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article number 461
article date 06-30-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Buying and Care of Vegetables and General Groceries, 1881
by Maria Parloa, Principle, School of Cooking, Boston

From the 1881 book, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book and Marketing Guide.

EDITORS NOTE: This article is decorated with drawings from the “Kitchen Furnishing” chapter.


Every good housekeeper will supply her table with a variety of vegetables all the year round. One can hardly think of a vegetable, either fresh or canned, that cannot be had in our markets at any season.

The railroads and steamers connect the climes so closely that one hardly knows whether he is eating fruits and vegetables in or out of season. The provider, however, realizes that it takes a long purse to buy fresh produce at the North while the ground is yet frozen.

Still, there are so many winter vegetables that keep well in the cellar through cold weather that if we did not have the new ones from the South, there would be, nevertheless, a variety from which to choose.

It is late in the spring, when the old vegetables begin to shrink and grow rank, that we appreciate what comes from the South.

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Buying Vegetables.

If one has a good, dry cellar, it is economy to procure in the fall vegetables enough for all winter, but if the cellar is too warm the vegetables will sprout and decay before half the cold months have passed.

Those to be bought are onions, squashes, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips, cabbages, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, all of which, except the first two, should be bedded in sand and in a cool place, yet where they will not freeze.

Squashes and onions should be kept in a very dry room.

The price of all depends upon the supply.
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When in Season.

Bermuda sends new potatoes into Northern markets about the last of March or first of April. Florida soon follows, and one Southern State after another continues the supply until June, when the Northern and Eastern districts begin.

It is only the rich, however, who can afford new potatoes before July; but the old are good up to that time, if they have been well kept and are properly cooked.

Cabbage is in season all the year.

Beets, carrots, turnips and onions are received from the South in April and May, so that we have them young and fresh for at least five months. After this period they are not particularly tender, and require much cooking.

Squashes come from the South until about May, and we then have the summer squash till the last of August, when the winter squash is first used. This is not as delicate as the summer squash, but is generally liked better.

Green peas are found in the market in February, though they are very expensive up to the time of the home supply, which is the middle of June, in an ordinary season, in the Eastern States. They last until the latter part of August, but begin to grow poor before that time. There is a great variety, some being quite large, others very small. The smaller are the more desirable, being much like French peas.

When peas are not really in season it is more satisfactory to use French canned peas, costing forty cents a can. One can is enough for six persons.

When buying peas, see that the pods are green, dry and cool. If they have turned light they have been picked either a long time or when old.

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Spinach is always in season, but is valued most during the winter and spring, as it is one of the few green vegetables that we get then, and is not expensive. It should be green and crisp.

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Asparagus, from hot houses and the South, begins to come into the market in March and April. It is then costly, but in May and June is abundant and quite cheap. About the last of June it grows poor, and no matter how low the price, it will be an expensive article to buy as it has then become very “woody.” The heads should be full and green if light and not full, the asparagus will not spend well.

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The cultivated dandelion is found in the market in March, April and a part of May. It is larger, tenderer and less bitter than the wild plant, which begins to get into the market in April. By the last of May the dandelion is too rank and tough to make a good dish.


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This vegetable is generally quite expensive. It is found in the market a greater part of the year, being now grown in hot houses in winter. It is in perfection from the first of May to November or December. The leaves should be green and fresh and the heads a creamy white. When the leaves are wilted, or when there are dark spots on the head, the cauliflower is not good.

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The fresh tomato comes to the market from the South in April and sometimes in March. On account of the high price it is then used only where the canned tomato will not answer. In July, August and September it is cheap. It comes next to the potato in the variety of forms in which it may be served. By most physicians it is considered a very healthful vegetable.

The time to buy ripe tomatoes for canning is about the last of August, when they are abundant and cheap. About the middle or last of September green ones should be secured for pickling, etc. As the vines still bear a great many that cannot ripen before the frost comes, these are sold for this purpose.

