A hare when fresh killed is stiff and red; when stale, the body is supple and the flesh in many parts black. If the hare be old the ears will be tough and dry, and will not tear readily. Rabbits may be judged in the same manner. In both, the claws should be smooth and sharp. In a young hare the cleft in the lip is narrow, and the claws are cracked readily if turned sideways.
Poultry to be perfect, should have just reached their full growth (the only exceptions to this are “spring chickens,” ducklings, goslings, etc., which are considered delicacies at certain seasons); they should be plump, firm fleshed, and not over fatted. Over-fed fowls are often a mass of greasy fat, which melts in the cooking and spoils the flavor of the bird. A hen is at her best just before she begins to lay; her legs should be smooth, her comb small, bright, and soft. A young cock has the comb full, bright colored, and smooth, the legs smooth, the spurs short, and in both the toes should break easily when turned back, and the weight of the birds should be great in proportion to their size. Contrary to the practice with game, poultry never should be kept long, as they turn easily, and are spoilt if the least high. They also require longer cooking, in proportion to their size, than game, and never should be underdone. Dark-legged fowls are best for roasting, as their flesh is moister and better flavored cooked in this way than the white-legged ones, which from their greater daintiness of appearance are to be preferred for boiling.
Turkeys should be plump, white-fleshed, young, the legs plump and firm, black and smooth, with (in the cock) short spurs, the feet soft and supple; the eyes should be full and clear, the neck long, and the wattles of a bright color. A hen turkey is best for boiling. Like fowls, an old turkey is fit for nothing but the stewpan or the stockpot. Turkeys require hanging for at least a week, though they must never be “high” or “gamey.”
Geese always should be chosen young, plump, and full breasted, a white skin, a yellow smooth bill, the feet yellow and pliable. If the feet and bill are red and hard, and the skin hairy and coarse, the bird is old. Geese should be hung for a few days. Ducks, like geese, should have yellow, supple feet; the breasts full and hard, and the skin clear. Wild ducks should be fat, the feet small, reddish, and pliable, the breast firm and heavy. If not fresh, there will be a disagreeable smell when the bill is open. The male is generally the more expensive, though the female is usually more delicate in flavor.
Pigeons always should be young and extremely fresh, and when so, they are plump and fat, with pliable smooth feet.
NOTE—In selecting game pluck a few feathers from the under part of the leg; if the skin is not discolored the bird is fresh. The age may be known by placing the thumb into the beak, and holding the bird up with the jaw apart; if it breaks it is young; if not, it is old, and requires longer keeping before cooking to be eatable.