The tamarind (Tamarindus indicus) is native to parts of tropical Africa, but now widespread in India. The fruit produces a very sour pulp which has many culinary uses. Recipes containing tamarind are usually instantly identified as “eastern”, but several seventeenth century recipes demonstrate that at that time it was a common enough ingredient for various English dishes (albeit mostly for the sick or indisposed). It was purchased from the apothecary not the greengrocer, and a couple of nice ideas occur in Kitchin-physick, or, Advice to the poor by way of dialogue betwixt Philanthropos, physician, Eugenius, apthecary [sic], Lazarus, patient. With rules and directions, how to prevent sickness, and cure diseases by diet ... (1676.)
The author gives several variations of Watergruel (‘the sick man's Food and Physick’), one of which contains tamarind (or prunes) as an alternative to the currants in the main recipe.
Take two pints of River or Spring Water, boil it first, and then let it cool again; then put to it a due proportion of Oatmeal, a handful of Sorrel, and a good quantity of pick'd and well wash'd Currants, (eston'd Raisins of the Sun, and other ingredients, as the Disease will permit, may also be added) [...]ye up these ingredients loosely in a fine thin linnen cloth or bag: boil them all well together (with or without a little Mace, Nutmeg, Rosemary, &c. as occasion offers) when 'tis sufficiently boil'd strain the Oat-meal, and press out all the juyce or moisture of the Currants and Herbs; throwing away the husks; as you eat it, sweeten it with a very little Sugar, Salt, Butter, and fine Manchet may be added, unless the Disease be very acute: Or,
Take a quart of water, put to it a spoonful or two of Oatmeal, and a little Mace, when it is sufficiently boil'd, put in it seven or eight spoonfuls of white, or Rhenish-wine, to make it more nourishing (if the Disease will bear it) beat up an Egg with a little Sugar, and put some of the hot liquour to it, and then give it a walm or two: Or,
Take Tamarinds or Pruens, wash them in several Waters, then stone them, and cut them small; boil them in a sufficient quantity of Water and Oatmeal, and strain the juyce from the flesh, as you did the Currants, and add to it a little Sugar when you eat it.
The author then suggests this very pleasant-sounding dish:
“Tamarind Possets are also very pleasing, and profitable in all hot Diseases: 'Tis made thus:
Take three pints, or two quarts of Milk, boil in it about two peny worth of Tamarinds (which you may buy at the Apothecaries) until it turn the Milk, then strain it from its Curds: Thus is made Whitewine, Rhenish, Lemon, Orange, Sorrel, Pippin, and all Possets made of sowre things, whch are excellent in Fevers, and all Diseases coming of Choler; Vinegar Possets will do as well as any.”
The recipes are a fine example of the substitution of an exotic imported ingredient for another more homely one – the added expense and allure no doubt adding to the healing potential of the remedy.
Quotation for the Day …
The past is always a rebuke to the present.
Robert Penn Warren