Today, July 30th
The Australian explorer John McKinlay was given the task of searching for the lost Burke and Wills expedition which had set off in August 1860 with the aim of being the first to cross the continent from south to north. By the end of the year the deaths of Burke and Wills had been confirmed, and McKinlay turned his party northwards, as instructed, to explore the area to the north and west of Lake Eyre.
Eventually McKinlay and his men reached the Gulf of Carpentaria - to find the ship they were hoping to board had already left. They turned south and east, heading for Bowen on the coast of Queensland – six hundred mile trip for which their health, animals and supplies were not prepared. On this day in 1862 they killed and ate their last camel. With only a few horses left they were in dire straights, but a few days later they came across a cattle trail and within an hour were at the cattle station eating roast beef and damper.
Which brings me to my questions of the day. What does camel taste like? How does one cook camel? Not having any experience of my own, I am obliged to go to the experts.
In The Curiosities of Food, published in 1859, Peter Lund Simmons (who probably did not actually eat it but quotes others) says:
“ The flesh of the camel is dry and hard, but not unpalatable. … In Barbary, the tongues are salted and smoked for exportation to Italy and other countries, and they form a very good dish. The flesh is little esteemed by the Tartars, but they use the hump cut into slices, which, when dissolved in tea, serves the purpose of butter.”
The late Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food quotes Stobart (1980) on camel’s milk, which he says:
“has very small fat globules and cannot readily be churned to make butter.” It can however, apparently be made into a kind of yoghurt.
Waverley Root in Food quotes his correspondent Dr Lloyd Cabot Briggs, ‘an anthropologist who has spent a good deal of time in the Sahara’, and who presumably should know. He says:
“Camel [meat] has a distinctive taste which show up in a peculiar way. While you are eating it, it tastes just like rather ordinary beef or relatively tasty veal (depending on age), but when you’ve finished and run your tongue around your mouth, you suddenly discover a slightly sweetish after-taste, like horse but not quite so much, very faint, but definite.”
Hmm. So camel does not taste like chicken.
It seems that the experts give second-hand reports too. I would be delighted to hear some first hand experience, so please do leave a comment if you have some!
To my surprise, the Larousse Gastronomique (I have a 1961 edition) gives a number of recipes for camel. Here are a couple, in case you should get invited on a Saharan or Outback Aus tralian expedition.
Camel’s Feet Vinaigrette.
Soak the feet of a young camel. Cook them in a white court-bouillon in the same way as for Calf’s feet. Drain them. Serve with a vinaigrette sauce.
Roast Camel’s Hump.
Only the hump of a very young camel is prepared in this way.
Marinate the meat with oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, spices. Roast it in the same way as for roast sirloin of beef. Serve with its own gravy and water-cress.
On this topic: For more about the role of camels in the exploration of Australia, see the story on John Horrocks.
Tomorrow’s Story …
All about cucumbers.
Quotation for the Day …
Abu el-Heidja has deflowered in one night
Once eighty virgins, and he did not eat or drink between,
Because he surfeited himself with chickpeas,
And had drunk camel's milk with honey mixed.
Sheik Nefzawi: The Perfumed Garden