Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dining in Chile in 1821.

I have another traveller’s food tale for you today. It is from Extracts from a journal written on the coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico: in the years 1820, 1821, 1822, by Basil Hall.

On the 29th of March, 1821 our intrepid author was in Chile. He describes a dinner party which he attended:

… We sat down to dinner, a very merry party, the master of the house insisting upon my taking the top of the table; a custom, he said, that could by no means be dispensed with. The first dish which was placed on the table was bread soup, exceedingly good, and enriched either with fish or meat, a distinction so immaterial, we thought, that our surprise was considerable when we observed a gentleman of the party start up, and, with a look as if he had swallowed poison, exclaim, "O Lord, there is fish in the soup" and while we were wondering at this exclamation, our friend ran off to the kitchen to interrogate the cook. He returned with a most woe-begone countenance, and finished his plate of soup as if it had been the last he was ever to taste. A feeling of delicacy prevented our asking questions, although our curiosity was raised to the highest pitch, by observing the gentleman touch nothing else, and go without his dinner. It was Friday, and it was in Lent, circumstances which might have accounted for his horror at meat; but it was fish which had shocked him; besides, we saw the rest of the company eating both one and the other without scruple, which puzzled us exceedingly, and the more so as the self-denying individual was really a very sensible man, and showed no other symptoms of eccentricity. We at last discovered that he had, for some reason or other, come under a religious engagement not to eat both fish and flesh, though the South Americans are permitted to do so, by an express bull in their favour, which any one may purchase who pleases. It so happened, that this conscientious individual had set his fancy most particularly on a meat dish close to him, never dreaming of what had been put into the soup: but fish once tasted, his feast was at an end, and, to do him justice, he kept his vow in a manner worthy of an anchorite.
We had then the Olla, a dish celebrated in all lands where Spanish is spoken. It consists of boiled beef, piled round with all sorts of vegetables, and well covered with a large yellow pea, called a Garbanza; and so inseparable is this union, that our "beans and bacon" is not better known in English, even in a proverbial sense, than "Olla con Garbanza" is in Spanish. Besides these dishes, we had various rich stews, and last of all, a dish of roast beef. This did not in the smallest degree resemble the glorious roast beef of England; but was a long thin, black strip of dry, burnt-up meat, without a single bone to give it a shape, and with every bit of fat carefully cut away. Meanwhile we finished our dinner, and then partook of a capital dessert of cool bursting figs, fresh from trees within sight of the table; as well as the luscious sweet grapes, the pride of our host's heart; and lastly, the enormous purple water melon, the staff of life amongst the poorer classes in this country: to all which was added a pleasant small wine, manufactured, as our host triumphantly imparted to us, by our absent hostess.

The famous ‘Spanish’ stew called Olla, or Olio Podrida, has been mentioned multiple times on this blog, so today I want to focus on the ‘garbanza’ mentioned in the above piece. It is of course, the chick-pea, Cicer arietinum, known in early European text as caravance, or garvance, or a variety of similar names. It was apparently known and enjoyed by the Romans, and was certainly known of in the rest of Europe by the sixteenth century. It did not become well-known or popular in the English-speaking world for a very long time after this however. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Bulletin No. 121, Beans, Peas, and other Legumes as Food (1906) mentions them as being “practically unknown here” and notes only that they are usually boiled or roasted.

Searching for early English/American recipes for the garbanzo is hampered by the variety of names and spellings of this pulse. The recipe for the day is not quite from Basil Hall’s area of travel, but it shares its Spanish heritage.

Puchero – the National Dish of Argentina.
Tie a five-pound piece of brisket compactly with string and place in a soup kettle with two gallons of cold water. Add half a cup of garbanzos (Spanish peas) which have been soaked in water for several hours, and bring to a boil, skimming occasionally. Add half a pound of pumpkin, cut in inch squares, tow or three onions or tomatoes, a green pepper, several ears of green corn, cut in halves, and half a cabbage, cut in quarters, sting beans and peas. Season with salt and pepper and boil until all of the vegetables are cooked: then add three potatoes, cut in halves and boiled, and half a cup of boiled rice. When quite hot,remove the beef and larger vegetables to a hot platter, arranging them nicely and serve the soup with the rice, beans and peas as the first course.

Los Angeles Times 15 November 1934


Anonymous said...

I find the various proportions interesting - 5 pounds of beef, and only a half cup each of rice and garbanzos, and 3 potatoes.

SometimesKate said...

I thought purple melons were fictional. I wish I knew what type they were.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it refers to the pepino melon