Tuesday, October 01, 2013

“Observations on the Mussulmauns of India.”

I have another time-travel food story for you today (you know how I love these little gems!) It is about “the Mussulmauns of Hindoostan” who were, in 1832, “a people but little known to the European reader.”  Our source is Observations on the Mussulmauns of India: Descriptive of Their Manners, Customs, Habits, and Religious Opinions : Made During a Twelve Years' Residence in Their Immediate Society (Madras, 1832) by Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali, and it was published for an English readership by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Firstly, I give you a couple of random snippets on food topics:

"Tale kee archah wallah" (Oil pickles). The method of pickling in oil is of all others in most request with the common people, who eat the greasy substance as a relish to their bread and dhall. The mustard-oil used in the preparation of this dainty, is often preferred to ghee in curries.
The better sort of people prefer water pickle, which is made in most families during the hot and dry weather by a simple method; exposure to the sun being the chemical process to the parboiled carrots, turnips, radishes, &c., immersed in boiling water, with red pepper, green ginger, mustard-seed, and garlic. The flavour of this water pickle is superior to any other acid, and possesses the property of purifying the blood.

"Mittie wallah" (Man with sweetmeats). The many varieties of sweetmeats, or rather confectionary, in general estimation with the Natives, are chiefly composed of sugar and ghee, prepared in countless ways, with occasional additions of cocoa-nut, pistachias, cardimuns, rose-water, &c., and constantly hawked about the streets on trays by men.

And here is the author’s overview of the local cookery, with some information on the mango – an extraordinarily mysterious and exotic fruit to Europeans in 1832:

The Natives in their cookery, use every kind of vegetable and fruit in its unripe state. Two pounds of meat is in general all that is required to form a meal for twenty people, and with this they will cook several dishes by addition of as many different sorts of vegetables.
Herbs, or green leaves, are always denominated saag, these are produced at all seasons of the year, in many varieties; the more substantial vegetables, as potatoes, turnips, carrots, &c., are called turkaaree.
The red and green spinach is brought to the market throughout the year, and a rich-flavoured sorrel, so delicious in curries, is cultivated in most months. Green peas, or, indeed, vegetables in general, are never served in the plain way in which we see them at our tables, but always in stews or curries. The green mango is used invariably to flavour their several dishes, and, at the proper season, they are peeled, cut, and dried for the year's consumption. They dislike the acid of the lemon in their stews, which is never resorted to when the green mango or tamarind can be procured.
The fruits of India in general estimation with the Natives are the mango and the melon. Mangoes are luscious and enticing fruit; the Natives eat them to an excess when they have been some hours soaked in water, which, they say, takes away from the fruit its detrimental quality; without this preparatory precaution those who indulge in a feast of mango are subject to fevers, and an increase of prickly heat, (a fiery irritable rash, which few persons are exempt from, more or less, in the hot weather); even biles, which equally prevail, are less troublesome to those persons who are careful only to eat mangoes that have been well soaked in water. The Natives have a practice, which is common among all classes, and therefore worthy the notice of foreigners, of drinking milk immediately after eating mangoes. It should be remembered that they never eat their fruit after dinner, nor do they at any time indulge in wine, spirits, or beer.
The mango in appearance and flavour has no resemblance to any of the fruits of England; they vary in weight from half an ounce to half a seer, nearly a pound; the skin is smooth, tough, and of the thickness of leather, strongly impregnated with a flavour of turpentine; the colour, when ripe, is grass green, or yellow in many shades, with occasioned tinges and streaks of bright red; the pulp is as juicy as our wall-fruit, and the kernel protected by a hard shell, to which fine strong silky fibres are firmly attached.

As the recipe for the day, I give you a recipe from a fine colonial cookery book, which interests me because I would never have thought of making a ‘fool’ with green mangoes.

Is prepared by adding cold milk and sugar to a pulp of green boiled mangoes in such quantity as the maker chooses; the milk must be added by a little at a time, stirring it well with the mangoes, otherwise it will not be smooth.

Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book (1860) by R.Riddell.

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