There was a great deal of interest in far north Queensland in the early decades of settlement in the potential for developing profitable crops from exotic tropical plant species. The experimentation was spearheaded by the Acclimatisation Society which received many suggestions and samples from the general public as well as scientists and agriculturalists. I came across a rather intriguing mention of a suggested plant of interest (which I had never previously heard about), in The Queenslander of December 18, 1869.
The "mooringay," or horseradish tree—the fruit of which is about a foot long and half an inch in diameter. It makes a delicious vegetable curry, and the root of the tree is horseradish.
The writer was incorrect, the root is not true horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), which is from the Brassica family, but it can be used as a substitute, as will be revealed below.
The tree referred too is more usually spelled “moringay”, so I had a few false starts before I found any real information. Moringa oleifera comprises 13 species and is indigenous to Africa, Madagascar, western Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree which has been cultivated since ancient times and is used to produce a wide range of products including food, medicine, animal fooder, fuel, fertilizer, and has more recently been suggested as a potential source of biofuel. The tree has two common names – “drumstick tree” from the large, elongated seed capsules, and “horseradish tree” from the pungent root. I admit to not expecting to find any early recipes using parts of the plant, but when I decided on the obvious – the corpus of colonial Anglo-Indian literature – I hit the motherlode in my first source.
The full title of my source is too good to be shortened: Culinary Jottings: A treatise in thirty chapers on Reformed Cookery and Anglo-Indian Rites, based upon Modern English and Continental principles with Thirty Menus for little dinners worked out in detail and an essay on our kitchens in India (5e, 1885) by “Wyvern” (Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert.) The British army colonel served in India for a number of years, and wrote about Indian cookery for several newspapers, under the pseudonym “Wyvern.”
From the book, I give you several references to the use of the seeds and root of the moringa:
“Horse-radish sauce” is the grand standard adjunct to our national food, "the roast beef of old England," and beef in India cries out for help far more piteously than its rich relation far away. Horse-radish grows well at Ootacamund, and I once grew some with success at Bangalore, but the scraped root of the moringa, or "drum-stick" tree, provides so good a substitute that we may rest contented with a sauce thus composed : — Scrape as finely as you can a cupful of the root shavings, simmer them in half a pint of chicken broth; when done, thicken the broth custard-wise with the yolks of three eggs beaten up with a dessertspoonful of tarragon vinegar; add pepper, salt, and a very little grated nutmeg, and serve in a sauce-boat.
A richer recipe suggests the addition of a coffee-cupful of cream with the yolks of the eggs, and then to let the sauce remain on the fire en bain-marie, stirring well until it is very hot (but not boiling) and serving it in a hot sauce-boat.
The cold form of this sauce is perhaps the easiest, and I think as nice as any: — you simply rasp the moringa, or horse-radish root, till you have a cupful of fine scrapings, and mingle them with an ordinary mayonnaise, or tartare sauce, iced. Cream is, of course, a great addition, but the usual mixture of eggs, oil, mustard, and vinegar, will give you a good result.
And another recipe for a dish given in one of the thirty menus:
Moringakai au gratin
If you sunmon up courage to try this homely dish, you will often order it again. Buy enough young moringa pods to yield seeds enough to fill a little pie-dish. Boil them, and scrape out the seeds, and the tender flesh inside the pods, into a basin: stir into this a table-spoonful of cream, or a coffee-cupful of milk in which the yolks of two eggs have been well beaten; season with salt and pepper, and add a few drops of anchovy essence; pass this into a well buttered pie-dish, and grate over the surface a good layer of Parmesan or any nice mild dry cheese. Bake for a quarter of an hour, and serve. If you can bake and serve the mixture in silver coquille shells, — one for each guest, — the entremets will, of course, look nicer.
Apparently the Mt. Coot-tha botanic gardens have a specimen of the moringa. I must check it out soon, and take some photos!
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