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The quality of beef depends on various circumstances; such as the age, the sex, the breed of the animal, and also on the food upon which it has been raised. Bull beef is, in general, dry and tough, and by no means possessed of an agreeable flavour; whilst the flesh of the ox is not only highly nourishing and digestible, but, if not too old, extremely agreeable. The flesh of the cow is, also, nourishing, but it is not so agreeable as that of the ox, although that of a heifer is held in high estimation. The flesh of the smaller breeds is much sweeter than that of the larger, which is best when the animal is about seven years old. That of the smaller breeds is best at about five years, and that of the cow can hardly be eaten too young.
Good Meat: The lyer of meat when freshly killed, and the animal, when slaughtered, being in a state of perfect health, adheres firmly to the bones. Beef of the best quality is of a deep-red colour; and when the animal has approached maturity, and been well fed, the lean is intermixed with fat, giving it the mottled appearance which is so much esteemed. It is also full of juice, which resembles in colour claret wine. The fat of the best beef is of a firm and waxy consistency, of a colour resembling that of the finest grass butter; bright in appearance, neither greasy nor friable to the touch, but moderately unctuous, in a medium degree between the last-mentioned properties.
Bad Meat: In the flesh of animals slaughtered whilst suffering acute inflammation or fever, the hollow fibres, or capillaries, as they are called, which form the substance of the lyer, are filled with congested and unassimilated animal fluid, which, from its impurity, gives the lyer a dark colour, and produces a tendency to rapid putrefaction. In a more advanced stage of such disease, serous, and sometimes purulent matter, is formed in the cellular tissues between the muscles of the flesh; and when such is the case, nothing can be more poisonous than such abominable carrion. In the flesh of animals killed whilst under the influence of any disease of an emaciating effect, the lyer adheres but slightly to the bones, with its fibres contracted and dry; and the little fat that there may be is friable, and shrunk within its integuments. The flesh of animals slaughtered whilst under considerable depression of vital energy (as from previous bleeding) has a diminished tendency to stiffen after death, the feebleness of this tendency being in proportion to the degree of depression. It presents, also, an unnatural blue or pallid appearance, has a faint and slightly sour smell, and soon becomes putrid. When an animal has died otherwise than by slaughtering, its flesh is flaccid and clammy, emits a peculiar faint and disagreeable smell, and, it need scarcely be added, spontaneous decomposition proceeds very rapidly.
Cow-Pox, or Variola: It is to Dr. Jenner, of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, who died in 1823, that we owe the practice of vaccination, as a preservative from the attack of that destructive scourge of the human race, the small-pox. The experiments of this philosophic man were begun in 1797, and published the next year. He had observed that cows were subject to a certain infectious eruption of the teats, and that those persons who became affected by it, while milking the cattle, escaped the small-pox raging around them. This fact, known to farmers from time immemorial, led him to a course of experiments, the result of which all are acquainted with.
Choosing Beef: The large stall fed ox beef is the best, it has a coarse open grain, and oily smoothness; dent it with your finger and it will immediately rise again; if old, it will be rough and spungy, and the dent remain. If the flesh of ox-beef is young, it will have a fine smooth open grain, be of a good red, and feel tender. The fat should look white rather than yellow; for when that is of a deep colour, the meat is seldom good: beef fed by oil-cakes is in general so, and the flesh is flabby. The grain of cow-beef is closer, and the fat whiter, than that of ox-beef; but the lean is not of so bright a red. Cow beef is less boned, and generally more tender and juicy than the ox, in America, which is used to labor. The grain of bull-beef is closer still, the fat hard and skinny, the lean of a deep red, and a stronger scent. Ox-beef is the reverse. Ox-beef is the richest and largest; but in small families, and to some tastes, heifer-beef is better if finely fed. In old meat there is a streak of horn in the ribs of beef: the harder this is, the older; and the flesh is not finely flavoured.
