Monday, April 20, 2009

A Story about Humps.

There is one in every circle, isn’t there? The hostess-with-the-mostess whose mission in life is to out-manoeuvre and over-impress all her wannabe accolytes, and will go to extraordinary lengths to do so. I love the following story - too good to abbreviate, so I give it in its entirety - about about one such a hostess in the first decade of the nineteenth century. I love it because it shows that some things - human nature for one glaring example – never change. I love it also because it reminds us about another “forgotten” dish.

From the Spirit of the Public Journals of 1807, by George and Robert Cruikshank, a story about humps.
The newest and most extraordinary delicacy of the table at present in vogue is the Hump. This article of luxury consists of the tumour that grows on the back; fear not, my Lord K. it is the back of the buffalo that is meant. The consistency of the fibre somewhat resembles that of tongue, but the taste is much more agreeable; and the method and materials of curing are such as to improve, to the highest point, the natural flavour of the meat. Humps have long been a favourite dish at the splendid entertainments of the great Lords at our principal settlements in India; but it is not till within these very last years that persons in more humble situations presumed to give them; at their grandest fêtes, or that the Captains of the Company's ships have been able to bring home one or two at an odd time, as presents to their most particular friends. This year more extensive orders were sent out, and great exertions were to have been made to procure a larger supply. It is said that the turtle-dressers were concerned in sending out these orders; and if that was the case, the steps that have been taken to disappoint them were the more meritorious. The Lady of a legal Baronet, lately arrived from the East, jealous of the high prerogative of tables of the first rank, and indignant at the degradation her sumptuous board would suffer, if any oriental dame less dignified, or any European lady of whatsoever dignity, could set before her guests a treat which she had been the first to introduce, determined to omit no efforts to engross to herself, for some years at least, the sole power of giving humps. With a view to secure to herself this high pre-eminence, this distinguished Lady dispatched a mandate to Calcutta, enjoining the principal hump-curer, who had been long accustomed to consider her Ladyship's words as law, to buy up all the humps that could be had, at whatsoever price, and to ship them for Europe, to her address, and for her sole use.
Figure to yourself, Sir, if you can, the unparalleled consternation that the publication of this order spread over the whole peninsula. It was a double privation to the great Lords and great Ladies of Calcutta, to have lost the female who held the first rank among them, and to be at the same time debarred from enjoying the dish in which the pride of their entertainments consisted. "Was it not enough," exclaimed the most indignant, "for her Ladyship to withdraw from us that presence, which always took care to make itself felt as the most important amongst us? Will not her Ladyship be satisfied, without making us feel that she thinks nobody she has left after her at Calcutta fit to eat a hump? Does she think she cannot exhibit her superiority sufficiently, without showing us, that, if she chooses it, she will eat humps in England; and if she chooses, will not suffer us to eat them here?" Such is the language of the great Ladies still remaining at Calcutta, if great they can be called, when they can no longer eat humps. The poor-buffaloes every day feel their fate harder. It is said, they are now often killed for the humps alone, as the oxen in South America are for their hides and fat; or, according to a more improved practice lately introduced, have the hump frequently cut down to the root, and then suffered to grow up again, somewhat in the manner of Mr. Bruce's Abyssinian rump-steaks.
However this may be, the precaution of the Lady has effectually succeeded in confining the dish to her own circle. It therefore cannot possibly become vulgar; a misfortune which cannot easily be guarded against with respect to other luxuries, in a country where a common tallow-chandler is often rich enough, and, what is more, extravagant enough, to outbid the greatest Lord, and to purchase, at a higher price, the rarest articles that come to market. Horace, surprised at the unrestrained practice of luxurious entertainments in his time, takes occasion to mention, that it was not very long before that the table of some Auctioneer had been the subject of general outcry for having sturgeon. Our Auctioneers enjoy every luxury of the day without comment or observation. When they are employed to sell the mansions, and furniture, and demesnes, of great Lords, neither turtle nor venison, nor any thing that can be had, is considered too good for them. They themselves act on the principle of the savages, who, when they cut down a tree, light a fire on the root, to make.merry at; and those who employ them seem to consider the occasion as a sort of funeral festivity, in which all expense may be disregarded, as it must be the last. The gentlemen of the hammer must, however, content themselves with turtle and venison. It will be some time before the Lord of Fonthill himself will be able to give them a hump at their annual clearing off of the costly collections, which his caprice assembles and dissipates at so vast an expense, merely to sport with his immense fortune. We mention it to the honour of Lady -- and for the satisfaction of the aristocracy of eating, of which this distinguished service ought to render her an honorary member, that she has raised a barrier against the vulgarization of the hump, which cannot be broken down, either by love or money. To be sure, it must have cost her Ladyship a great deal; but that is nothing in comparison with the accomplishment of so great an object. New fortunes, like young young trees, may grow better for having their exuberances lopped off. When the epicure, who had dissipated his estate in drinking Tokay, was asked, what his children should do? he answered, "Let them smell to the corks." The case is not so bad in the present instance. The children may go and eat humps in the country of the humps; and when they get there the market will probably be open, by the removal of the monopoly that now exists.
The subject of the humps includes a multitude of very important moral and political considerations.— When Lord Lauderdale gave a turtle at Paris, every one recollects the variety of important conclusions that were drawn from so extraordinary an event. When Lord Wellesley shall be found to give a hump, deductions equally grave and momentous will, no doubt, be derived from the fact and the circumstances. Many persons, no doubt, expected that there would have been given, in this article, the mode of cutting oft, of curing, of dressing, serving up, carving, eating, the sauce, &c. of the hump, the more particularly as that grand history of a year's eating at the Marquis of Buckingham's, lately published by his Lordship's cook, contains nothing of the matter; but it was the moral, not the sensual effects of the thing that appeared to call particularly for public notice. And here again there is occasion to applaud and to congratulate Lady on the effect of her aristocratic engrossing. It will be some years at least before the grand and select circle of her Ladyship's friends will be annoyed by seeing placarded on the coffeehouses, or pastry-shops, "A hump dressed here to-day," or before they will have their dignity hurt by seeing advertisements of a similar nature in every newspaper they can take up. Turtle and venison have been sufficiently in this way to warn those who wish to eat genteelly, to keep every new good thing to themselves.
Such has been the effect of the precaution taken to confine the consumption of the humps to Lady 's circle, that a celebrated Baronet and Alderman, who has been some time at Margate qualifying himself by repeated voyages in his fine sailing-boat, to command the gilded flotilla of the city-barges in their grand expedition from Blackfriars to Westminster, on the 9th of November [Lord Mayor’s Day], and who has been also exercising himself in the preparatory practice necessary to enable him to participate largely in the other glories of that great day; even he, it is said, though he took care to meet the last fleet from the East Indies out at sea, and did not hesitate to declare, that no money should prevent him from tasting a delicacy which he wished for beyond all the turtles ever found in the Old South Sea—even he had the mortification to find all his solicitations and all his offers unavailing.
After the failure of so great a personage, I can, with less shame, though not with less vexation, avow myself, as I must,