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There are two kinds of green beans in the market, the string or snap bean and the shell bean. String beans come from the South about the first of April. They are picked in Northern gardens about the first of June, and they last until about the middle of July. They should be green, the beans just beginning to form, and should snap crisply. If wilted or yellow they have been picked too long.

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Shell Beans.

Shell beans come in May, but are not picked at the North before June. They are good until the last of September. There is a great variety of shell beans, but the Lima is considered the best. When fresh, shell beans are dry and smooth; but if old, they look dull and sticky.

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Celery is found in the market from August to April, but is in its prime and is cheapest from November to the first of March. Before the frost comes it is slightly bitter, and after the first of March it grows tough and stringy. Unless one has a good cellar in which to bury celery, it is best to purchase as one has need from time to time.

Celery is a delicious salad. It is also considered one of the best vegetables that a nervous, rheumatic or neuralgic person can take. The heads should be close and white, and the stalks should break off crisply. Save the trimmings for soups.

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Lettuce is found in the market all the year round, being now raised in hot houses in winter. It then costs two and three times as much as in summer; still, it is not an expensive salad. There are a number of varieties having much the same general appearance. That which comes in round heads, with leaves like a shell, is the most popular in this country. because it can be served so handsome.

There is another kind, high in favor in Paris and in some localities in this country for its tenderness and delicate flavor, but not liked by marketmen, because it is will not to bear rough handling. The time will come, however, when there will be such a demand for this species that all first-class provision dealers will keep it.

The French call it Romaine, and in this country it is sometimes called Roman lettuce. It does not head. The leaves are long and not handsome whole; but one who uses the lettuce never wishes for any other.

Lettuce should be crisp and green, and be kept until used in a very cold place—in an ice chest if possible.

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Mushrooms are in the market at all seasons. In summer, when they are found in pastures, they are comparatively cheap (fifty or seventy-five cents a pound), but in winter they are high priced. Being, however, very light, a pound goes a great way.

The French canned mushrooms are safe, convenient and cheap. One can, costing forty cents, is enough for a sauce for at least ten people. There is nothing else among vegetables which gives such a peculiarly delicious flavor to meat sauces. Mushrooms are used also as a relish for breakfast and tea, or as an entrée.

In gathering from the fields one should exercise great care not to collect poisonous toadstools, which are in appearance much like mushrooms, and are often mistaken for these by people whose knowledge of vegetables has been gained solely by reading. The confusion of the two things has sometimes resulted fatally; There can hardly be danger if purchases are made of reliable provision dealers.

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Green Corn.

Green corn is sent from the South about the last of May or the first of June, and then costs much. It comes from the Middle States about the middle of July and from the Eastern in August, and it lasts into October in the North Eastern States.

It should be tender and milky, and have well-filled ears. If too old it will be hard, and the grains straw colored, and no amount of boiling will make it tender.

Corn is boiled simply in clear water, is made into chowders, fritters, puddings, succotash, etc.


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There are two kinds of artichokes, the one best known in this country, the Jerusalem artichoke, being a tuber something like the potato. It is used as a salad, is boiled and served as a vegetable, and is also pickled.

This artichoke comes into the market about July, and can be preserved in sand for winter use.

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The Globe Artichoke.

A thick, fleshy-petaled flower grows on a plant that strongly resembles the thistle; this flower is the part that is eaten. It is boiled and served with a white sauce, and is also eaten as a salad. It is much used in France, but we have so many vegetables with so much more to recommend them, that this will probably never be common n this country.

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Cucumbers are in the market all the year round. In winter they are raised in green houses and command a high price. They begin to come from the South about the first of April, and by the last of May the price is reasonable. They last through the summer, but are not very nice after August. They are mostly used as a salad and for pickles, but are often cooked.

They should be perfectly green and firm for a salad, and when to be pickled, they must be small. If for cooking, it does no harm to have them a little large and slightly turned yellow.

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There are two forms of the radish commonly found in the market, the long radish and the small round one. They are in the market in all seasons, and in early spring and summer the price is low. Radishes are used mostly as a relish.

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Chicory or Endive.

The roots and leaves of this plant are both used, but the leaves only are found in the market (the roots are used in coffee), and these come in heads like the lettuce. Chicory comes into the market later than lettuce, and is used in all respects like it. Sometimes it is cooked.

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Sweet Herbs.

The housekeeper in large cities has no difficulty in finding all the herbs she may want, but this is not so in small towns and villages.

The very fact, however, that one lives in a country place suggests a remedy. Why not have a little bed of herbs in your own garden, and before they go to seed, dry what you will need for the winter and spring? Thus, in summer you could, always have the fresh herbs, and in winter have your supply of dried.

It is essential to have green parsley throughout the winter, and this can be managed very easily by having two or three pots planted with healthy roots in the fall.

Or, a still better way is to have large holes bored in the sides of a large tub or keg; then fill up to the first row of holes with rich soil; put the roots of the plants through the holes, having the leaves on the outside; fill up again with soil and continue this until the tub is nearly full; then plant the top with roots. Keep in a sunny window and you will have not only a useful herb, but a thing of beauty through the winter.

For soups, sauces, stews and braising, one wants sweet marjoram, summer savory, thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon and bay-leaf always on hand. You can get bunches of savory, sage, marjoram and thyme for five cents each at the vegetable market.

Five cents’ worth of bay-leaves from the drug shop will complete the list (save tarragon, which is hard to find), and you have for a quarter of a dollar herbs enough to last a large family a year.

Keep them tied together in a large paper bag or a box, where they will be dry.

Mint and parsley should be used green. There is but little difficulty in regard to mint, as it is used only in the spring and summer.



The manner in which a housekeeper buys her groceries must depend upon where she lives and how large her family is. In a country place, where the stores are few and not well supplied, it is best to buy in large quantities all articles that will not deteriorate by keeping.

If one has a large family a great saving is made by purchasing the greater portion of one’s groceries at wholesale.

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There is now in use flour made by two different processes, by the old, or St. Louis, and the new, or Haxall. The Haxall flour is used mostly for bread and the old-process for pastry, cake, etc.

By the new process more starch and less of the outer coats, which contain much of the prosphates, is retained; so that the flour makes a whiter and moister bread.

This flour packs closer than that made in the old way, so that a pound of it will not measure as much as a pound of the old kind. In using an old rule, one-eighth of this flour should be left out. For instance, if in a recipe for bread you have four quarts (old process) of flour given, of the new-process you would take only three and a half quarts.

This flour does not make as good cake and pastry as the old-process. It is, therefore, well, to have a barrel of each, if you have space, for the pastry flour is the cheaper, and the longer all kinds of flour are kept in a dry place, the better they are. Buying in small quantities is extremely extravagant.

When you have become accustomed to one brand, and it works to your satisfaction, do not change for a new one. The best flour is the cheapest. There are a great many brands that are equally good.

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The best Graham is made by grinding good wheat and not sifting it. Much that is sold is a poor quality of flour mixed with bran. This will not, of course, make good, sweet bread. The “Arlington Whole Wheat Meal” is manufactured from pure wheat, and makes delicious bread. Graham, like flour, will keep in a cool, dry place for years.

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Indian Meal.

In most families there is a large amount of this used, but the quantity purchased at a time depends upon the kind of meal selected. The common kind, which is made by grinding between two mill-stones, retains a great deal of moisture, and, in hot weather, will soon grow musty; but the granulated meal will keep for any length of time.

The corn for this meal is first dried; and it takes about two years for this. Then the outer husks are removed, and the corn is ground by a process that produces grains like granulated sugar.

After once using this meal one will not willingly go back to the old kind.

Indian meal is made from two kinds of corn, Northern and Southern. The former gives the yellow meal, and is much richer than the Southern, of which white meal is made.

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Rye Meal.

This meal, like the old-process Indian, will grow musty in a short time in hot weather, so that but a small quantity of it should be bought at a time. The meal is much better than the flour for all kinds of bread and muffins.

