Thursday, November 07, 2013

Portable Condiments for Wild Countries.

Modern-day travelers to wild places have all sorts of advantages over the likes of Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, who travelled extensively during his life without ultralight waterproof fabrics, ultralight collapsible camping stoves, ultralight freeze-dried foods and other such contrivances. Galton wrote about his experiences, as befitted an independent Victorian gentleman adventurer, and today I want to give you a short extract from one of his books - The Art of Travel: or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries, (London, 1860.)

This volume is intended as a Manual to all who may have to "rough it," whether they be travellers, missionaries, emigrants, or soldiers.
I planned the work when exploring South Africa in 1850-51; and, since my return to England, my own stock of experiences has been steadily increased by those of other travellers, which I have made a point of re-testing, in every needful case, except where the contrary is implied.
Bush Cookery.
The most portable and useful condiments for a traveller to take with him are—salt, red pepper, Harvey sauce, lime-juice, dried onions, and curry-powder. They should be bought at a first-rate shop; for red pepper, curry powder, &c, are often atrociously adulterated. The craving felt for salt is somewhat satisfied by saltpetre and other mineral salts: thus we often hear of people reduced to the mixing of gunpowder with their food. An impure salt is made widely in North Africa from wood-ashes. They are put into a pot, hot water is poured over them and allowed to stand and dissolve out the salts they contain; the ley is then decanted off into another pot, where it is evaporated. The plants in use are those of which the ashes have a saline and not an alkaline taste, or a soapy feel, when wetted. As a general rule, trees that make good soap, yield little saltpetre or salt. Salt caravans are the chief sustainers of lines of commerce in North Africa. In those countries where salt is never used, as I myself have witnessed in South Africa, and among the Mandan North-American Indian tribes (Catlin, vol. i. p. 124), the soil and springs are "brack." Four Russian sailors who were wrecked on Spitzbergen, and whose well-known adventures are to be found in Pinkerton's 'Voyages and Travels,' had nothing whatever for six years to subsist on— save only the animals they killed, a little moss, and melted snow-water. One of them died; the others enjoyed robust health.
Bacon must be carried, in hot climates, in bran, and be uncooked, or the fat will melt away. Meat-biscuit, which is used in American ships, is stated to be a thick soup, evaporated down to a syrup, kneaded with flour, and made into biscuits: these are pricked with holes, dried and baked. They can be eaten just as they are, or made into a porridge, with from 20 to 30 times their weight of water.

Galton did not include recipes in the traditional sense in his book, but he did have some food-preparation hints which will serve us in that capacity today:-

Salt Meat, to prepare hurriedly. – Warm it slightly on both sides – this makes the salt draw to the outside – then rinse it well in a pannikin of water. This process is found to extract a great deal of salt, and to leave the meat in a fit state for cooking.
Haggis.- The dish called beatee is handy to make. “It is a kind of haggis made with blood, a good quantity of fat shred small, some of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs, cut or torn into small shivers; all of which is put into the stomach, and roasted by being suspended before the fire with a string. Care must be taken that it does not get too much heat at first or it will burst. It is a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt, or any seasoning.” (Hearne.)

Interesting, isn’t it? I cannot imagine even the modern-day campers who enthusiastically espouse “roughing it” making haggis and roasting it over an open fire, can you?

I had never come across the word beatee until I read this piece. The Oxford English Dictionary has it as meaning “one who is beaten,” which clearly does not fit the context here. References to beatee as a haggis-like dish all ultimately go back to Galton’s description, so I can only assume it is an interpretation of the name of a dish made by indigenous people of South Africa. If you have some local knowledge, I would be pleased to know! 


Gary Gillman said...

That's a challenge! I'd think the term is connected to the French "pate" (don't know how to place the accents but e.g. as in "pate de foie"), or the English patty (Jamaican meat turnover), the Cornish pastie too. Beat (the verb) and the French "battre" mean the same thing, so meat battered into small pieces as the beatee recipe suggests. It sounds English in distant origin (not Dutch) - you still get dishes like this in Bury, say.

Haggis means something chopped surely, one thinks e.g., of the "hachis Parmentier", so same idea but different word.

Excellent excerpt there. Reminds me of that Colonel Elizabeth David admired, the Victorian officer who established a cooking school in Chelsea after being mustered out.


The Old Foodie said...

Interesting, Gary, I had not thought of a French connection, but it would make sense. The other is the very old English "battalia pie" which supposedly originally comes from the Latin beatilles (or maybe that is the French version of the Latin) meaning "beautiful little things."
I think the accepted origin of the word "haggi" is as you suggest.