Thursday, February 27, 2014

Provisioning for an Elephant Hunt.

Exploring, camping, hunting – without light-weight, freeze-dried foods and light-weight cooking equipment, and light-weight clothing – the tough guys did it tough in the nineteenth century. Of course, labour was cheap and easily exploitable if you were on the imperial side of the colonial equation, so there were compensations. Today’s story comes directly from Thirteen Years Among the Wild Beasts of India: Their Haunts and Habits from Personal Observation with an Account of the Modes of Capturing and Taming Elephants, by George P. Sanderson (1882.)

An Elephant-Catching Expedition into the Hill-Tracts of Chittagong.

On the 29th December [1875] I stood at the edge of the jungle … Each coolie carried a springy bamboo lath across his shoulder, with a basket at each end, through which the bamboo passed. These baskets contained fifteen days' provisions, as it was uncertain when we might meet the provision-boat coming up the Chengree; and should we fall in with elephants on our way a halt would be necessary. Each man's rations weighed 33 lb., and as the head-men and matchlock-men made their gangs carry their rations as well as their own, and each had a few cooking-pots, the weights were over 40 lb. per man. With this they marched for several days from morning till night, in hilly country, often in the beds of streams, and through bamboo-cover and long grass, under a broiling sun. The men were generally of miserable physique according to our notions, but they had the patience and endurance of mules.

… I had provided myself with every comfort and convenience, and amongst other things I had reason to congratulate myself on possessing before the trip was over was a tin of 100 lb. of ship's biscuits and a keg of salt Bengal humps and tongues. I had an ample supply of tin provisions, plenty of books, and comfortable camp-fittings.

December 30, 1875 … To-day we marched from 7.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. The coolies got off at 4 a.m. The country was more difficult than yesterday, and we only did about sixteen miles.

… Our encampment this evening was better situated than yesterday … The elephants were scattered in all directions, gathering their night's fodder … I sat by the fire amusing myself by watching the preparations for dinner. The cook is busy near a small trench over the fire, in which two or three pots and saucepans are simmering in a row. A duck is roasting on a bamboo spit over a pan of charcoal, a saucepan-lid being ingeniously propped sideways underneath it to catch the gravy, whilst avoiding the fire, and basting goes on merrily. My interest in the operation is of a complacent nature, as I know the bird will shortly appear, as nicely browned, as correctly stuffed, and as neatly served, as it could be in headquarters.

One or two chickens which have got out of the rough jungle-coop are going about "wee-weeing " mournfully as night closes in and thoughts of jackals affright them. They are not to be overlooked, they are objects of tender solicitude, and will be wanted before many days, either for curry or "ishtew" (stew!). E'en now the cook's minions make insidious advances towards them, seize them, shrieking, and thrust them into the basket amongst their fellows, where they shortly settle down and are at peace.

And now for dinner. What a blessing it is to have a good Madras cook in Bengal! The roast duck forms one of the few cases in life where reality does not fall short of anticipation; the curry could not be mistaken, even by an idiot, for the less spicy productions of the artistes of the leading Presidency; and I am not required by my chef to contemplate any of the culinary audacities which Bengalee bobbachees (as cooks are t
here called, Heaven help them!) designate as puddings.

As the the recipe for the day, I give you an Anglo-Indian curry from The Magazine of Domestic Economy, Volume 5 (London, 1840)

A Madras Curry.
Have ready a chicken cut into pieces; put a saucepan on the fire with two table-spoonful« of butter, slice an onion and fry it in the butter, take it out when it is browned, then put in two dessert-spoonfuls of curry powder, together with a root of garlic and a piece of ginger (green if possible) of the size of the garlic, having pounded both very fine; fry all together for five minutes, stirring it all the time, then put in the chicken, which fry for about ten minutes, keeping it in motion. Add a pint of good gravy and a little salt, stew for an hour and a half gently in a closely covered saucepan. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the curry just before serving.
Green cocoa-nut is a great improvement; a quarter of a nut is to be very well pounded with two table-spoonfuls of water, until all the milky part is extracted from the piece of nut; strain it through muslin, and add the liquid to the curry when it has been stewing an hour.

To Boil Rice.
Pick a pound of rice, and wash it very well in several waters. Set it on to boil in four quarts of boiling water, it will take from six to ten minutes to boil; but the best way of judging is to take out a grain from time to time, and crush it between your finger and thumb; as Jong as there is a slight hardness in the middle of the grain, it is not done; it should be quite soft through.

When done, throw in a pint of cold water, then drain off all the water and dry the rice by putting a little fire under the saucepan, and a little on the lid reversed; stir the rice about with a fork, and when the grains appear separate, it is sufficiently dried. If you wish the rice to appear very white, squeeze in a little lemon juice before you throw in the cold water.


Chris Combs said...

any guesses what a "Bengal hump" would be?

korenni said...

At first I thought, "must be camel humps," and then I thought, "surely not in the Bengal area!" which is pretty moist. There are paintings of Bengali men riding camels, though, so maybe it is camel humps and tongues. I would like to know for sure, though!

korenni said...

At first I thought, "must be camel humps," and then I thought, "surely not in the Bengal area!" which is pretty moist. There are paintings of Bengali men riding camels, though, so maybe it is camel humps and tongues. I would like to know for sure, though!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi All. Sorry about the late response to this! The humps are buffalo humps. They were quite a delicacy. I have written about the before - the link is here: