gloss on smoked hams rub the skin well with a cloth on which there is some vaseline.
Curing Hams—(American Recipe).—Allow the hams to hang for a week or ten days until tender (they should hang as long as possible provided they keep perfectly sweet). Use for each ham, one tea-cupful of salt, one tablespoonful of molasses, one ounce saltpetre.
Lay the hams in a clean dry tub; heat the mixture and rub well into the hams, especially around the bones and recesses. Repeat the process once or twice until the mixture is all used. Let the hams lie two or three days, then put them in brine (strong enough to bear an egg) for four weeks,
after which wash in hot water and dry for twenty-four hours. Smoke from three to five days over a slow fire, being careful not to heat the hams. Hickory wood and sawdust is the best for flavour and colour. If it can not be had, use any other hardwood. Tie up carefully in bags for the summer. Meats that are pretty far gone can often be sweetened by washing several times in clean cold water, and while they are in the last bath throw in several pieces of red hot charcoal; this sweetens them for the time being, but they should be cooked immediately afterwards. Parboiling sometimes freshens up meats if they are not too near spoilt.
Curing Tongues.—The tongues must first of all be cooled before it is attempted to cure them. They should not be put into the pickle for curing if they register on the meat thermometer a higher temperature than 55°. If they are put in at a higher temperature, the possibility is that they
will be tainted. Prepare a pickle of the following constitution :—
55 lbs. salt.
5 lbs. saltpetre.
5 lbs. pure cane sugar.
5 lbs. Douglas's preservative.
Add sufficient water to make the total bulk up to twenty gallons. Boil this solution, stirring it all the time until it is clear; as the scum rises to the surface, remove it. Now put this pickle into an oak pickling tub and keep it nice and clear. Before the tongues are put into the pickle, a long
pump needle should be inserted right down the centre and some of the pickle pumped into the centre of the tongues. To add additional flavour, it is customary to make up for every twenty gallons of pickle, a cotton bag into which has been placed 1 lb. juniper berries, 1 lb. corianders, 1 lb. bay leaves. Let this bag float about on the top of the pickle so that the contents will be extracted. The tongues will be mild cured in seven days. Of course they may be taken out before that time, or if it is an advantage, they will not take very much harm by being kept any longer time in the pickle.