Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Cook a Rhinocerus.

Our culinary history insights today come, as they did yesterday, from a missionary. The Rev. John Campbell went to South Africa in 1822, and subsequently recorded his adventures in his book, Missionary Travels in South Africa, undertaken at the Request of the London Missionary Society: being a Narrative of a Second Journey in the Interior of that Country.

As with yesterdays source, it must be remembered that the views are those of a man firmly secured in his own heritage and prejudices, without any hint of today’s political correctness. The reverend gentleman also gives us some idea of how to cook a rhinocerus. The text below is taken from an extensive review of the book.

… Fond as they are of salt, they never take it out of the pond, but purchase it from others; and though they readily eat potatoes, they cannot be prevailed on to plant them, because they resemble nothing which has been handed down to them by their forefathers, to whose manners and customs they appear to be strongly not to say superstitiously attached. The women eat with their husbands at home, but are not allowed to be present at public feasts. If the wife should fail in providing a supper for her husband according to his liking, he proceeds to the door of the house and certifies her negligence with a loud voice to the whole neighbourhood. If on the contrary the husband takes the correction of his wife into his own hands, she repairs to the same spot, and publishes her grievance to such of her neighbours as may choose to listen to it. Something not much unlike this takes place we believe in countries nearer home
… The larger species of wild beasts were abundant; and gnoos, hartebeests, quachas and rhinoceroses supplied the party with plenty of food. Of the last mentioned animals, one, of a large size was shot near the waggons. ‘I was astonished,’ says Mr Campbell, ‘at its bulk, being eleven feet long, six feet in height, four feet broad or in thickness, three feet from the top of the nose to the ears length of the fore legs two feet, circumference of the upper part of the fore leg three feet, length of the hind leg three feet, and its circumference at the upper part three and a half feet, the circumference of the body about eleven feet. - The whole party set about cutting it up, and in less than an hour every inch of that monstrous creature was carried off,and nothing but a pool of blood left behind; and when they halted in the evening, no less than fifteen fires were set a blazing, and eighty nine persons all busily employed in roasting, frying, boiling, and devouring rhinoceros flesh with disgusting voraciousness.’ A dead quacha was brought in by way of a second course. In order to cook the lower legs and hoofs of the rhinoceros, ( the calipash and calipee of a Booshuana epicure,) an ant's nest is selected, being a structure of hard clay about three feet high, and shaped like a bee-hive; the inside is a cellular turfy substance, which being removed and the cavity heated by burning brushwood, within it an excellent oven is prepared for the purpose.

The quotation that was originally going to go at the bottom of this post makes it into the text today:

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
Alice May Brock.

It is impossible to summarise “African” cuisine so easily. Before the continent was scrabbled over and subdued by competing European nations in the nineteenth century, its people belonged to a huge number of cultural groups and tribes – often in fierce opposition to each other, certainly, but with no concept of nationhood or its associated borders. Europeans, however, seemed to have an idea of what characterised African-style food, for a number of recipes for dishes à l’Africaine began to appear on menus.

There was no consensus however. There phrase à l’Africaine can refer to many dishes from consommé, to sorbet, to eggs to fish to chicken to ground meat patties to gateaux, and to many different combinations of ingredients. It would be perfectly possible to create a menu entirely of dishes styled à l’Africaine, without repeating any flavours.

Here are a few of the ideas, – you may be able to add more.

- in the classic French repertoire it often refers to a garnish of small balls of black or purple potatoes braised in butter with small marrows.
- many dishes containing horseradish
- stewed or ‘curried’ chicken or chicken with rice
- fish, fried, and garnished with fried bananas and a ‘devilled’ sauce.
- Escoffier has a Bombe à l’Africaine, made in a mould lined with chocolate ice and filled with an apricot ice.

Here are a couple more ideas for your dinner à l’Africaine.

Dates – Stuffed “à l’Africaine”
First blanch some pistachio nuts and stone some dates.
Pound the pistachio nuts with white sugar into a stiff paste.
Stuff the dates with this paste and glaze them with caramel mixture (mere sugar and water.)
Use for dessert.
[The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie, 1909]

Lamb Chops à l’Africaine.
Cut a lamb chop or cutlet, broil over a very sharp fire, turning it continually; when nearly done, season highly with salt and pepper and rub a spoonful of chutnee on both sides of each cutlet, put them again on the gridiron; broil for another minute and serve.
[Dainty Dishes: receipts collected by Lady Harriet Elizabeth St. Clair, 1866]

Quotation for the Day.

If African women were to stop working for one day, there would be no food, no caring for the sick, no sewing, no trading in the market - life would stop for that day.
Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega, founder of Advocates for African Food Security


dianabuja said...

Janet - Very interesting observation, on the numbers of dishes said to be 'african'. Perhaps a way of convincing Edwardian (and earlier) folk that they were eating what the explorers might have eaten!

I have eaten hippopotamus meat, but not rino. Hippo is ok; very fatty but ok skewered over a fire.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Diana - Yes, it seems that if it was vaguely spicy, the 19th C Englishman felt it could be called "African"
The obvious racism in the chocolate and ice-cream bombe is awful - I do seem to remember somewhere seeing a similar bombe being referred to as a negro's head.

Doddie said...

Hi Janet,

Once again, another delightful read. I must confess I am curious how a hippo or a rhino would taste But I draw a line against simians. With regards to using an ants't mound (nest) as a makeshift oven, is pure genius. Now if I only can get my family to do that in the Philippines (we have lots of ant and termite mounds there that is locally believed to be "the dwelling of earth dwarves"). LOL

Unknown said...

Thank you for quoting Alice, her book saved me from my fear of cooking.