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Oat Meal.

There are several kinds of oat meal—Scotch, Irish, Canadian and American. The first two are sold in small packages, the Canadian and American in any quantity. It seems as if the Canadian and American should be the best because the freshest; but the fact is the others are considered the choicest.

Many people could not eat oat meal in former years, owing to the husks irritating the lining of the stomach. There is now what is called pearled meal. All the husks are removed, and the oats are then cut. The coarse kind will keep longer than the fine ground, but it is best to purchase often, and have the meal as fresh as possible.

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Cracked Wheat.

This is the whole wheat just crushed or cut like the coarse oat meal, but unlike the meal. It will keep a long time. It is cooked the same as oat meal. That which is cut makes a handsomer dish than the crushed, but the latter cooks more quickly.


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This is made from corn, and it comes in a number of sizes, beginning with samp and ending with a grade nearly as fine as coarse-granulated sugar. The finest grade is really the best, so many nice dishes can be made with it which you cannot make with the coarse.

Hominy will keep a long time, and it can be bought in five-pound package or by the barrel.

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The fine-granulated sugar is the best and cheapest for general family use. It is pure and dry; therefore, there is more in one pound of it than in a damp, brown sugar, besides its sweetening power being considerably greater. The price of sugar at wholesale is not much less than at retail, but time and trouble are saved by purchasing by the barrel.

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It is well to keep on hand all kinds of spice, both whole and ground. They should not be in large quantities, as a good cook will use them very sparingly, and a good housekeeper will have too much regard for the health of her family and the delicacy of her food to have them used lavishly.

For soups and sauces the whole spice is best, as it gives a delicate flavor, and does not color. A small wooden or tin box should be partly filled with whole mace, cloves, allspice and cinnamon, and a smaller paste-board box, full of pepper-corns, should be placed in it. By this plan you will have all your spices together when you season a soup or sauce.

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English Currants.

These keep well, and if cleaned, washed and well dried, will improve in flavor by being kept.

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In large families, if this fruit is much used, it is well to buy by the box. Time does not improve raisins.

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Soda, Cream of Tartar, Baking Powder.

There should not be so much of these articles used as to require that they be purchased in large quantities. Cream of tartar is expensive, soda cheap.

If one prefers to use baking powders there will be no need of cream of tartar, but the soda will still be required for gingerbread and brown bread, and to use with sour milk, etc.

The advantage of baking powder is that it is prepared by chemists who know just the proportion of soda to use with the acid (which should be cream of tartar), and the result will be invariable if the cook is exact in measuring the other ingredients.

When an inexperienced cook uses the soda and cream of tartar there is apt to be a little too much of one or the other. Just now, with the failure of the grape crops in France, from which a greater part of the crystals in use come, cream of tarter is extremely high, and substitutes, such as phosphates, are being used.

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To be Always Kept on Hand.

Besides the things already mentioned, housekeepers should always have a supply of rice, pearl barley, dried beans, split peas, tapioca, macaroni, vermicilli, tea, coffee, chocolate, corn-starch, molasses, vinegar, mustard, pepper, salt, capers, canned tomato, and any other canned vegetables of which a quantity is used.

Of the many kind of molasses, Porto Rico is the best for cooking purposes.

It is well to have a few such condiments as curry powder (a small bottle will last for years), Halford sauce, essence of anchovies and mushroom ketchup. These give variety to the flavoring, and, if used carefully, will not be an expensive addition, so little is needed for a dish.



A great saving is made by the proper care and use of cooked and uncooked food. The first and great consideration is perfect cleanliness. The ice chest and cellar should be thoroughly cleaned once a week; the jars in which bread is kept must be washed, scalded and dried thoroughly at least twice a week.

When cooked food is placed in either the ice chest or cellar it should be perfectly cool; if not, it will absorb an unpleasant flavor from the close atmosphere of either place.

