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article number 473
article date 08-11-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
How to Choose Poultry, Game and Fish, 1881
by Maria Parloa, Principle, School of Cooking, Boston

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


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All fowl less than a year old come under this head. The lower end of the breast-bone in a chicken is soft, and can be bent easily. The breast should be full, the lean meat white, and the fat a pale straw color.

Chickens are best in last of the summer and the fall and winter. The largest and juiciest come from Philadelphia.

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Spring Chickens.

These are generally used for broiling. They vary in size, weighing from half a pound to two and a half pounds. The small, plump ones, weighing about one and a half or two pounds, are the best. There is little fat on spring chickens.

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These may be anywhere from one to five or six years old. When over two years the meat is apt to be tough, dry and stringy. They should be fat, and the breast full and soft.

The meat of fowl is richer than that of chickens, and is, therefore, better for boiling and to use for salads and made dishes.

The weight of bone is not much greater than in a chicken, while there is a great deal more meat. Another point to be remembered is that the price per pound is also generally a few cents less.

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The lower end of the breast-bone should be soft, and bend easily, the breast be plump and short, the meat firm and the fat white. When the bird is very large and fat, the flavor is sometimes a little strong. Eight or ten pounds is a good size for a small family.

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It is more difficult to judge of the age and quality of a goose than of any other bird. If the wind pipe is brittle and breaks easily under pressure of the finger and thumb, the bird is young, but if it rolls the bird is old.

Geese live to a great age—thirty or more years. They are not good when more than three years old. Indeed, to be perfect, they should be not more than one year old. They are in season in the fall and winter.

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Green Geese.

The young geese are very well fed, and when from two to four months old are killed for sale. They bring a high price, and are delicious. They are sometimes in the market in winter, but the season is the summer and fall.

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The same tests that are applied to chickens and geese to ascertain age and quality are made with ducks.

Besides the tame bird, there are at least twenty different kinds that come under the head of game. The canvas-back is the finest in the list; the mallard and red-head come next.

The domestic duck is in season nearly all the year, but the wild ones only through the fall and winter. The price varies with the season and supply. A pair of canvas-backs will at one time cost a dollar and a half and at another five dollars.

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There are two kinds of pigeons found in the market, the tame and the wild, which are used for potting, stewing, &c. Except when “stall-fed” they are dry and tough, and require great care in preparation.

The wild birds are the cheapest. They are shipped from the West, packed in barrels, through the latter part of the winter and the early spring.

Stall-fed pigeons are the tame ones cooped for a few weeks and well fed. They are then quite fat and tender, and come into market about the first of October.


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These are the young of the tame pigeon. Their flesh is very delicate, and they are used for roasting and broiling.

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Grouse, or Prairie Chicken.

These birds comes from the West, and are much like the partridge of the Eastern States and Canada. The flesh is dark, but exceedingly tender.

Grouse should be plump and heavy. The breast is all that is good to serve when roasted, and being so dry, it should always be larded. The season is from September to January, but it is often continued into April.

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There should be a good deal of fat on this meat. The lean should be dark red and the fat white. Venison is in season all the year, but is most used in cold weather.

In summer it should have been killed at least ten days before cooking; in winter three weeks is better. The cuts are the leg, saddle, loin, fore quarter and steaks. The supply regulates the price.

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This bird is so like the grouse that the same rules apply to both. What is known as quail at the North is called partridge at the South.

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These birds are found in the market all through the fall and winter. They are quite small (about the size of a squab), are nearly always tender and juicy, and not very expensive. They come from the West.

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Woodcock is in season from July to November. It is a small bird, weighing about half a pound. It has a fine, delicate flavor, and is very high-priced.

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Other Game.

There are numerous large and small birds which are used for food, but there is not space to treat of them all. In selecting game it must be remembered that the birds will have a gamey smell, which is wholly different from that of tainted meat.


