Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/January 1885/The Chemistry of Cookery XIX



BEFORE proceeding further, I must fulfill the promise made in No. 39 to report the results of my repetition of the Indian process of preparing samp. I soaked some ordinary Indian corn in a solution of carbonate of potash, exceeding the ten or twelve hours specified by Count Rumford. The external coat was not removed even after two days' soaking, but the corns were much swollen and softened. I suspect that this difference is due to the condition of the corn which is imported here. It is fully ripened, dried, and hardened, while that used by the Indians was probably fresh gathered, barely ripe, and much softer.

Mr. Gaubert (No. 1,373, page 185) asks me whether I think that tea taken in moderation (say two cups in the evening) does any mischief. If he carefully reads No. 40, he will find the answer already given before his question was asked. He offers to relinquish the habit, in spite of the pang, "on the advice of so eminent an authority" as myself. I hope that he will not be so weak as to accept my authority or any other on a question which can easily be answered by common sense and simple direct experiment. There are cases in which we are compelled to lean on authority, but this is not one of them, and he will see, by reperusing what I have written on the subject, that I have repudiated mere authority, and appealed to facts that are open to all.

I will reply further to Mr. Gaubert, as in doing so I shall be also replying to a multitude of others, his case being typical. Let any of these repeat the experiment that I have made. After establishing the habit of taking tea at a particular hour, suddenly relinquish it altogether. The result will be more or less unpleasant, in some cases seriously so. My symptoms were a dull headache and intellectual sluggishness during the remainder of the day—and if compelled to do any brain-work, such as lecturing or writing, I did it badly. This, as I have already said, is the diseased condition induced by the habit. These symptoms vary with the amount of the customary indulgence and the temperament of the individual. A rough, lumbering, insensible navvy may drink a quart or two of tea, or a few gallons of beer, or several quarterns of gin, with but small results of any kind. I know an omnibus-driver who makes seven double journeys daily, and his "reg'lars" are half a quartern of gin at each terminus—i. e. 13/ pint daily, exclusive of extras. This would render most men helplessly drunk, but he is never drunk, and drives well and safely.

Assuming, then, that the experimenter has taken sufficient daily tea to have a sensible effect, he will suffer on leaving it off. Let him persevere in the discontinuance, in spite of brain-languor and dull headache. He will find that day by day the languor will diminish, and in the course of time (about a fortnight or three weeks in any case) he will be weaned. He will retain from morning to night the full, free, and steady use of all his faculties; will get through his day's work without any fluctuation of working ability (provided, of course, no other stimulant is used). Instead of his best faculties being dependent on a drug for their awakening, he will be in the condition of true manhood—i. e., able to do his best in any direction of effort, simply in reply to moral demand; able to do whatever is right and advantageous, simply because his reason shows that it is so. The sense of duty is to such a free man the only stimulus demanded for calling forth his uttermost energies.

If he again returns to his habitual tea, he will again be reduced to more or less of dependence upon it. This condition of dependence is a state of disease precisely analogous to that which is induced by opium and other drugs that operate by temporary abnormal cerebral exaltation. The pleasurable sensations enjoyed by the opium eater or smoker or morphia-injector are more intense than those of the tea drinker. Mr. Gaubert tells us that he enjoys his cup "immensely." The gin-drinker enjoys his half quartern "immensely," as anybody may see by "standing treat" and watching the result. The victim of opium has enjoyment still more immense, and in every case the magnitude of the mischief is measurable by the immensity of the enjoyment.

Again I say that I am not denouncing the proper use of any of these things. There are occasions when artificial stimulants or sedatives cautiously used are most desirable. My condemnation is applied to their habitual use, and the physical and moral degradation involved in the slavish dependence upon any sort of drug, especially when the drug operates most powerfully on the brain. To the brain-worker tea is worse than alcohol, because it exaggerates his special liability to overstrain. I can detect by physiognomical indications the habitually excessive tea-drinker as readily as I can detect the physiognomy of the opium-victim, as may anybody else who chooses to make careful observations.

I must not leave this subject without a word or two in reference to a widely prevailing and very mischievous fallacy. Many argue and actually believe that, because a given drug has great efficiency in curing disease, it must do good if taken under ordinary conditions of health.

