Friday, July 10, 2009

Liverpool Curry.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (commonly known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London in 1851 made the country, at least for a time, a tourist destination. The visitors seemed to come for some years afterwards, and at least one author (who is not named) felt the need (or saw the niche) for a travel book. The American stranger’s guide to London and Liverpool at Table was published in 1859, and not only advised ‘how to dine and order a dinner, and where to avoid dining’, but also gave ‘practical hints to butlers and cooks’ – and threw in some recipes from the Royal Yacht Squadron Steward’s Manual. It all sounds as if the author wasn’t really sure who his target audience was, doesn’t it?

The author was, however, aware that the shared heritage and common language between the two countries did not obviate all cultural confusion. He spent some time explaining the mysteries of “Curry” to his American readers (the English considering themselves experts on the topic of course, on account of owning India at the time). He is clear and dogmatic on the fine point that Bengal, Madras, and Bombay Curries differ in the details, and pompous and pedantic in the associated footnote.

Speaking of Curries, it is lamentable to witness this aromatic dish served in Europe as an Entrée, sometimes with scarcely any rice, and that in the same dish. The rice should he abundant and carefully boiled; handed round in a separate dish, and then the Curry. It should never appear until the second course, and is an admirable substitute for Game, when the latter is not in season, or to be had. In India this dish is indispensable both at tiffin and dinner daily. It is a hors d’oeuvre that people never tire of, when properly concocted and served à l’Oriental, being in fact the Pâté de Foies-Gras of India. When partaking of Curry, always use a Dessert spoon instead of a fork; the use of the latter betokens a “Griffin”.

There is so much worthy of comment in this short opinion piece that it is hard to know where to start. His use of a capital for ‘Curry’ in every instance; Curry as a second course dish, never, God forbid! as an Entrée; Curry as an hors d’oeuvre; Curry as the ‘Pâté de Foies-Gras of India’; the entire concept of ‘Curry’ as an ‘Indian’ dish when it is unequivocally Anglo-Indian. I am sure those of you with a heritage based in the Indian subcontinent are falling about laughing or crying right now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The last word intrigues me. It was clearly an undesirable thing to be a griffin, or at least poor form to demonstrate griffinism. I understood a griffin to be a fabulous, imaginary beast, half eagle, half lion – so how does that fit here?

The OED gives an alternative meaning of ‘griffin’ as ‘A European newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a novice, new-comer, greenhorn.’ One of the supporting quotations notes ‘Young men, immediately on their arrival in India, are termed griffins, and retain this honour until they are twelve months in the country.’ So, there we have it. Or at least, we have half of it. The definition begs the question of ‘why griffin?’. Why not unicorn or centaur or phoenix or dragon? Is there an Indian dialect word that is similar in sound and meaning?

There was no agonising dilemma in chosing the recipe for the day from this book. The delightful dissonance produced by the collision of words in the name of the dish was instantly irresistible (methinks in inverse proportion to the degree of irresistibility of the dish itself.)

Liverpool Curry.
à la Parry.
Form two table spoonfuls of curry powder into paste. Cut up a rabbit or fowl into small pieces an inch long, rub them over with the paste, fry the meat with butter, and four onions sliced, to a deep brown; then add about two-thirds of a pint of good gravy, and let simmer for twenty mintues, remove all fat and skim, and put by cold; when wanted stew gently for four hours.
Mix together 2 spoonfuls of cream, 1 spoonful of Soy, a tea cupful of sour apples, or a table spoonful of craberries, 1 of flour, Dessert spoon of salt, a bit of butter, which add to the curry half an hour before it is taken from the fire.
When dished up add the juice of half a lemon. In India ham is eaten with curry and pickles, &c., to suit the taste of partakers; the remains of a duck, or of game, all come well into season, if you have them

Quotation for the Day.

Where life is colorful and varied, religion can be austere or unimportant. Where life is appallingly monotonous, religion must be emotional, dramatic and intense. Without the curry, boiled rice can be very dull.
C. Northcote Parkinson.


~~louise~~ said...

Currying favor perhaps...

I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist:)

I find this post quite intriguing in light of the fact that I have recently been visiting quite a few Indian food blogs. I too would appreciate "hearing" a native opinion. The next time I come across a curry post, (many are on curry leaves though) I will mention your post, Janet. Curious, I suppose...

Foose said...

I have read that "Griffin" was a period slur for a "half-caste" -- one of mixed race (a griffon, or gryphon, is made up of various animals). In the 18th century, Frederick Prince of Wales, father of George III (but who never became king himself) was nicknamed by his raffish friends "The Griff," or "Griffin," because of his noticeably yellow complexion.

But in this case I would think it more likely connotes "greenhorn."