The manner in which a side of beef is cut up in London, is shown in the engraving on this page. In the metropolis, on account of the large number of its population possessing the means to indulge in the "best of everything," the demand for the most delicate joints of meat is great, the price, at the same time, being much higher for these than for the other parts. The consequence is, that in London the carcass is there divided so as to obtain the greatest quantity of meat on the most esteemed joints. In many places, however, where, from a greater equality in the social condition and habits of the inhabitants, the demand and prices for the different parts of the carcasses are more equalized, there is not the same reason for the butcher to cut the best joints so large.
The meat on those parts of the animal in which the muscles are least called into action, is most tender and succulent; as, for instance, along the back, from the rump to the hinder part of the shoulder; whilst the limbs, shoulder, and neck, are the toughest, driest, and least-esteemed.
The names of the several joints in the hind and fore quarters of a side of beef, and the purposes for which they are used, are as follows:
Different Seasons for Beef.: We have already stated (see No. 593) that the Scots breed of oxen, like the South-down in mutton, stands first in excellence. It should be borne in mind, however, that each county has its particular season, and that the London and other large markets are always supplied by those counties whose meat, from local circumstances, is in the best condition at the time. Thus, the season in Norfolk, from which the Scots come (these being the principal oxen bred by the Norfolk and Suffolk graziers), commences about Christmas and terminates about June, when this breed begins to fall off, their place being taken by grass-fed oxen. A large quantity of most excellent meat is sent to the "dead markets" from Scotland, and some of the best London butchers are supplied from this source.
A Frenchman's Opinion of Beef: The following is translated from a celebrated modern French work, the production of one who in Paris enjoys a great reputation as cook and chemist:--The flesh of the ox, to be in the best condition, should be taken from an animal of from four to six years old, and neither too fat nor too lean. This meat, which possesses in the highest degree the most nutritive qualities, is generally easily digested; stock is made from it, and it is eaten boiled, broiled, roasted, stewed, braised, and in a hundred other different ways. Beef is the foundation of stock, gravies, braises, &c.; its nutritious and succulent gravy gives body and flavour to numberless ragouts. It is an exhaustless mine in the hands of a skilful artist, and is truly the king of the kitchen. Without it, no soup, no gravy; and its absence would produce almost a famine in the civilized world!
Marrow-Bones: Bones are formed of a dense cellular tissue of membranous matter, made stiff and rigid by insoluble earthy salts; of which, phosphate of lime is the most abundant. In a large bone, the insoluble matter is generally deposited in such a manner as to leave a cavity, into which a fatty substance, distinguished by the name of marrow, is thrown. Hollow cylindrical bones possess the qualities of strength and lightness in a remarkable degree. If bones were entirely solid, they would be unnecessarily heavy; and if their materials were brought into smaller compass, they would be weaker, because the strength of a bone is in proportion to the distance at which its fibres are from the centre. Some animals, it must, however, be observed, have no cavities in the centre of their bones; such as the whale tribe, skate, and turtles.
The Tails of Animals.: In the class Mammalia, the vertebral column or backbone presents only slight modifications, and everywhere shows the same characteristics as in man, who stands at the head of this division of the animal kingdom. The length of this column, however, varies much, and the number of vertebrae of which it is composed is far from being uniform. These numerical differences principally depend on the unequal development of the caudal portion, or tail-end, of the column. Thus, the tail-forming vertebrae sometimes do not exist at all,--amongst certain bats for example; in other instances we reckon forty, fifty, and even upwards of sixty of these bones. Among the greater number of mammals, the tail is of little use for locomotion, except that it acts in many cases as does the rudder of a ship, steadying the animal in his rapid movements, and enabling him to turn more easily and quickly. Among some animals, it becomes a very powerful instrument of progression. Thus, in the kangaroos and jerboas, the tail forms, with the hind feet, a kind of tripod from which the animal makes its spring. With most of the American monkeys it is prehensile, and serves the animal as a fifth hand to suspend itself from the branches of trees; and, lastly, among the whales, it grows to an enormous size, and becomes the principal instrument for swimming.
French Beef: It has been all but universally admitted, that the beef of France is greatly inferior in quality to that of England, owing to inferiority of pasturage. M. Curmer, however, one of the latest writers on the culinary art, tells us that this is a vulgar error, and that French beef is far superior to that of England. This is mere vaunting on the part of our neighbours, who seem to want _la gloire_ in everything; and we should not deign to notice it, if it had occurred in a work of small pretensions; but M. Curmer's book professes to be a complete exposition of the scientific principles of cookery, and holds a high rank in the didactic literature of France. We half suspect that M. Curmer obtained his knowledge of English beef in the same way as did the poor Frenchman, whom the late Mr. Mathews, the comedian, so humorously described. Mr. Lewis, in his "Physiology of Common Life," has thus revived the story of the beef-eating son of France:--"A Frenchman was one day blandly remonstrating against the supercilious scorn expressed by Englishmen for the beef of France, which he, for his part, did not find so inferior to that of England. 'I have been two times in England,' he remarked, but I nevere find the bif so superieur to ours. I find it vary conveenient that they bring it you on leetle pieces of stick, for one penny: but I do not find the bif superieur.' On hearing this, the Englishman, red with astonishment, exclaimed, 'Good heavens, sir! you have been eating cat's meat.'" No, M. Curmer, we are ready to acknowledge the superiority of your cookery, but we have long since made up our minds as to the inferiority of your raw material.
Origin of the Word "Sirloin": The loin of beef is said to have been knighted by King Charles II., at Friday Hall, Chingford. The "Merry Monarch" returned to this hospitable mansion for Epping Forest literally "as hungry as a hunter," and beheld, with delight, a huge loin of beef steaming upon the table. "A noble joint!" exclaimed the king. "By St. George, it shall have a title!" Then drawing his sword, he raised it above the meat, and cried, with mock dignity, "Loin, we dub thee knight; henceforward be Sir Loin!" This anecdote is doubtless apocryphal, although the oak table upon which the joint was supposed to hare received its knighthood, might have been seen by any one who visited Friday-Hill House, a few years ago. It is, perhaps, a pity to spoil so noble a story; but the interests of truth demand that we declare that _sirloin_ is probably a corruption of _surloin_, which signifies the upper part of a loin, the prefix _sur_ being equivalent to _over_ or _above_. In French we find this joint called _surlonge_, which so closely resembles our _sirloin_, that we may safely refer the two words to a common origin.
Baking Meat: Baking exerts some unexplained influence on meat, rendering it less savoury and less agreeable than meat which has been roasted. "Those who have travelled in Germany and France," writes Mr. Lewis, one of our most popular scientific authors, "must have repeatedly marvelled at the singular uniformity in the flavour, or want of flavour, of the various 'roasts' served up at the _table-d'hote_." The general explanation is, that the German and French meat is greatly inferior in quality to that of England and Holland, owing to the inferiority of pasturage; and doubtless this is one cause, but it is not the chief cause. The meat is inferior, but the cooking is mainly at fault. The meat is scarcely ever _roasted_, because there is no coal, and firewood is expensive. The meat is therefore _baked;_ and the consequence of this baking is, that no meat is eatable or eaten, with its own gravy, but is always accompanied by some sauce more or less piquant. The Germans generally believe that in England we eat our beef and mutton almost raw; they shudder at our gravy, as if it were so much blood.
The Baron of Beef: This noble joint, which consisted of two sirloins not cut asunder, was a favourite dish of our ancestors. It is rarely seen nowadays; indeed, it seems out of place on a modern table, as it requires the grim boar's head and Christmas pie as supporters. Sir Walter Scott has described a feast at which the baron of beef would have appeared to great advantage. We will quote a few lines to remind us of those days when "England was merry England," and when hospitality was thought to be the highest virtue.
"The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
When a lord's son came of age, in the olden time, the baron of beef was too small a joint, by many degrees, to satisfy the retainers who would flock to the hall; a whole ox was therefore generally roasted over a fire built up of huge logs. We may here mention, that an ox was roasted entire on the frozen Thames, in the early part of the present century.
Colonial Sense recipes using Cow, Beef, Veal:
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