Monday, October 11, 2010

The Road To Vindaloo, Part 2 -- Anglo-Indian Recipes From The Regency Period (Take-away Food and Bar Snacks Too)


Brick Lane (Night)

To encourage interest and enhance sales of The Road To Vindaloo (and other Prospect Books titles, I would like to to think) here is one more brief, but fascinating, installment from the book, focusing this time on Anglo-Indian food events from early 19th century.

An amazing piece of history in the book relates the fact that Indian take-away meals, a hallmark of late 20th century British life, were already available and popular at London groceries during the period when King George IV ruled as Prince Regent (1811-1820).  So too were savory, curried appetizers and "bar snacks" (see more on this below), which were also already being offered to patrons at London's taverns and pubs.  My reaction to this was one of shock, but not surprise.  Britain's love affair with Indian food is clearly intense, deep and long-lasting.

King George IV while Prince Regent by Thomas Lawrence (ca. 1814)

Supplementing this nugget, The Road To Vindaloo goes on to recount the story of the brilliant and multi-talented William Kitchiner MD (1775-1827), the author of the famous The Cook's Oracle.  Described by  authors David Burnett and Helen Saberi  as "one who preached moderation and restraint in the use of the chili" (more on this below), Dr. Kitchiner was a remarkable and enormously versatile man.

William Kitchiner, MD

In addition to his most famous work,  Kitchiner also produced a monograph on optics, The Economy of the Eyes, and rules for using and Choosing and Using Spectacles, Opera Glasses and Telescopes, important treatises on singing, and a collection of English sea songs.   His experiments with diets led to The Art of Invigorating Life By Food. In The Housekeeper’s Ledger, Kitchiner provided a systematic guide to household management.

Dr. Kitchiner's recipe for preparing a home-made Curry Powder follows below, along with some "observations" on the subject, which both fill in the historical background and clarify his taste in curries and food in general.  Both the recipe and Kitchiner's views seem utterly contemporary and hold great interest and value.  I think I would like to have met him and  I plan to essay this version of Curry Powder and both of his suggested Curry Sauces (one vinegar-based and one wine-based) immediately.

Dr. Kitchiner's Curry Powder

“Put the following ingredients in a cool oven all night – and the next morning pound them in a marble mortar, and rub them through a fine sieve.

Coriander seed, three ounces
Turmeric , three ounces
Black pepper, Mustard and Ginger, one ounce of each
Allspice and Lesser cardamoms, half an ounce of each
Cumin-Seed, a quarter of an ounce

Thoroughly pound and mix together, and keep them in a well-stopped bottle.

Those who are fond of Curry Sauces may steep three ounces of the powder in a quart of vinegar or white wine for ten days, and will get a liquor impregnated with all the flavour of the Powders.

Obs. --  This receipt was an attempt to imitate some of the Best Indian Curry Powder, selected for me, by a friend at the India House so exactly, the most profound Palaticians have pronounced it a perfect copy of the original Curry Stuff…..

Obs. – The common fault of Curry Powder is the too great proportion of Cayenne (to the milder Aromatics from which the agreeable flavour is derived) preventing a sufficient quantity of the Curry Powder from being used.”

Note:   Kitchiner's concluding remark about excessively intense seasoning and encouraging moderation is fascinating.  He is not saying to forego Cayenne, but simply advises not to let it overwhelm other flavors.  This seems like sound advice.  His use of what I assume is the neologism "Palatician" is clever, charming and in view of the last generation's obsession with food and cookery, which is over-amply reflected in the media, I'm surprised it isn't being used today.

Patum Paperium (The Gentleman's Relish)

The two recipes that follow, based on the often misunderstood and derided anchovy, would appeal to me greatly. They are examples of the "bar snack”or appetizer recipes mentioned above, which were served in London's taverns and drinking houses during the Regency. They were given to Dr. Kitchiner by Mr. Henry Osborne of Soho Square, London, who was the cook to Sir Joseph Banks, the renowned English naturalist and president of the Royal Society. (Approximately 80 plant species bear Banks' name.)  Banks was a great celebrity, painted by Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West and James Gillray, who had accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage.  His London mansion later became the headquarters of the Royal Zoological Society.  I wonder whether these snacks are still prepared anywhere, including in the many Indian and Bangladesh eating establishments of Brick Lane in London's East End, one of the Indian food mini-capitals of the world.

Sir Joseph Banks' London mansion, later home of the Royal Zoological Society

I would like to think they are.  When I read about them, I finally understood the origin of the Fortnum & Mason "Gentleman's Relish" I've enjoyed for so many years, which is sold in elegant porcelain containers that are useful for all sorts of storage after their contents have been consumed.  All the ones in my house are little "memory boxes" for me.

Anchovy Paste

Bone and wash the anchovies, pound them in a mortar with a little fresh butter, rub them through a sieve and spread them on a toast.  

You may add, while pounding the Anchovies, a little made Mustard and Curry Powder or a few grains of Cayenne, or a little Mace or other spice.  It may be made still more savoury, by frying the toast in clarified butter.

Devilled Biscuit

Is the above composition, spread on a biscuit, warmed before a fire in a Dutch oven, with a sufficient quantity of salt, and savoury Spice, Zest, Curry powder or Cayenne pepper sprinkled over it.

Obs. – This the ne plus ultra of high spiced relishes……frequently makes its appearance at a tavern dinner, when the votaries of Bacchus are determined to vie with each other in sacrificing to the Jolly God.

The Road To Vindaloo is, I think, an essential work, as well as being a great deal of fun.

Sir Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds, 1773

The great South Sea Caterpillar transformed into a Bath Butterfly -- Caricature of Sir Joseph Banks by James Gillray marking the occasion of his investiure as a knight (1795)

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