Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Eating in Ceylon in the 17th Century.

Today I thought we would go on a time-travel trip and vicariously enjoy the food of the past, thanks to An historical relation of the island Ceylon, in the East Indies: with an account of the detaining in captivity the author and divers other Englishmen now living there, and of the author's miraculous escape, (1681) by R. Chiswell.

And now we are mentioning eating, let us take a view of this people at their meals. Their Dyet and ordinary fare is but very mean, as to our account. If they have but Rice and Salt in their house, they reckon they want for nothing. For with a few green Leaves and the juice of a Lemmon with Pepper and Salt, they will make a hearty meal. Beef here may not be eaten; it is abominable: Flesh and Fish is somewhat scarce. And that little of it they have, they had rather sell to get mony to keep, then eat it themselves: neither is there any but outlandish men, that will buy any of them. It is they indeed do eat the fat and best of the Land. Nor is it counted any shame or disgrace, to be a niggard and sparing in dyet; but rather a credit even to the greatest of them, that they can fare hard and suffer hunger, which they say, Soldiers ought to be able to endure.
The great ones have always five or six forts of food at one meal, and of them not above one or two at most of Flesh or Fish, and of them more pottage than meat, after the Portugal fashion. The rest is only what groweth out of the ground. The main substance with which they fill their bellies is Rice, the other things are but to give it a relish.
If these people were not discouraged from rearing and nourishing Cattle and poultry, provisions might be far more plentiful. For there are many Jackalls, which catch their Hens and some Tigres, that destroy their Cattle, but the greatest of all is the King; whose endeavor is to keep them poor and in want. For from those that have Hens his Officers take them for the Kings use giving little or nothing for them; the like they do by Hogs. Goats none are suffered to keep, besides the King, except strangers.
In dressing of their victuals they are not to be discommended: for generally they are cleanly and very handy about the same. And after one is used to that kind of fare, as they dress it, it is very savoury and good. They sit upon a mat on the ground, and eat. But he, whom they do honour and respect, sits on a stool and his victuals on another before him.
Their common drink is only water: and if they drink Rack, it is their drink before they eat, that it may have the more operation upon their bodies. When they drink they touch not the Pot with their mouths, but hold it at a distance, and pour it in. They eat their Rice out of China dishes, or Brass Basons, and they that have not them, on leaves. The Carrees[curries] or other sorts of Food which they eat with their Rice, is kept in the Pans it is dressed in, and their wives serve them with it, when they call for it. For it is their duties to wait and serve their Husbands while they eat, and when they have done, then to take and eat that which they have left upon their Trenchers. During their eating they neither use nor delight to talk to one another.

As the recipe for the day, I leap forward three centuries to The Curry Cook’s Assistant, or, Curries, How to Make them in England in Their Original Style (1889,) written by the Ceylonese Daniel Santiagoe.

No. 21- EGG CURRY (Whitish Yellow).
Hard boil six eggs, and put in cold water till wanted. Now place a stew-pan on fire, and add half teaspoon of saffron powder (yellow); half-pint of milk; one large onion, sliced; one tablespoon finely chopped ham or corned beef; one green capsicum, cut in quarters; one potato, mashed up (the potato left from last meal will do). Now simmer this for quarter of an hour; don't let it burn. When serving, take eggs out of the shell; cut in halves; place the eggs on a vegetable dish (the
cut part up). Now add a tablespoon of cream, and a few drops of lemon juice; salt to taste, and pour over the eggs, and send to table with a brown Curry to accompany the rice (boiled). Samball and fried herring may be sent with these above Curries and rice. Poppadoms[7] and Bombay ducks will be a good accompaniment if could be procured.
 [7] Poppadoms is a thin kind of flour and turtle eggs, and a kind of  grain, mixed and made as thin as paper.

No. 22.-EGG CURRY (Brown).
Boil the eggs same as No. 21, and put in cold water till wanted. Now prepare Curry sauce (brown) as No. 26, pour over the eggs cut in halves, as egg Curry (yellow). Egg Curries always called in Ceylon "a rest-house Curry," because in several rest-houses in Ceylon usually not many visitors pass that way, beside these rest-house keepers cannot get fresh beef, etc. They always have plenty of eggs, fowls, native vegetables, etc., but egg Curry only can be made quick. When a gentleman is going from one planting district to another, a box cooly or a horse-keeper (groom) runs in front to a certain place, by order of his master. When he gets into the rest-house, the rest-house keeper knows that a gentleman is coming. At once he will order to kill a chicken and grill it in Scotch form and boil two eggs; when this is doing the kitchen mate[8] will squeeze half of a cocoanut, with little water mix some saffron, salt green chillie, Maldive fish, etc., now he boils this for five minutes. There is the breakfast ready! The bill of fare may be thus:-Grilled chicken; boiled pumpkin or beans, sometimes potatoes; boiled rice; egg Curry; samball; tea, coffee, or beer, etc. The dinner might be similar to above with addition of soup. Sometimes the Curries are made from native vegetables, as there is plenty of nice and wholesome vegetables in Ceylon (I mean) besides the English vegetables.
The rest-houses are in place of refreshment rooms and eating-houses are in England.
[8] Kitchen mate is a boy kept under the cook to do all the washing,  etc., etc.

No. 26.--CURRY SAUCE (Brown, for Meat of any sort).
Place a stew-pan on fire, add a spoonful of butter; when melted add oneonion, sliced; when half brownish colour add a tablespoon and a half of coriander powder, one of rice powder as No. 48, a saltspoon saffron, a pinch of cumin-seed powder. Now turn this well with a wooden spoon. When nicely fried, add the spices as said in the Curry No. 4, ginger and garlic chopped up fine. Now add a pint of good gravy or fresh milk, and let it simmer on slow fire till you find it reduced to a half-pint. Add salt to taste, and a little cayenne if preferred hot. Now this Curry Sauce is ready. This sauce can be heated up with any cold meats, as beef, mutton, pork, poultry, game, etc., etc., because the meat cooked beforehand cannot be cooked up in the above sauce, only warmed up. When preparing, the meat should only be added to the gravy about five to ten minutes before serving. The above recipe is only suitable for cold meats, fried livers, chops, steaks, etc., etc. The above is a brown Curry for parties, like the Curry stuffs; but for yellow Curry with less Curry stuffs, etc., see the accompanying recipe. But in Ceylon or in India always two Curries, etc., accompany the rice; especially in Ceylon a brown and yellow Curry, etc., accompanies the rice to table.

This story is to be continued tomorrow, when we move to looking at ‘Cooking in Ceylon in the 17th Century’.

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