Friday, November 12, 2010

Curried What?

I dallied rather a long time in the archives of Brisbane’s The Queenslander newspaper while I was tracking down food information for yesterday’s story on Ned Kelly. I cannot resist giving you the opinions on ‘curry’ from the edition of November 4, 1882. I was pleasantly surprised by the article. I expected the usual Anglo-Indian advice based on the ‘one curry powder fits all’ principle – which is how the article seems to start out – but read on, and see what is mentioned further down in the story – lemon-grass and fresh coriander for example. It is a broader view than usual for the era, that is certain, although a degree of kindly tolerance is still requested from my friends from the Indian sub-continent, please!

MOST people, more especially old Anglo- Indians, have a liking for a really good curry; but how very rarely it is to be obtained in England, unless at the house of someone who has passed a good many years in India. The dish miscalled a curry is very frequently set before people, but too often as far as possible removed from the real and appetising plat which a good Indian cook will send to table. The meat is tough, has most likely been boiled instead of gently simmered, the sauce, or thick gravy, is not enough in all conscience, but it tastes only of curry powder of an inferior kind; the rice is a sloppy mess, and the result is a fiery leathery sort of indigestible hash, instead of a sweet-acid highly but agreeably flavoured, perfectly cooked, and digestible dish, fit to set before a prince. The mere cooking of a curry is not the difficult part of it, though that requires to be understood. Any cook, of whatever nationality, who has really mastered the art of stewing properly—that is, very gently and slowly—can cook a curry; the real difficulties lie in procuring good curry powder or curry paste, which in England is by no means easy to do, and in properly flavouring. I read lately an excellent article on curries in the Pioneer Mail, written by "Wyvern," a great authority on Indian cooking generally, and, as the paper in which it appeared is not very constantly met with here, I extract his recipes on curry making and for curry powder, which last was given him by an accomplished chatelaine on the eve of her departure from India as a token of goodwill; he observes that the quantity the recipe makes is rather alarming; but, by keeping the proper proportions, half or a quarter of the amount could be made instead. All curry powders improve very much by being kept thoroughly well corked down in perfectly dry bottles, and if the dozen bottles—of the size of those used for importing tart fruits—which is the amount the recipe in full will make when finally mixed, are too many to be kept in stock, it would be easy to share them with friends by arrangement. Here is the recipe: 10 lb. of turmeric (Hind, huldi), 10 lb of coriander seed (dhunnia), 2 lb. cummin seed (jcera), 2 lb. of poppy seed (khush khush), 1 lb. of fenugreek (raaythi), 1 lb. of dry ginger (sont), 4 lb. of mustard seed (rai), 1 lb. of dried chilies (sooka mirrch), 1 lb. of black pepper corns (kala mirrch). Weigh everything most carefully. The coriander-seed and fenugreek must each be parched very carefully— i.e., roasted like coffee berries, before being pounded. The other ingredients should be cleaned and dried each separately, and, when pounded, well sifted. Weights having then been tested, the whole of the powders should be mixed, half a bottle of salt being sprinkled in by degrees during the process. The bottles thoroughly cleansed and dried in the sun, or before a fire, may then be filled and corked tightly down, the tops being securely waxed over. This is a stock powder, the flavour of which can be varied by the use of certain spices, green leaves, garlic, onions, green ginger, almond, cocoanut, &c, at the time of cooking the curry. The spices, which should be used according to taste and discretion, are these: cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamoms, and allspice. A teaspoonful of one, or at most two, of these aromatic powders, blended, will suffice for a large curry. Dr. Kitchener's precept—that the mixing of spices is a blunder—should never be forgotten. The green leaves that are often useful when judiciously introduced are: fennel, maythi, baiee, lemon grass, bay leaves, " karay pauk," and kotemear leaves (green coriander). Pounded almonds (sweet) can be put into a curry very advantageously; they may be used alone or with the cocoanut; 1 oz. of the latter to twelve almonds is a good proportion. When green ginger is used it should be sliced very fine and pounded to a paste, a dessertspoonful being sufficient for one curry. The necessary suspicion of sweet-acid can be produced most readily by a dessertspoonful of powdered or moist sugar and the juice of a lime, or a spoonful of vinegar. A tablespoonful of sweet chutney and the juice of a lime make a good substitute; but a tablespoonful of red currant jelly, with one of chutney, and a little vinegar or lime juice, form the nicest combination for dark curries. The writer of the above has, of course, India in his mind's eye, and the recipe is intended for that country; but I see no reason why the ingredients could not be obtained in England, with the exception of the fenugreek and the green leaves mentioned. If, however, it is wished to avoid trouble, then get some really good Indian powder. "Wyvern" advocates the use of Barrie's Madras curry powder and paste. With a good stock curry powder, blended with enough fresh paste for the curry, made when the dish is being prepared, and with proper cooking, a really good curry ought to be sent to table without much difficulty. For the fresh paste to mix with the stock powder take " one small onion, one clove of garlic, one dessertspoonful of turmeric, one of freshly roosted coriander seed, one of poppy seed, a teaspoonful of Nepal pepper, one or sugar, one of salt, and one of grated green ginger. Pound all to a paste, also pound twelve almonds (sweet) and 1 oz. of cocoanut, with a little lime juice to assist the operation. Then mix the two pastes, and stir into them a teaspoonful of cinnamon or clove powder. A heaped-up tablespoonful of this powder to one of the stock powder, as given in the above recipe, will produce excellent results. Additional heat can be obtained by those who like very hot curries if red chili powder be added to the above ingredients, according to taste. 

Here is my pick of ‘curry’ recipes from Australian newspapers of the 1880’s.

Curry of Bandicoot.
Cut four onions and two apples in slices and put them in a stewpan with a tablespoonful of butter; place over the fire, stirring occasionally until the onions are slightly browned, then add two tablespoonfuls of curry-powder, mix well, and moisten with a cup of water or stock. Have a nice young bandicoot cut into joints and fried of a nice brown color, put it into the curry, season with a little sauce and lemon juice, and let it stew gently till tender. Arrange prettily upon your dish and serve with rice around it.
The Queenslander, Brisbane, Dec 18, 1880

Cheese Curry.
Grate a teacupful of rich, hard cheese, and add to it a teacupful of milk, a teaspoonful of mixed mustard and one of curry powder. Stir it over the fire till thick and smooth, and spread it over slices of buttered toast. Brown a few minutes in the oven, and serve hot.
The West Australian (Perth, WA) Jan 9, 1880

(This second recipe would, methinks, go nicely in the ‘Welsh Rabbit’ collection, which you can find here, and here.)

Quotation for the Day

“It is ludicrous to read the microwave direction on the boxes of food you buy, as each one will have a disclaimer: "THIS WILL VARY WITH YOUR MICROWAVE." Loosely translated, this means, "You're on your own, Bernice."”
Erma Bombeck.


Marcheline said...

Oooh, the cheese curry sounds delish - I would add some beer to the mix!

The Old Foodie said...

I really like the sound of it too. A nice Sunday supper snack, I think.