No high authorities are demanded for the refutation of this. A little common sense properly used is quite sufficient. It is evident that a medicine, properly so called, is something which is capable of producing a disturbing or alterative effect on the body generally or some particular organ. The skill of the physician consists in so applying this disturbing agency as to produce an alteration of the state of disease, a direct conversion of the state of disease to a state of health, if possible (which is rarely the case), or more usually the conversion of one state of disease into another of milder character. But, when we are in a state of sound health, any such disturbance or alteration must be a change for the worse, must throw us out of health to an extent proportionate to the potency of the drug.

I might illustrate this by a multitude of familiar examples, but they would carry me too far away from my proper subject. There is. however, one class of such remedies which are directly connected with the chemistry of cookery. I refer to the condiments that act as "tonics," excluding common salt, which is an article of food, though often miscalled a condiment. It is food simply because it supplies the blood with one of its normal and necessary constituents, chloride of sodium, without which we can not live. A certain quantity of it exists in most of our ordinary food, but not always sufficient.

Cayenne pepper may be selected as a typical example of a condiment properly so called. Mustard is a food and condiment combined; this is the case with some others. Curry-powders are mixtures of very potent condiments with more or less of farinaceous materials, and sulphur compounds, which, like the oil of mustard, of onions, garlic, etc., may have a certain amount of nutritive value.

The mere condiment is a stimulating drug that does its work directly upon the inner lining of the stomach, by exciting it to increased and abnormal activity. A dyspeptic may obtain immediate relief by using cayenne pepper. Among the advertised patent medicines is a pill bearing the very ominous name of its compounder, the active constituent of which is cayenne. Great relief and temporary comfort are commonly obtained by using it as a "dinner-pill." If thus used only as a temporary remedy for an acute and temporary, or exceptional, attack of indigestion, all is well, but the cayenne, whether taken in pills or dusted over the food or stewed with it in curries or any otherwise, is one of the most cruel of slow poisons when taken habitually. Thousands of poor wretches are crawling miserably toward their graves, the victims of the multitude of maladies of both mind and body that are connected with chronic, incurable dyspepsia, all brought about by the habitual use of cayenne and its condimental cousins.

The usual history of these victims is that they began by overfeeding, took the condiment to force the stomach to do more than its healthful amount of work, using but a little at first. Then the stomach became tolerant of this little, and demanded more; then more, and more, and more, until at last inflammation, ulceration, torpidity, and finally the death of the digestive powers, accompanied with all that long train of miseries to which I have referred. India is their special fatherland. Englishmen, accustomed to an active life at home, and a climate demanding much food-fuel for the maintenance of animal heat, go to India, crammed, may be, with Latin, but ignorant of the laws of health; cheap servants promote indolence, tropical heat diminishes respiratory oxidation, and the appetite naturally fails. Instead of understanding this failure as an admonition to take smaller quantities of food, or food of less nutritive value, they regard it as a symptom of ill-health, and take curries, bitter ale, and other tonics or appetizing condiments, which, however mischievous in England, are far more so there.

I know several men who have lived rationally in India, and they all agree that the climate is especially favorable to longevity, provided bitter beer, and all other alcoholic drinks, all peppery condiments, and flesh foods, are avoided. The most remarkable example of vigorous old age I have ever met was a retired colonel eighty-two years of age, who had risen from the ranks, and had been fifty-five years in India without furlough; drank no alcohol during that period; was a vegetarian in India, though not so in his native land. I guessed his age to be somewhere about sixty. He was a Scotchman, and an ardent student of the works of both George and Dr. Andrew Combe.

While still seasonable I add by way of postscript a receipt for a dish lately invented by my wife. It is vegetable marrow au gratin, prepared by simply boiling the vegetable as usual, slicing it, placing the slices in a dish, covering them with grated cheese, and then browning slightly in an oven or before the fire, as in preparing the well-known "cauliflower au gratin." I have modified this (with improvement, I believe) by mashing the boiled marrow and stirring the grated cheese into the midst of it while as hot as possible; or, better still, by adding a little milk, a pinch of bicarbonate of potash, mixing with the cheese, and then returning this purée to the saucepan, heating and stirring it there for a few minutes to effect the complete solution of the cheese. This dish is not so pretty as that au gratin browned in orthodox fashion, but is more digestible.


In an unguarded moment I promised to include the above in this series, and will do the best I can to fulfill the promise; but the utmost result of this effort can only be a contribution to the subject which is too profoundly mysterious to be fully grasped by any intellect that is not sufficiently clairvoyant to penetrate paving-stones and see through them to the interiors of the closely tiled cellars wherein the mysteries are manipulated.

I will first define what I mean by the cookery of wine. Grape-juice in its unfermented state may be described as "raw wine," or this name may be applied to the juice after fermentation. I apply it in the latter sense, and shall use it as describing grape-juice which has been spontaneously and recently fermented without the addition of any foreign materials, or altered by keeping, or heating, or any other process beyond fermentation. All such processes and admixtures which effect any chemical changes on the raw material I shall describe as cookery, and the result as cooked wine. When wine made from other juice than that of the grape is referred to it will be named specifically.

At the outset a fallacy, very prevalent in this country, should be controverted. The high prices charged for the cooked material sold to Englishmen has led to absurdly exaggerated notions of the original value of wine. I am quite safe in stating that the average market value of rich wine in its raw state, in countries where the grape grows luxuriantly, and where, in consequence, the average quality of the wine is the best, does not exceed sixpence per gallon, or one penny per bottle. I speak now of the newly made wine. Allowing another sixpence per gallon for barreling and storage, the value of the commodity in portable form becomes twopence per bottle. I am not speaking of thin, poor wines, produced by a second or third pressing of the grapes, but of the best and richest quality, and, of course, I do not include the fancy wines, those produced in certain vineyards of celebrated chateaux, that are superstitiously venerated by those easily deluded people who suppose themselves to be connoisseurs of choice wines. I refer to the ninety-nine and nine tenths per cent of the rich wines that actually come into the market. Wines made from grapes grown in unfavorable climates naturally cost more in proportion to the poorness of the yield.

As some of my readers may be inclined to question this estimate of average cost, a few illustrative facts may be named. In Sicily and Calabria I usually paid, at the road-side or village "osterias," an equivalent to one halfpenny for a glass or tumbler holding nearly half a pint of common wine, thin, but genuine. This was at the rate of less than one shilling per gallon, or twopence per bottle, and included the cost of barreling, storage, and inn-keeper's profit on retailing. In the luxuriant wine-growing regions of Spain, a traveler, halting at a railway refreshment station and buying one of the sausage sandwiches that there prevail, is allowed to help himself to wine to drink on the spot without charge, but, if he fills his flask to carry away, he is subjected to an extra charge of one halfpenny. It is well known to all concerned that at vintage-time of fairly good seasons, in all countries where the grape grows freely, a good cask is worth more than the new wine it contains when filled; that much wine is wasted from lack of vessels, and anybody sending two good empty casks to a vigneron can have one of them filled in exchange for the other. Those who desire further illustrations and verification should ask their friends—outside of the trade—who have traveled in southern wine countries, and know the language and something more of the country than is to be learned by being simply transferred from one hotel to another under the guidance of couriers, cicerone, valets de place, and other flunkies. Wine merchants are "men of business."

Thus the five shillings paid for a bottle of rich port is made up of one penny for the original wine, one penny more for cost of storage, etc., about sixpence for duty and carriage to this country, and twopence for bottling, making tenpence altogether; the remaining four shillings and twopence is paid for cookery and wine-merchant's profits.

Under cookery I include those changes which may be obtained by simply exposing the wine to the action of the temperature of an ordinary cellar, or the higher temperature of "Pasteuring," to be presently described. In the youthful days of chemistry the first of these methods of cookery was the only one available, and wine was kept by wine-merchants with purely commercial intent for a considerable number of years.

A little reflection will show that this simple and original cookery was very expensive, sufficiently so to legitimately explain the rise in market value from tenpence to five shillings or more per bottle.

Wine-merchants require a respectable profit on the capital they invest in their business—say ten per cent per annum on the prime cost of the wine laid down. Then there is the rental of cellars and offices, the establishment expenses—such as wages, sampling, sending out, advertising, losses by bad debts, etc.—to be added. The capital lying dead in the cellar demands compound interest. At ten per cent the principal doubles in about seven and one third years. Calling it seven years, to allow very meagerly for establishment expenses, we get the following result:

£ s. d.
When 7 years old the tenpenny wine is worth 0 1 8 per bottle.
" 14 """ 0 3 4 "
" 21 """ 0 6 8 "
" 28 """ 0 13 4 "
" 35 """ 1 6 8 "

Here, then, we have a fair commercial explanation of the high prices of old-fashioned old wines; or of what I may now call the "traditional value" of wine.

Of course this is less when a man lays down his own wine in his own cellar in obedience to the maxim, "Lay down good port in the days of your youth, and when you are old your friends will not forsake you." He may be satisfied with a much smaller rate of interest than the man engaged in business fairly demands. Still, when wine thus aged was thrown into the market, it competed with commercially cellared wine, and obtained remarkable prices, especially as it has a special value for "blending" purposes, i. e., for mixing with newer wines and infecting them with its own senility.

But why do I say that now such values are traditional? Simply because the progress of chemistry has shown us how the changes resulting from years of cellarage may be effected by scientific cookery in a few hours or days. We are indebted to Pasteur for the most legitimate—I might say the only legitimate—method of doing this. The process is accordingly called "Pasteuring. It consists in simply heating the wine to the temperature of 60° C = 140° Fahr., the temperature at which, as will be remembered, the visible changes in the cookery of animal food commences. It is a process demanding considerable skill; no portion of the wine during its cookery must be raised above this temperature, yet all must reach it; nor must it be exposed to the air.

The apparatus designed by Rossignol is one of the best suited for this purpose. This is a large metallic vat or boiler with air-tight cover and a false bottom, from which rises a trumpet-shaped tube through the middle of the vat, and passing through an air-tight fitting in the cover. The chamber formed by the false bottom is filled with water by means of this tube, the object being to prevent the wine at the lower part from being heated directly by the fire which is below the water-chamber. A thermometer is also inserted air-tight in the lid, with its bulb half-way down the vat. To allow for expansion a tube is similarly fitted into the lid. This is bent siphon-like, and its lower end dipped into a flask containing wine or water, so that air or vapor may escape and bubble through, but none enter. Even in drawing off from the Pasteuring vat into the cask the wine is not allowed to flow through the air, but is conveyed by a pipe which bends down, and dips to the bottom of the barrel.

If heated with exposure to air, the wine acquires a flavor easily recognized as the "goût de cuit," or flavor of cooking. By Pasteur's method, properly carried out, the only changes are those which would be otherwise produced by age.

These changes are somewhat obscure. One effect is probably that which more decidedly occurs in the maturing of whisky and other spirits distilled from grain—viz., the reduction of the proportion of amylic alcohol or fusel-oil, which, although less abundantly produced in the fermentation of grape-juice than in grain or potato spirit, is formed in varying quantities. Caproic alcohol and caprylic alcohol are also produced by the fermentation of grape-juice or the "marc" of grapes, i. e., the mixture of the whole juice and the skins. These are acrid, ill-flavored spirits, more conducive to headache than the ethylic alcohol, which is proper spirit of good wine. Every wine drinker knows that the amount of headache obtainable from a given quantity of wine, or a given outlay of cash, varies with the sample, and this variation appears to be due to these supplementary alcohols or ethers.

Another change appears to be the formation of ethers having choice flavors and bouquets; ænanthic ether, or the ether of wine, is the most important of these, and it is probably formed by the action of the natural acid salts of the wine upon its alcohol. Johnstone says: "So powerful is the odor of this substance, however, that few wines contain more than one forty-thousandth part of their bulk of it. Yet it is always present, can always be recognized by its smell, and is one of the general characteristics of all grape-wines." This ether is stated to be the basis of Hungarian wine-oil, which, according to the same authority, has been sold for flavoring brandy at the rate of sixty-nine dollars per pound. I am surprised that up to the present time it has not been cheaply produced in large quantities. Chemical problems that appear far more difficult have been practically solved.—Knowledge