Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dinner in Mysore in 1867.

Nineteenth century Britons were fascinated by news of events taking place in the most far-flung reaches of their Empire – and it seems that nowhere was more fascinating than India. A correspondent to The Times of October 4, 1867 described at great length some of the ceremonies held in Mysore in celebration of the 74th birthday of the Rajah.

        It is the only place in India – the only place I ever heard of anywhere – in which, year after year, free hospitality is offered to all the world. During the Mysore races, which take place about the time of the Rajah’s birthday, and last altogether nearly a fortnight, anyone who likes – I mean any one belonging to the class “gentlemen” – may take up his abode at Mysore as the Rajah’s guest, may sit down every day to three substantial meals at a sort of table d’hôte on the race course, and may call at all hours for beer, sherry, claret, or the favourite Anglo-Indian beverage “B. and S.” On the race days he may call for his bottle of champagne. On three days during the races – one of the Rajah’s birthday – all guests are invited to a grand dinner at the palace; and the birthday dinner was selected as the most favourable opportunity for holding a Durbar, at which to announce the decision of the British Government of the adopted son [to inherit the title.}
        Over a hundred guests, some fifteen or twenty of them ladies, mustered at 7.30 p.m. , in carriages provided by the Rajah, at a point not far from the palace …
The business of the day being over, we all adjourned to the banqueting-hall, where a dinner in English style, which no pains had been spared to make both good and plentiful, awaited us. The Rajah’s native guests had already been entertained at a State dinner, served up in a very different style. One of them, in an elaborate and graphic account (which has been kindly lent to me) of the Durbar, describes this dinner with an epicurean gusto and warmth which I fear your English readers, unless they happen to be at once teetotalers and vegetarians, will find it hard to sympathize:-

“A numberless variety of romantic dainties had been spread. All sorts of nice fruits, 50 different sorts of curry stuffs and greens, very richly and palatably prepared; about 30 or 40 sorts of confectionery of the best relish, and as many kinds of sweet and salt puddings and cakes; upwardsof 15 sorts of fanciful rice and syrups; sherbets prepared from all descriptions of fruits available in India. In fact, there was nothing wanted to make the dinner most sumptuous, excellent, and kingly.”

I wonder how many of your aldermanic readers will endorse this concluding eulogy?
The Rajah, by a Royal fiction, was not supposed to be present at our dinner, but he really posted himself at the upper end of the room behind a curtain … and he evidently took the keenest and most amused interest in all that was going on, constantly sending complimentary presents, usually mysterious specimens of sweetmeat, or curry, or sherbet, to any old friends or acquaintances whom he happened to recognize among the guests.

A number of cookery books on Indian (or more properly, Anglo-Indian) foods were published for English audiences in the second half of the nineteenth century. Today I have chosen as the source of the recipe for the day Indian cookery and confectionery (407 recipes) by Mrs. I.R. Dey, published in Calcutta in 1900. I give you a nice, and I hope sufficiently fanciful rice dish.  But firstly I must give you a translation of the weight measures, as given in the book.

16 Annas = 1 tola or bhari (the weight of a rupee)
16 Annas = 6 ½ drams (avoir.) = 175 grains.
5 Tolas = 1 chhatack = 2 oz. (avoir.)
4 Kanch-chas = 1 chhatak.
4 Chhataks = 1 powa = ½ lb. (avoir.)
4 Powas = 1 seer = 2 lbs. (avoir.)
80 Tolas – 1 seer.
40 Seers = 1 Maund.

 Required :- Meat 1 seer, rice 1 seer, pine-apple peeled, and cut into medium pieces 1 ½ seer, lemon juice ½ powa, or more if desired, sugar ½ seer, ginger 3 tolas, coriander-seeds 1 ½ tolas, black cumin seeds 1 tola, cloves ¼ tola, cinnamon ¼ tola, cardamom ¼ tola, saffron ¼ tola, salt 4 tolas, ghee ½ seer, and water 4 seers.
Method:- Make a saturated solution of the sugar and boil the pieces of pine-apple in it with the lemon-juice after seasoning them for about an hour or more with one tola of salt. Then boil the meat in about 4 seers of water until the latter reduces half, to less than [sic]. Heat about ½ powa of ghee in a pan and season it by frying ½ tola of black cumin, and then fry the boiled meat in the ghee after separating them from the water, till they are slightly brown and do not stick to one another, Then add the water again and allow the whole thing to boil. In the meantime heat on another oven about ½ powa of ghee in another pan and slightly fry the remaining ½ tola of black -cumin, cloves, cinnamons and cardamoms, all entire, in it. A few cassia leaves may also be fried. When the flavour of the spices fill your nose, add the rice, washed, dried and smeared with saffron, ginger and coriander seeds, all pasted, and stir till some, of the rice begin to burst. Then add the boiling meat with the water to the rice, add salt and allow the whole thing to boil under cover after stirring it well. About 10 minutes before taking it down from the oven add the pieces of pine-apples with the sugar solution. When the water dries up, pour about one powa of hot ghee and stir to render the whole mass non-sticky. Polao is now ready for the dish. Always be careful to add hot water if at any time during the preparation water runs short in the pan. This preparation and also the following ones in this chapter must be made on slow heat.

I do love that instruction “when the flavour of the spices fill your nose.”!

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