Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Acclimatisation Society Dinner, London, 1863.
One of the intriguing offshoots of the period of European colonization was the establishment of Acclimatisation Societies. The idea was to enrich the fauna and flora of both the colonizing and the colonized countries by a process of import/export and – well, acclimatization of the said flora and fauna. This is the official explanation for the formation of Acclimatisation Societies. It is difficult to avoid the impression that an important secondary was to provide an excuse for prolonged dinners featuring novel dishes prepared from the imported exotic fauna (and to a lesser extent, the flora.)
In a previous post some time ago I gave you the menu of the second annual Dinner of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria [Australia] in 1864. Today I give you a description of some of the highlights of the Acclimatisation Society of Britain in 1863. My source is an article in the Spectator of 4 July of that year.
“The annual dinner of the Acclimatisation Society was held at St. James's Hall on Wednesday. Our modern explorers and wild hunters were well represented, Captains Speke and Grant, M. du Chaillu and Mr. Grantley Berkely all being present. The dinner comprised all kinds of strange food - conger-eel soup, ostriches' eggs, "poulets de l'emancipation des negres "—there is some chance of emancipation becoming fashionable after this—frogs dressed like chickens, bear's ham, sand grouse, "bourgoul" from the Lebanon, and many other novelties were cautiously partaken of. Some of them seem, however, to have possessed but little charm besides that of novelty, for Mr. Bernal Osborne declared flatly that he would rather starve than eat conger-eel soup. The chairman, in calling attention to the more important objects of the Society, reminded the members that there was a time when the only vegetable grown in England was the cabbage, when wheat was unknown, and the only trees in our forests were the oak and the beech.”
The dish that stood out for me in this meal description was the bourghul, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “In the Middle East: wheat which has been cooked, dried, and then crushed; cracked wheat.” The first reference in the English language given by the OED is given as appearing in 1764: “Burgle is wheat boiled, then bruised by a mill, so as to take the husk off, then dryed and kept for use.”
I hoped to find some early recipes for burghul in nineteenth century texts, but so far have not succeeded. In lieu of a real cookery book recipe, I give you the following description of the method of preparation in Syria in the 1850’s, as described by a contributor to The Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction, by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge:
“The [peasant] wife now separates from the wheat so much of it as has to be converted into burghul, and having done this, she proceeds to make her burghul. First and foremost this wheat has to be well washed; and the easier to accomplish this the family generally encamp for a few days under some tree on the borders of the nearest stream. Here mats are spread; the wheat is carefully washed by the hand, and then spread out to dry on the mats: when perfectly dry, it is boiled in immense iron boilers till each grain attains to nearly double its size. This is then thoroughly dried again in the sun; then the husband places it in sacks, and carries it off to burghul mills, erected expressly for this purpose. Here the boiled grain is ground into gritty substances of two very different dimensions; the larger, coarser-ground grains are placed in a sack, and that portion which is ground much finer is placed in another; the former only serves for making kubays [an entirely Arab dish, of which the Syrians are very fond, and which consists of a species of forced meat ball, made of suet and meat cut very fine, and mixed with red chillies, onions, garlic, salt and pepper; the whole is then bruised on a flat stone till it assumes the substance of paste; this is then formed into oval balls, and is either fried in butter or simply boiled, or else boiled in a soup composed of curdle-cream, cabbage, sour grapes, and the kubas]; the latter is used in pillaufs, or simply boiled like rice. Sometimes the kubay is baked in tin squares in ovens, and then to those who are unaccustomed to such a dainty, it has much the same effect as chewing a mouthful of hard gravel. Of the remaining wheat, one-half is immediately ground into flour for bread, &c., and the other half remains to be ground as it may be wanted, some portion of it being occasionally boiled with meat, and seasoned with onions and pepper, which is another dish to which the Syrians are much addicted.”