Friday, September 28, 2007

Fat in Africa.

Today, September 28th ...

The intrepid missionary explorer David Livingstone was in Africa, near Lake Nyasa (he was the first European to set eyes on it) on this day in 1866. He wrote:

“The chief … was prodigiously fat. This is the African way of showing love – plenty of fat and beer. He brought also a huge basket of pombe, the native beer, and another of porrige, and a pot of cooked meat. More food was brought to us than we could carry.”

A century and a half later we are immediately struck by the meaning of fatness in this story. This chief was loved and loving and generous, as demonstrated by his fatness - even before we find out about his great gift of food. In his own country no doubt the chief would still be viewed in that light today, for in poor countries and poor times fat is a sign of wealth and health and amiability (and is beautiful). Within an affluent society it is the reverse - fat is seen as a mark of poverty or ignorance or gluttony (and is ugly).

This is how it has always been – creating and applying a meaning to something is inevitably associated with making a judgement of it, and we have always been most savagely judgemental in respect of our fellow humans. In another part of Africa (the south and west) were peoples with a language which sounded strange to the seventeenth century Dutch who were vigorously colonising the area. The speech sounded to them like stuttering, and the indigenous people became known as ‘Hottentots’ from the colonists word for that form of speech.

Naturally for the era, the colonists considered the native people inferior in every respect, and ‘Hottentot’ became a generally derogatory adjective applied to a number of things. With one exception. A rather elegant and delicious “Hottentot pie” was fashionable in the eighteenth century. The pie is not essentially different from a common sort of pie made for centuries, and going by a variety of names. I have no idea why for a while it was briefly called after the Hottentots, so if any of you do know, please pass the information on.

Hottentot Pie.
Boil and bone two calf’s feet, clean very well a calf’s chitterling, boil it an chop it small, take two chickens and cut them up as for eating, put them in a stew-pan with two sweet-breads, a quart of veal or mutton gravy, half an ounce of morels, Chyan [cayenne] pepper and salt to your palate, stew them all together an hour over a gentle fire, then put in six force-meat balls that have been boiled, and the yolks of four hard eggs, and put them in a good raised crust that has been baked for it, strew over the top of your pie a few green peas boiled as for eating; or peel and cut some young green brocoli stalks about the size of peas, give them a gentle boil, and strew them over the top of your pie, and send it up hot without a lid, the same way as a French pie.
[The Experienced English Housekeeper; Elizabeth Raffald; 1769]

Monday’s Story …

Quotation for the Day …

"I have no truck with lettuce, cabbage, and similar chlorophyll. Any dietitian will tell you that a running foot of apple strudel contains four times the vitamins of a bushel of beans. S.J. Perelman.

My Book ...

There will be more, much more, on pies and pasties in my upcoming book tentatively entitled "The Pie: A Celebratory History", to be published by Reaktion Press in the UK in late 2008.

No comments: