Friday, March 02, 2012

Using Your Curry Stone.

Yesterday’s recipe for Ballachony from Warne’s Everyday Cookery (London, 1872) by Mary Jewry made reference to the use of a ‘currie stone.’ I initially assumed it must mean a mortar and pestle, but it turns out that it is quite a different article, and not at all the sort of thing I would have expected to find in a Victorian English kitchen - the popularity of Anglo-Indian cuisine notwithstanding.

There is a marvellous photograph of a curry stone in use HERE. The description of the image reads:

Photograph of two women with a curry stone and a raggy mill at Madras in Tamil Nadu, taken by Nicholas and Curths in c.1870, from the Archaeological Survey of India. This photograph was shown at the Vienna Universal Exhibition of 1873. This is a view of one woman [on the left] crushing spices, the other grinding raggy, a grain cultivated as a staple in food in Southern India, between two millstones.

I don’t know how common genuine curry stones were in the kitchens of England in the late nineteenth century, but the great interest in ‘curries’, and the instructions in the above recipe, suggest that they were not unknown.  Cookery books of the time catered for the great interest in ‘curries’, and one in particular makes much of the use of curry stones to grind one’s own curry powder. The book is The Curry Cook's Assistant or, Curries, How to Make them in England in Their Original Style (3e 1889) by Daniel Santiagoe, General Servant.

Before I give you some of Mr Santiagoe’s thoughts and recipes, I cannot resist sharing with you some of the insights into the attitudes of the era provided by a reviewer of the cook book, and the publisher.

The writer in the Saturday Review of the book, on October 22, 1887, opined:

Nobody need think from the specimens we have given that Mr. Santiagoe is unintelligible. His English may be "pigeon," 
but it is a much more easily digestible tongue than the high and mighty gobble-gobble of some of our own professors of style and matter.

And the publisher himself also gave a paternalistic apology of an introduction to his author:

Daniel Santiagoe's English may occasionally provoke a smile, but it is "English as she is spoken" by several millions of Her Majesty's subjects, and its originality often lends it force.
Were excuse necessary it would be found in this, that Daniel Santiagoe is a domestic servant to whom English is a foreign tongue.

Now, to Mr. Santiagoe himself. He gives a number of recipes for curry powders,  with the following general comments:

I beg to bring the following Receipts to Curries, etc. I hope it will be handy to ladies, housekeepers, cooks, etc. I only mention the easy way of making it in England, for scarcity of fresh and pure Curry stuffs none procurable. Still, it is very troublesome to grind the Curry stuffs without a Curry stone, which is very common to a native Cooly of India. No native houses without a Curry stone. The way the native girls, etc., grind the Curry stuffs will be an astonishment to European ladies. The best way to grind the Curry powder in England, by hard stone made mortar or pounder, but the best and easy way is to buy from your respected grocers, which, I should say, ought to be of two colours, one is brown and the other is yellow, and the red is cayenne pepper (if required hot Curries).

These cannot be done unless you have a stone-made pounder or Curry stone and grinder. The latter I have not seen in England, still there is the finest strong metal stones in England. The Curry stone and grinder is bought for no money in up country of Ceylon, but in Colombo, the chief city here, we pay 50 cents, to Rs. 2 50 cts. each. Curry stone and grinder will last for generations. It is better to grind all Curry stuffs separately and keep each in its own bottle, then you will be careful of what you are about, and you will know how much you are using of each stuff.

As to the apparent goal of his book – to show how to make authentic curries in England, I am not sure he achieves this, but we certainly have some fun along the way. The recipe I give you today is, to me, a superb example of – not ‘authentic’ Indian curries (for what does that term mean anyway) – but of fusion cuisine at either its best or worst – I cannot decide which. For what is more English than toast?

Toast Curry.
Prepare some Curry gravy, same as Madras Curry, No. 4. Now toast two slices of bread; cut thin, and in diamond shape. After toasted, dish the toast on a vegetable dish, and pour over the gravy you prepared, and send to table hot, with Curry and rice, samball, etc.

And here follows the recipe for the Madras curry No. 4. Note that Mr Santiago prefers this curry above all others:

A Madras woman can beat any other Indian woman in Curry cooking.  ... The Madras Curry always the best, much different than a Bengal or Bombay Curry, to my opinion.

No. 4.—Beef Curry (Madras).
For a Pound of Beef.
  2 Tablespoons Coriander Powder and 1 of Rice Powder.
  1 Saltspoon Saffron and a Pinch of Cumin Powder and Fenugreek.[4]
  ½ Pint of Milk or good Gravy.
  1 Large or few small Onions.
  A bit of Cinnamon, 2 Cloves (if you wish spices).
  ½ Teaspoon Green Ginger chopped up fine.
  A Small Garlic chopped up fine.
  1 Large Spoonful of Butter (fresh); Salt to taste.
  [4] If could be procured.

N.B.-This Curry is made in Madras with or without Cocoanut, but little Tamarind will flavour this Curry better than Lemon Juice. Vinegar, Curry Leaves, etc., are used in Madras and Ceylon. This is a first-class Curry if carefully prepared.
Mode. Have the meat ready cut in half-inch squares; then slice the onions; put a good stew-pan on the fire, add the butter; soon as the butter gets hot put in the onions and Curry Powder, but not the ginger,
garlic, and spices. When the onions, Curry stuffs, etc., are nicely browned, add the meat, garlic, ginger, spices, and give it a turn. Let it stand for a few seconds, then add the milk or gravy, salt, etc.; set on slow fire for about 20 minutes. When sending to table add a few drops of lemon or good pickle vinegar, but tamarind is best. Add little cayenne if preferred hot; a hot Curry is considered always nice and healthy, the cayenne to be added when preparing.

Quotation for the Day.

This curry was like a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that I'd once heard.....especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging 'Joy.' It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
Anthony Burgess


Teong said...

I am writing a second book on Penang Heritage Food. The theme is traditional objects used for cooking and I am surprised to find "curry stone". In Penang, Malaysia, it is known as "batu giling". Fewer people know how to use it; they are using food processors!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Teong. Thanks for your comments. I guess so many of these old tools are disappearing now. I hope your book does well.

Pearly Kee said...

Hi Janet,

I still love our curry stone or what we called batu giling.

You can view a picture of me using it here: