Saturday, April 30, 2011

1827 On Going to Market to buy Meat, Poultry, & Fish

Robert Roberts 1777-1860
The House Servant's Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants' Work Boston. Munroe and Francis; New York: Charles S. Francis, 1827.

This book is an American milestone. It is the first book of any kind written by an African American to have been published in the United States by a major publisher. It was first published in Boston in 1827, and had two additional printings, one in 1828 and another in 1843.

On Going to Market

I shall merely set down some of the principal means of judging of the freshness or goodness of provisions, in the choice of poultry, &c. Beef, veal, pork, mutton, and vegetables, you all are generally competent of purchasing.


In a fore-quarter of lamb mind the neck vein; if it be an azure blue, it is new and good; but if green or yellow, it is near tainting if not tainted already. In the hind quarter, smell under the kidney, and try the knuckle; if you meet with a faint scent, and the knuckle be limber, it is stale killed. For a lamb's head, mind the eyes; if sunk or wrinkled, it is stale; if plump and lively, it is new and sweet.


If the bloody vein in the shoulder looks blue, or of a bright red, it is new killed; but if black, green, or yellow, it is flabby and stale; if wrapped in wet cloths, smell whether it be musty or not. For the loin first taints under the kidney; and the flesh, if stale killed, will be soft and slimy.

The breast and neck taints first at the upper end, and you will perceive a dusky, yellow, or green appearance; and the sweetbread on the breast will be clammy, otherwise it is fresh and good. The leg is known to be new by the stiffness of the joint; if limber and the flesh seems clammy, and has green or yellow specks, it is stale. The head is known as the lamb's.

The flesh of a bull-calf is more red and firm than that of a cow-calf, and the fat more hard curdled.


If it be young, the flesh will pinch tender; if old, it will wrinkle and remain so; if young, the fat will easily part from the lean; if old, it will stick by strings and skins: if ram-mutton, the fat feels spongy, the flesh close-grained and tough, not rising again when dented; if ewe-mutton, the flesh is paler than wether-mutton, a close grain and easily parting. If there be a rot, the flesh will be pale, and the fat a faint white inclining to yellow, and the flesh will be loose at the bone. If you squeeze it hard, some drops of water will stand up like sweat. As to the newness and staleness, the same is to be observed as in lamb.


If it be right ox beef, it will have an open grain; if young, a tender and oily smoothness; if rough and spongy, it is old, or inclined to be so, except the neck, brisket, and such parts as are very fibrous, which in young meat will be more rough than other parts.

A carnation, pleasant colour, betokens good meat: the suet a curious white; yellow is not good. Cow-beef is less bound and closer grained than ox, the fat whiter, but the lean somewhat paler; if young, the dent made with the finger will rise again in a little time.

Bull-beef is close grained, deep dusky red, tough in pinching, the fat skinny, hard, and has a rammish rank smell; and for newness, and staleness, this flesh brought fresh has but few signs, the more material is its clamminess, and the rest your smell will inform you. If it be bruised, these places will look more dusky or blacker than the rest.


If young, the lean will break in pinching between the fingers; and if you nip the skin with your nails, it will make a dent; also if the fat be soft and pulpy, like lard; if the lean be tough, and the fat flabby and spongy, feeling rough, it is old, especially if the rind be stubborn, and you cannot nip it with your nails.

If a boar, though young, or a hog gelded at full growth, the flesh will be hard, tough, red, and rammish of smell; the fat skinny and hard; the skin thick and rough, and pinched up, will immediately fall again.

As for old or new killed, try the legs, hands, and springs, by putting the finger under the bone that comes out; if it be tainted, you will there find it by smelling the finger; besides the skin will be sweaty and clammy when stale, but cool and smooth when new.

If you find little kernels in the fat of the pork, like hail-shot, it is measly, and dangerous to be eaten.


Brawn is known to be old or young by the extraordinary or moderate thickness of the rind; the thick is old, moderate young. If the rind and fat be tender, it is not boar brawn but barrow or sow.


