Monday, November 14, 2005

On armadillo and hot spices.

Today, November 14 …

Walter Raleigh’s voyage in search of “El Dorado” had gone badly wrong. He was carried ashore at Cayenne (French Guiana) on this day in 1617, ill with a fever. A crowd of curious locals brought food:

“… which they did in great plenty, … and great abundance of pinas, the princess of fruits that grow under the sun, … One of them gave me a beast called by the Spaniards armadillo …”

Few Europeans had tasted pineapple at this time, and even fewer had eaten armadillo, which Raleigh and his men did a few days later. He was no foodie. He did not record his impressions, but subsequent heroes say it is just like chicken, or pork, or rabbit, or duck (not armadillo?). He also made no comment about the spiciness or otherwise of the food, although the name “Cayenne” is now inextricably associated with the “pepper” of that name, which is not pepper, but simply chilli powder after all. Until it arrived in the Old World there was no chilli in Indian food (and no tomato in Italian food – but more on this tomorrow).

“Curry” is not an Indian term, it is an Anglo-Indian concept received in exchange for the love of cricket. The first English recipe for curry occurs in 1747; by the end of that century recipes were common. Sarah Martin included one for curry powder in “The new experienced English-housekeeper…” (1795).

To make Curry Powder.
Take an ounce of the best turmerick beaten and sifted very fine, fourteen bay-leaves beaten and sifted, one large nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of mace, as much chyan [cayenne] as will lay upon a shilling, mix these well together, put them in a dry wide mouth’d bottle, and keep them in a dry place.

… and to make “curry balls”:

“ … take the yolk of an egg boiled very hard, and a lump of fresh butter the same size, beat it in a small mortar, mix it up with curry powder to a paste, make it into balls the size of a nut, lay them on a saucer, and cover them with a piece of writing paper, set them into an oven, to be made hot, but not to burn them, so send them to the table; these are to be sent on a dish by themselves, for those who like to add them to their sauce.

Tomorrow … Back to the Future.

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