Monday, June 09, 2008


June 9 ...

Two years ago on this very day I told you about a banquet given by the Scottish Geographical Society one hundred and eighteen years ago to this very day. The banquet was given in honour of Henry Morton Stanley, the perpetrator of the famous words spoken in Africa in 1871 - ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’

One banquet, so many possible subjects to discuss. Executive decisions to be made on a daily basis. Such is the burden of a food history blogger. There was something called ‘Niam-Niam Cream’ on this menu, but I avoided the topic two years ago out of sheer ignorance of its composition. That ignorance remains, and will probably persist forever, unless the testing notes of the chef turn up in some dusty Scottish archive, but a story can be wrung from everything however, and I do believe I have found one in the name of this intriguing item.

The Niam-Niam area people of Central Africa of (according to the OED) ‘mixed Negroid descent’, whatever that means. More specifically, it appears that they come from the area that is now called the eastern Sudan. The name means ‘great eaters’, and history or legend say that this particularly refers to their cannibalistic tendencies. It is interesting, this story, in view of my blog post yesterday about the new book Human Cuisine. (Self-promotion Alert coming up!). I do not know if the Niam-Niam people feature in the book - I do not know what else features in it apart from my own contribution, until I receive my complimentary copy. But I digress.

The name of these peoples is apparently pronounced ‘Yum-Yum’. When I found this out (I am no longer sure of the route I took to this point), I hied me off to the Oxford English Dictionary. On yum, the OED says it is ‘echoic’, in other words it is ‘an exclamation of pleasurable anticipation, with implication of sensual or gustatory satisfaction; frequently reduplicated as yum-yum, etc.’

So, is the OED wrong, and the word and the word comes to us from this African tribe? Or is the OED partially right, and it is echoic – but it is globally echoic, because what ever tribe we come from in the world, we all make similar mouth-humming sounds when enjoying a delicious morsel?

I cannot provide a recipe for Niam-Niam Cream, as it must have been an invention of the chef in honour of the famous guest, or perhaps a simple tweaking of an existing ‘cream’ recipe. The following pudding is yummy enough, so it will do.

Cocoa-Nut Pudding.
A quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut, grated.
A quarter of a pound of powdered white sugar.
Three ounces and a half of fresh butter.
The whites only of six eggs.
A table-spoonful of wine and brandy mixed.
Halfa tea-spoonful of rose-water.
Break up a cocoa-nut, and take the thin brown skin carefully off, with a knife. Wash all the pieces in cold water, and then wipe them dry with a clean towel. Weigh a quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut, and grate it very fine, into a soup-plate.
Stir the butter and sugar to a cream, and add the liquor and rose-water gradually to them. Beat the whites only, of six eggs, till they stand alone on the rods ; and then stir the beaten white of egg, gradually, into the butter and sugar. Afterwards, sprinkle in, by degrees, the grated cocoa-nut, stirring hard all the time. Then stir all very well at the last.
Have ready a puff-paste, sufficient to cover the bottom, sides, and edges of a soup-plate. Put in the mixture, and bake it in a moderate oven, about half an hour.
Grate loaf-sugar over it, when cool.
[Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats, By Eliza Leslie, 1836]

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

It is, of course, entirely possible to cook without using wine. It is also possible to wear suits and dresses made out of gunny sacks, but who wants to?
Morrison Wood.

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