Cookery is the art of preparing food for the nourishment of the body. Prehistoric man may have lived on uncooked foods, but there are no savage races to-day who do not practice cookery in some way, however crude. Progress in civilization has been accompanied by progress in cookery. Much time has been given in the last few years to the study of foods, their necessary proportions, and manner of cooking them. Educators have been shown by scientists that this knowledge should be disseminated; as a result, "Cookery" is found in the curriculum of public schools of many of our towns and cities. Food is cooked to develop new flavors, and make it more palatable and digestible. For cooking there are three essentials (besides the material to be cooked),—heat, air, and moisture.
Heat is molecular motion, and is produced by combustion. Heat used for cookery is obtained by the combustion of inflammable substances—wood, coal, charcoal, coke, gas, gasoline, kerosene, and alcohol—called fuels. Heat for cookery is applied by radiation, conduction, and convection.
Air is composed of oxygen, nitrogen, and argon, and surrounds everything. Combustion cannot take place without it, the oxygen of the air being the only supporter of combustion.
Moisture, in the form of water, either found in the food or added to it.
The combined effect of heat and moisture swells and bursts starch-grains; hardens albumen in eggs, fish, and meat; softens fibrous portions of meat, and cellulose of vegetables. Among fuels, kerosene oil is the cheapest; gas gives the greatest amount of heat in the shortest time. Soft wood, like pine, on account of its coarse fibre, burns quickly; therefore makes the best kindling. Hard wood, like oak and ash, having the fibres closely packed, burns slowly, and is used in addition to pine wood for kindling coal. Where only wood is used as a fuel, it is principally hard wood. Charcoal for fuel is produced by the smothered combustion of wood. It gives an intense, even heat; therefore makes a good broiling fire. Its use for kindling is not infrequent. There are two kinds of coal: Anthracite, or hard coal. Examples: Hard and free-burning White Ash, Shamokin, and Franklin. Nut is any kind of hard coal obtained from screenings. Bituminous, or soft coal. Example: Cannel coal. Coke is the solid product of carbonized coal, and bears the same relation to coal that charcoal bears to wood. Alcohol is employed as fuel when the chafing-dish is used.
Fire for cookery is confined in a stove or range, so that heat may be utilized and regulated. Flame-heat is obtained from kerosene, gas, or alcohol, as used in oil-stoves, gas-stoves or gas-ranges, and chafing-dishes.
Stoves are connected with chimney-flues by means of a stove-pipe, and have dampers to regulate the supply of air and heat, and as an outlet for smoke and gases. The damper below the fire-box is known as the front damper, by means of which the air supply is regulated, thus regulating the heat. The oven is heated by a circulation of hot air. This is accomplished by closing the oven-damper, which is situated near the oven. When this damper is left open, the hot air rushes up the chimney. The damper near the chimney is known as the chimney-damper. When open it gives a free outlet for the escape of smoke and gas. When partially closed, as is usually the case in most ranges, except when the fire is started, it serves as a saver of heat. There is also a check, which, when open, cools the fire and saves heat, but should always be closed except when used for this purpose. Stoves are but seldom used, portable ranges having taken their places.
A portable range is a cooking-stove with one door; it often has an under oven, of use for warming dishes and keeping food hot.
A set range is built in a fireplace. It usually has two ovens, one on each side of the fire-box, or two above it at the back. Set ranges, as they consume so large an amount of fuel, are being replaced by portable ones.
Before starting to build a fire, free the grate from ashes. To do this, put on covers, close front and back dampers, and open oven-damper; turn grate, and ashes will fall into the ash receiver. If these rules are not followed, ashes will fly over the room. Turn grate back into place, remove the covers over fire-box, and cover grate with pieces of paper (twisted in centre and left loose at the ends). Cover paper with small sticks, or pieces of pine wood, being sure that the wood reaches the ends of fire-box, and so arranged that it will admit air. Over pine wood arrange hard wood; then sprinkle with two shovelfuls of coal. Put on covers, open closed dampers, strike a match,—sufficient friction is formed to burn the phosphorus, this in turn lights the sulphur, and the sulphur the wood,—then apply the lighted match under the grate, and you have a fire. Now blacken the stove. Begin at front of range, and work towards the back; as the iron heats, a good polish may be obtained. When the wood is thoroughly kindled, add more coal. A blue flame will soon appear, which is the gas (CO) in the coal burning to carbon deoxide (CO2), when the blue flame changes to a white flame; then the oven-damper should be closed. In a few moments the front damper may be nearly closed, leaving space to admit sufficient oxygen to feed the fire. It is sometimes forgotten that oxygen is necessary to keep a fire burning. As soon as the coal is well ignited, half close the chimney-damper, unless the draft be very poor. Never allow the fire-box to be more than three-fourths filled. When full, the draft is checked, a larger amount of fuel is consumed, and much heat is lost. This is a point that should be impressed on the mind of the cook. Ashes must be removed and sifted daily; pick over and save good coals,—which are known as cinders,—throwing out useless pieces, known as clinkers. If a fire is used constantly during the day, replenish coal frequently, but in small quantities. If for any length of time the fire is not needed, open check, the dampers being closed; when again wanted for use, close check, open front damper, and with a poker rake out ashes from under fire, and wait for fire to burn brightly before adding new coal. Coal when red hot has parted with most of its heat. Some refuse to believe this, and insist upon keeping dampers open until most of the heat has escaped into the chimney.
To keep a fire over night, remove the ashes from under the fire, put on enough coal to fill the box, close the dampers, and lift the back covers enough to admit air. This is better than lifting the covers over the fire-box, and prevents poisonous gases entering the room.