Try the haunches or shoulders under the bones that come out with your finger or knife, and as the scent is sweet or rank, it is new or stale; and the like of the sides in the fleshy parts; if tainted, they will look green in some places, or more than ordinary black. Look on the hoofs, and if the clefts are very wide and rough, it is old; if close and smooth it is young.


Put a knife under the bone that sticks out of the ham, and if it comes out in a manner clean, and has a curious flavour, it is sweet; if much smeared and dulled, it is tainted or rusted.

Gammons are tried the same way, and for other parts, try the fat; if it be white, oily in feeling, does not break or crumb, it is good; but if the contrary, and the lean has the little streaks of yellow, it is rusty, or will soon be so.


Hare will be white and stiff, if new and clean killed: if stale, the flesh black in most parts, and the body limber: if the cleft in her lips spread much, and her claws wide and ragged, she is old; the contrary young; if young, the ears will tare like brown paper; if old, dry and tough. To know a true leveret, feel on the fore-leg, near the foot, and if there is a small bone or knob, it is right; if not it is a hare; for the rest observe as in a hare. A rabbit, if stale, will be limber and slimy; if new, white and stiff; if old, her claws are long and rough, the wool mottled with grey hairs; if young, claws and wool smooth.


When you buy butter, trust not to that which will be given you, but try in the middle, and if your smell and taste be good, you cannot be deceived.


Cheese is to be chosen by its moist and smooth coat; if old cheese be rough coated, rugged, or dry at top, beware of little worms or mites; if it be over full of holes, moist or spongy, it is subject to mites, if soft or perished places appear on the outside, try how deep it goes, the greater part may be hid.


Hold the great end to your tongue; if it feels warm it is new; if cold, bad; and so in proportion to the heat or cold, is the goodness of the egg. Another way to know, is to put the egg in a pan of cold water, the fresher the egg, the sooner it will fall to the bottom; if rotten, it will swim at the top. This is a sure way not to be deceived. Sound eggs may be also known by holding them between the eye and a lighted candle, or the sun. As to the keeping of them, pitch them all with the small end downwards in fine wood ashes, turning them once a week end-ways, and they will keep some months.



If it be young, his spurs are short, and his legs smooth: if a true capon, a fat vein on the side of his breast, the comb pale, and a thick belly and rump: if new, he will have a hard close vent; if stale, a loose open vent.


If the cock be young, his legs will be black and smooth, and his spurs short; if stale, his eyes will be sunk in his head, and the feet dry; if new, the eyes lively, and feet limber. Observe the like by the hens; and moreover, if she be with egg, she will have a soft open vent; if not, a hard close vent. Turkey poults are known the same, their age cannot deceive you.

COCK, HEN, & etc
If young, his spurs are short and dubbed; but take particular notice they are not pared or scraped: if old, he will have an open vent; but if new, a close hard vent. And so of a hen for newness or staleness; if old, her legs and comb are rough; if young, smooth.


If the bill be yellow, and she has but a few hairs, she is young, but if full of hairs, and the bill and foot red, she is old; if new, limber-footed; if stale, dry-footed. And so of a wild bran goose.


The duck, when fat, is hard and thick on the belly; if not, thin and lean; if new, limber-footed; if stale, dry-footed. A true wild duck has a red foot, smaller than the tame one.


The bill white, and the legs blue, show age; for if young, the bill is black, and the legs yellow; if new, a fast vent; if stale, a green and open one. If full crops, and they have fed on green food, they may taint there; for this, smell the mouth.


The woodcock, if fat, is thick and hard; if new, limber-footed; when stale, dry-footed; or if their noses are slimy, and their throats muddy and moorish, they are not good. A snipe, if fat, has a fat vein on the side under the wing, and in the vent feels thick. For the rest, like the woodcock.


To know the turtle-dove, look for a blue ring round his neck, and the rest mostly white.

The pigeon is bigger; and the ring-dove is less than the pigeon. The dove-house pigeons, when old, are red-legged; if new and fat, they will feel full and fat in the vent, and are limber-footed; but if stale, a flabby and green vent.

So the green or grey plover, fieldfare, blackbird, thrush, larks, & etc

See The Historic American Cookbook Project: Feeding America.