Meat should not be put directly on the ice, as the water draws out the juices. Always place it in a pan, and this may be set on the ice. When you have a refrigerator where the meat can be hung, a pan is not needed. In winter, too, when one has a cold room, it is best to hang meats there. These remarks apply, of course, only to joints and fowl.

The habit which many people have of putting steaks, chops, etc., in the wrapping paper on ice, is a very bad one.

When purchasing meat always have the trimmings sent home, as they help to make soups and sauces. Every scrap of meat and bone left from roasts and broils should be saved for the soup-pot. Trimmings from ham, tongue, corned beef, etc., should all be saved for the many relishes they will make. Cold fish can be used in salads and warmed up in many palatable ways.

In fact, nothing that comes on the table is enjoyed more than the little dishes which an artistic cook will make from the odds and ends left from a former meal. By artistic cook is meant not a professional, but a woman who believes in cleanliness and hot dishes, and that there is something in the appearance as well as in the taste of the food, and who does not believe that a quantity of butter, or of some kind of fat, is essential to the success of nearly every dish cooked.

The amount of food spoiled by butter, good butter too, is surprising.

One should have a number of plates for cold food, that each kind may be kept by itself. The fat trimmings from beef, pork, veal, chickens and fowl should be tried out while fresh, and then strained.

The fowl and chicken fat ought to be kept in a pot by itself; for shortening and delicate frying. Have a stone pot for it, holding about a quart, and another, holding three or four quarts, for the other kinds.

The fat that has been skimmed from soups, boiled beef and fowl, should be cooked rather slowly until the sediment falls to the bottom and there is not the shadow of a bubble. It can then be strained into the jar with the other fat; but if strained while bubbles remain, there is water in it, and it will spoil quickly.

The fat from sausages can also be strained into the larger pot. Another pot, holding about three quarts, should be kept for the fat in which articles of food have been fried.

When you have finished frying, set the kettle in a cool place for about half an hour; then pour the fat into the pot through a fine strainer, being careful to keep back the sediment, which scrape into the soap-grease. In this way you can fry in the same fat a dozen times, while if you are not careful to strain it each time, the crumbs left will burn and blacken all the fat.


Occasionally, when you have finished frying, cut up two or three uncooked potatoes and put into the boiling fat. Set on the back of the stove for ten or fifteen minutes; then set in a cool place for fifteen minutes longer, and strain. The potatoes clarify the fat.

Many people use ham fat for cooking purposes; and when there is no objection to the flavor, it is nice for frying eggs, potatoes, etc. But it should not be mixed with other kinds.

The fat from mutton, lamb, geese, turkey or ducks will give an unpleasant flavor to anything with which it is used, and the best place for it is with the soap-grease.

Every particle of soup and gravy should be saved, as a small quantity of either adds a great deal to many little dishes.

The quicker food of all kinds cools the longer it keeps. This should be particularly remembered with soups and bread.

Bread and cake must be thoroughly cooled before being put into box or jar. If not, the steam will cause them to mold quickly.

Crusts and pieces of stale bread should be dried in a slow oven, rolled into fine crumbs on a board, and put away for croquettes, cutlets or anything that is breaded. Pieces of stale bread can be used for toast, griddle-cakes and puddings and for dressing for poultry and other kinds of meat. Stale cake can be made into puddings.

The best tub butter will keep perfectly well without a brine if kept in a cool, sweet room. It is more healthful and satisfactory to buy the choicest tub butter and use it for table and cooking purposes than to provide a fancy article for the table and use an inferior one in the preparation of the food.

If, from any cause, butter becomes rancid, to each pint of it add one table-spoonful of salt and one teaspoonful of soda, and mix well; then add one pint of cold water, and set on the fire until it comes to the boiling point. Now set away to cool, and when cool and hard, take off the butter in a cake. Wipe dry and put away for cooking purposes. It will be perfectly sweet.

Milk, cream and butter all quickly absorb strong odors; therefore, care must be taken to keep them in a cool, sweet room or in an ice chest.

Cheese should be wrapped in a piece of clean linen and kept in a box.

Berries must be kept in a cool place, and uncovered.

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