To fully describe all the kinds of fish found in our markets would require too much space and is unneccessary, but a list of those of which there is usually a supply is given, that housekeepers may know what it is best to select in a certain season and have some idea of the prices.

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To Select Fish.

When fresh, the skin and scales will be bright, the eyes full and clear, the fins stiff and the body firm. If there is a bad odor, or, if the fish is soft and darker than is usual for that kind, and has dim, sunken eyes, it is not fit to use.

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This is good all the year, but best in the fall and winter. When cooked, it breaks into large white flakes. It is not as nutritious as the darker kinds of fish, but is more easily digested. The price remains about the same through all seasons.

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This is a firmer and smaller-flaked fish than the cod, but varies little in flavor from it. The cod has a light stripe running down the sides; the haddock a dark one.


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This also belongs to the cod family, and is a firm, white fish. It is best in winter.

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This is used mostly for salting. It is much like the cod, only firmer grained and drier.

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This fine fish is always good. It varies in weight from two pounds to three hundred. The flesh is a pearly white in a perfectly fresh fish. That cut from one weighing from fifty to seventy-five pounds is the best, the flesh of any larger being coarse and dry. The small fish are called chicken halibut.

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These are thin, flat fish, often sold under the name of sole. Good at all times of the year.

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This is a flat fish, weighing from two to twenty pounds. The flesh is soft, white and delicate. Turbot is not common in our market.

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Salmon is in season from April to July, but is in its prime in June. It is often found in the market as early as January, when it brings a high price. Being very rich, a much smaller quantity should be provided for a given number of people than of the lighter kinds of fish.

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This is in season in the Eastern and Middle States from March to April, and in the Southern States from November to February. The flesh is sweet, but full of small bones. Shad is much prized for the roe.

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This is a rich, dark fish, weighing from two to eight pounds’ and in season in June, July and August. It is particularly nice broiled and baked.

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Black-fish, or Tautog.

Good all the year, but best in the spring. It is not a large fish, weighing only from one to five pounds.

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White-fish, or Lake Shad.

This delicious fish is found in the great lakes, and in the locality where caught it is always in season. At the South and in the East the market is supplied only in winter, when the price is about eighteen cents a pound. The average weight is between two and three pounds.

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This fish, weighing from half a pound to six or seven pounds, is very fine, and is in season nearly all the year. It is best in March, April and May.


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The weight of rock-bass generally ranges from half a pound to thirty or forty pounds, but sometimes reaches eighty or a hundred. The small fish are the best. The very small ones (under one pound) are fried; the larger broiled, baked and boiled. The bass are in season all the year, but best in the fall.

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Sword Fish.

This is very large, with dark, firm flesh. It is nutritious, but not as delicate as other kinds of fish. It is cut and sold like halibut, and in season in July and August.

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This fish, like the halibut and sword fish, is large. The flesh is of a light red color and the fat of a pale yellow. There is a rather strong flavor. A fish weighing under a hundred pounds will taste better than a larger one. The season is from April to September.

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Weak-fish is found in the New York and Philadelphia markets from May to October. In the Eastern States it is not so well known. It is a delicate fish, and grows soft very quickly. It is good boiled or fried.

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Small, or “Pan”-Fish.

The small fish that are usually fried, have the general name of “pan “-fish. There is a great variety, each kind found in the market being nearly always local, as it does not pay to pack and ship them. A greater part have the heads and skin taken off before being sold.

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These are good at any time, but best in the winter, when they are both plenty and cheap.

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There are several varieties of this fish, which is much prized in some sections of the country. It is a small fish, weighing from a quarter of a pound to two or three pounds. It often has a slightly muddy flavor, owing to living a large part of the time in the mud of the rivers.

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This fish is nutritious and cheap. It is in the market through the spring and summer, and averages in weight between one and two pounds.

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Spanish Mackerel.

These are larger than the common mackerel, and have rows of yellow spots, instead of the dark lines on the sides. They are in season from June to October, and generally bring a high price.

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These are sold skinned; are always in season, but best from April to November.

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This shell-fish is in the market all the year, but is best in May and June.

If the tail, when straightened, springs back into position, it indicates that the fish is fresh.

The time of boiling live lobsters depends upon the size. If boiled too much they will be tough and dry. They are generally boiled by the fishermen. This is certainly the best plan, as these people know from practice, just how long to cook them. Besides, as the lobsters must be alive when put into the pot, they are ugly things to handle.

The medium-sized are the tenderest and sweetest. A good one will be heavy for its size.

In the parts of the country where fresh lobsters cannot be obtained, the canned will be found convenient for making salads, soups, stews, etc.


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Hard-Shell Crabs.

These are in the market all the year. They are sold alive and, also, like the lobster, boiled. Near the coast of the Southern and Middle States they are plenty and cheap, but in the interior and in the Eastern States they are quite expensive.

They are not used as much as the lobster, because it is a great deal of trouble to take the meat from the shell.

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Soft-Shell Crabs.

As the crab grows, a new, soft shell forms, and the old, hard one is shed. Thus comes the soft-shelled crab. In about three days the shell begins to harden again.

In Maryland there are ponds for raising these crabs, so that now the supply is surer than in former years.

Crabs are a great luxury, and very expensive. In the Eastern States they are found only in warm weather.

They must always be cooked while alive. Frying and broiling are the modes of preparing.

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These are found on the Southern coasts; are much the shape of a lobster, but very small. They are used mostly for sauces to serve with fish. Their season is through the spring, summer and fall.

There is a larger kind called big shrimp or prawns, sold boiled in the Southern markets. These are good for sauces or stews, and, in fact, can be used, in most cases, the same as lobster.

But few shrimp are found in the Eastern or Western markets. The canned goods are, however, convenient and nice for sauces.

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This shell-fish comes from the South, Baltimore being the great terrapin market. It belongs to the turtle family. It is always sold alive, and is a very expensive fish, the diamond backs costing from one to two dollars apiece.

Three varieties are found in the market, the diamond backs, little bulls and red fenders. The first named are considered marketable when they measure six inches across the back. They are then about three years old.

The little bulls, or male fish, hardly ever measure more than five inches across the back. They are cheaper than diamond hacks, but not so well flavored.

The red fenders grow larger than the others, and are much cheaper, but their meat is coarse and of an inferior flavor.

Terrapin are in the market all the year, but the best time to buy them is from November to February.

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No other shell-fish is as highly prized as this. The oyster usually takes the name of the place where it is grown, because the quality and flavor depend very much upon the feeding grounds.

The Blue-point, a small, round oyster from Long Island, is considered the finest in the market, and it costs about twice as much as the common oyster.

Next comes the Wareham, thought by many quite equal to the Blue-point. It is a salt water oyster, and is, therefore, particularly good for serving raw.

The Providence River oyster is large and well flavored, yet costs only about half as much as the Blue-point. The very large ones, however, sell at the same price.

Oysters are found all along the coast from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico. Those taken from the cool Northern waters are the best. The sooner this shell-fish is used after being opened, the better.

In the months of May, June, July and August, the oyster becomes soft and milky. It is not then very healthful or well flavored.

The common-sized oysters are good for all purposes of cooking except broiling and frying, when the large are preferable. The very large ones are not served as frequently on the half shell as in former years, the Blue-point, or the small Wareham, having supplanted them.

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There are two kinds of this shell-fish, the common thin-shelled clam and the quahaug. The first is the most abundant. It is sold by the peck or bushel in the shell, or by the quart when shelled.

Clams are in season all the year, but in summer a black substance is found in the body, which must be pressed from it before using. The shell of the quahaug is thick and round.

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This shell-fish is used about the same as the clam, but is not so popular, owing to a peculiarly sweet flavor. It is in season from September to March, and is sold shelled, as only the muscular part of the fish is used.

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