So, dear readers, what, actually, is “Spiced Hump”? We find that it is no more and no less than hump prepared in the same manner as corned beef. ‘Corning” is simply salting – the word coming from the fact that in Olde England anything in the form of grains was called ‘corn’ – including grains of salt and wheat (the latter was always ‘corn’, until maize came on the scene and confused the issue.)

Now for the daily recipe fix: first, the basic, un-spicy preparation from The American frugal housewife by Lydia Maria Child (1838)

To Corn Meat.
When you merely want to corn meat, you have nothing to do but to rub in salt plentifully, and let it set in the cellar a day or two. If you have provided more meat than you can use while it is good, it is well to corn it in season to save it. In summer, it will not keep well more than a day and a half; if you are compelled to keep it longer, be sure and rub in more salt, and keep it carefully covered from cellar-flies. In winter, there is no difficulty in keeping a piece of corned beef a fortnight or more. Seme people corn meat by throwing it into their beef barrel for a few days; but this method does not make it so sweet. A little salt-petre rubbed in before you apply the common salt, makes the meat tender; but in summer it is not well to use it, because it prevents the other salt from impregnating ; and the meat does not keep as well.

Secondly, how to cook a sweet spicy version: from The Practice of Cookery, by Mrs. Dalgairns, (1830). No doubt the principal hump-curer from East India had his own special selection of spices in his initial cure too.

Short, or Spiced Beef.
To be eaten cold.
Hang up ten or twelve pounds of the middle part of a brisket of beef for three or four days, then rub well into it three ounces of finely-powdered saltpetre, and if spice is approved of, one ounce of allspice, and half an ounce of black pepper; let it stand all night, then salt it with three pounds of well-pounded bay salt, and half a pound of treacle, in which let it remain ten days, rubbing it daily. When it is to be boiled, sew it closely in a cloth, let the water only simmer, upon no account allowing it to boil, for nine hours over a slow fire, or upon a stove. When taken out of the water, place two sticks across the pot, and let the beef stand over the steam for half an hour, turning it from side to side, then press it with a heavy weight. It must not be taken out of the cloth till perfectly cold.

Quotation for the Day.

I believe that if you don't want to do anything, then sit there and don't do it, but don't expect people to hand you a corn beef sandwich and wash your socks for you and unzip your fly for you.
Shel Silverstein.

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