Open main menu

Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/881

This page has been validated.

method than if kept below 32° F. On its arrival in England it is transferred to similar store-houses on land. So long as the heat does not rise above a certain point it is preserved, but, like the fish taken from the slab of ice used by the fishmongers, it very soon goes bad at the ordinary temperature. This method of preserving meat is merely a larger application of the common practice of storing meat in an ice-chamber or refrigerator. Neither meat nor any other food can putrefy without some air, some moisture, and a certain degree of heat. From the tins all the air is excluded, and so whatever the temperature of the tin, after once it is sealed the meat remains sweet. It may be carried to the tropics, or stand in the hottest cupboard in the house, with the same satisfactory result. A few years ago some bodies of the extinct mammoth were found in Siberia buried in the ice, but although they had lain there for so long a period, they were as well preserved as if the animals had only died the day before.

Dried Meat.—Both animal and vegetable food is also preserved by drying. Fish is constantly smoked and dried, and thus prepared, forms a large part of the food of our town poor. Beef and other meat is cut in slices, and dried in the sun and wind in countries where the heat of the sun is more powerful than in our own land. Pemmican is dried meat reduced to powder and mixed with fat, but even that is now much less used than formerly; and in general it may be said that drying as a means of preserving meat has been superseded by more modern and improved methods.

Salt Meat.—Salt and saltpetre are the antiseptics most commonly used in the preservation of food, and their use for this purpose dates from long ago. Centuries back, even in the more favoured districts of the south of England, there was no food to keep the cattle all the winter, for the grass was scanty, and turnips were then unknown. In the autumn everyone killed the cattle and salted the meat down for home consumption through the coming months. Fresh meat, winter and summer alike, was a luxury which no one could have, and no one expected.

It is not to be regretted if salt meat is driven away from our markets by fresh, for salt draws the juice out of the meat with all its soluble constituents, and at the same time hardens the fibre of the meat itself, and so makes it less digestible. The brine in which several pieces of meat have been pickled will almost set into a jelly, so much of the valuable juices has it extracted from the meat, and all these are of course, wasted. It is said that a third of the meat, or even a greater proportion, is lost by salting. The salt can be drawn out of the meat by soaking it in water, but nothing can restore to it what it has lost. Every one knows that salted food cannot be used for any length of time without injury to the health. Its smallest drawback is—and even this smallest is considerable—that it naturally encourages thirst, and it is allowed that all animals thrive better on moist foods than on