Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Traveller’s Food Tale: Cuba, 1853.

Tourists are quite commonly heard to complain about the food (and other circumstances) of their holiday location on the grounds that it is not the same, and certainly not as good, as at is at home.  It is not rare to hear comments from such tourists that the food is ‘too foreign’ or too awful, or even outright offensive in some way. The popularity of generic fast-food outlets at many quite distant outposts of the globe is testament to this desire for tourists to eat like they do at home while they are abroad.

This sort of food bigotry is not a new phenomenon, of course. I have given many historical food-travel stories on this blog in the past, and I have another one for you to consider today. I don’t believe I have given the view of an American traveller to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century previously, so today, courtesy of Harper's New Monthly Magazine (January 1853) is part of an article entitled Three Weeks in Cuba, written by “an Artist.” Clearly, the food and accommodation he experienced were included amongst the “extortions and vexations to which strangers are subjected in Cuba.”

… At Guanajay I mounted a horse, and accompanied by a single arriero with a pack mule, departed for that portion of the island lying beween Mariel and Mangus, where the northern and southern shores of Cuba approach nearest each other. …. The taverns by the way-side afford very little attraction to the stranger, traversing the country for the first time. The bill of fare is exceedingly simple and brief, and almost every dish of prepared food is highly flavored with offensive garlic. The traveler may resort to a meal of bananas, rice, and eggs, if they can be procured, until his taste becomes acclimated, which happy state is soon attained under the severe regimen of hunger and a keen appetite, and garlic loses a degree of its offensiveness to palate and nostrils. Sometimes the traveler may be favored with jerked-beef and codfish, and even with milk and chickens. These, however, are reckoned among rarities, and the tavern is a comfortable place only for the arrieros (pack-mule drivers) and the carreteros, the drivers of heavy carts used in conveying the produce of estates to market. The traveler finds comfort neither at table nor in bed, for the musical musquito and the crafty flea vie with each other in their attentions to a stranger during the night.

I wondered if my choice of topic today had created a problem in finding a recipe to fit the theme, but luckily, The White House Cook Book (1887) came to the rescue with the following:

Codfish on Toast. (Cuban Style.)
Take a teacupful of freshened codfish picked up fine. Fry a sliced onion in a tablespoonful of butter; when it has turned a light brown, put in the fish with water enough to cover it; add half a can of tomatoes, or half a dozen of fresh ones. Cook all nearly an hour, seasoning with a little pepper. Serve on slices of dipped toast, hot. Very fine.
Plain creamed codfish is very nice turned over dipped toast.

Cuban Pudding.
Crumble a pound of sponge cakes, an equal quantity, or less if preferred, of cocoanut, grated in a basin. Pour over two pints of rich cream previously sweetened with a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar and brought to the boiling point. Cover the basin and when the cream is soaked up stir in it eight well-beaten eggs. Butter a mold, arrange four or five ounces of preserved ginger around it, pour in the pudding carefully and tie it down with a cloth. Steam or boil slowly for an hour and a half; serve with the syrup from the ginger, which should be warmed and poured over the pudding.

P.S. More on the nineteenth century American view of Cuban cookery tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The inclusion of canned tomatoes in the first recipe caught me by surprise, but then I remembered (IIRC) that as far back as Napoleon (and undoubtedly long before, using smoke and sun for the purpose) people were searching for ways to preserve food ("an army marches on its stomach").