Monday, February 21, 2011

"Wyvern" -- Peach Fritters and Pickled Steak (From Culinary Jottings From Madras)


Hyderabad, 1893, Lord and Lady Wenlock; Lord Compton

        I began the year (referring to January 2nd's post) with a short excerpt from "Wyvern"'s extraordinary 1878 volume, Culinary Jottings From Madras, and his comments on hors d'oeuvres.   

        "Wyvern", you may recall,  was the nom-de-plume of Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert (b. 1840 - d. 1916), a British Indian Army officer who served in Bangalore in the south, Secunderabad (or Sikandarabad, British cantonment and neighbor to the royal city to Hyderabad) in the north, and other postings beginning in the 1860s, who wrote memorably and penetratingly about cooking and household management in a number of books, as well as in articles published in the Madras Athenaeum and the Daily News (India). 

Cubbon Hotel, Bangalore, late 19th century 

        Like most people interested in his Wyvern, I imagine, I first discovered him via Elizabeth David's books.  Rescuing and reviving interest in Colonel Kenney-Herbert and his Culinary Jottings From Madras is yet another reason we need to be grateful to Mrs. David and her pioneering, highly original work.

Willoughby Wallace Cooper, Stick Carriers, 1870

      The other day Caroline found the following recipe for Peach Fritters, which looks delicious and is also surprising because of its complimentary words about the tinned American peaches in syrup (a staple of both our childhoods), which were then available and highly esteemed in India.  Following, in a sleepy state, I was energized reading the recipe for Pickled Steak.  These two were not paired as part of the the same menu (Wyvern's menus for various occasions make excellent, stimulating reading), but I think they would go well together and we intend to try them out shortly.   They sound both traditional and contemporary, without seeming at all "retro", a term that would, I think, have repelled Wyvern, who was practical,  unpretentious and an enemy of the precious and frou-frou.

 Frederick Fiebag, Mosque in Madras, 1870

        As Caroline and I did two days ago, I'll begin with dessert, moving backwards to the entree:

Peach Fritters

 I. Beignets de Peche
(Peach Fritters)

        Wyvern's peach fritters sound sensational.  So do all his fritters -- sweet and savoury.  First, I think it would be wise to pass along his basic fritter advice: 

        "Failure in the accomplishment of the many excellent dishes which come under the head of 'fritters' may be fairly attributed to three things: the first, ignorance in making the batter; the second, a wrongly shaped utensil;  and the third, an insufficient use of the frying medium.  If you once master these cardinal points and can drum them into the head of your Ramasamy, you will have at your hand a tasty and, indeed, artistic method of cookery upon which you can always rely with confidence.  The charm of fritter cooking is its simplicity.  The mixing of a good batter merely depends upon the accurate following of the recipe before you, whilst the culinary operation itself presents no difficulty whatever, provided a liberal supply of fat be given out, and the vessel used a proper one.  The beginner, as a rule, overcomes this part of his education after a few trials, and thenceforward has no apprehension concerning success."

Now, on to:

         1. The Batter

        "I have adopted as a standard batter in my own kitchen one recommended by the 'G.C.', whose advice I have so often quoted in these pages.  Friends who have tried it at my recommendation have generally commended it.  You must proceed in this way:

        Beat up the yolks of three eggs with two table-spoonsful of brandy, one table-spoonful of the best salad oil, and four or five table-spoonsful of cold water.  Incorporate with this mixture three table-spoonsful of flour and a salt-spoonful of salt.  The flour should be dry, and the best imported.  Work this now, with care to a smooth paste, and continue to beat it for at least ten minutes.  If the batter appear too thick, add a little water until its consistency be satisfactory, i.e., it should cover the spoon when lifted out of it with the coating about an eighth of an inch thick.  This stage having been reached, take the whites of the three eggs, and whip them to a stiff froth; stir this into your batter at the time of using.

        Another good batter is made thus: -- Beat up equal parts of salad oil, and brandy, -- say a table-spoonful of each; and the yolk of an egg and incorporate with this, sufficient flour to make a thick paste which you thin to the required consistency by the addition of water, reserving the whipped white of the egg to finish with."

2. The Fritters

        "Cut the peaches (American ones in tin are excellent) into neat pieces; dust them with powdered sugar, and let them lie in a little maraschino, or any nice liqueur till wanted, then dip them in your batter, and fry them in abundance of boiling fat; drain them on blotting paper, and serve them dusted over with pounded loaf sugar finely sifted.  In the case of raw fruit, the peaches cut in halves, peeled and stoned, should be carefully stewed in syrup with a dash of liqueur and a little lime juice first, then set to get cold, and after being drained, dipped in batter, &c., as above explained.  All fritters should be served without delay."

Bangalore, late 19th century

II. Pickled Steak or Chops

        "Place a steak in a deep dish with a couple of onions sliced, a clove of garlic, pepper corns, salt, some leaves of thyme and marjoram, a bunch of parsley, and some lime peel.  Add oil and vinegar (two table-spoonsful full of former to one of the latter) sufficient to soak the meat well without actually covering it.  Let it soak all day; lift it, when wanted, from the marinade, and fry lightly in butter : then (when coloured on both sides nicely) pour in the marinade, with a breakfast cup of made gravy, and stew the steak gently till thoroughly done.-- Strain the liquor, free it from fat, reduce it a little over the fire, pour over the steak and serve.  This is just as good with a nice mutton steak, or a few juicy chops."

Upper:  Nizam of Hyderabad and Suite, 1870 
Lower: Nizam's Chowmahela Palace, Hyderabad

Wyvern excerpts taken from Culinary Jottings From Madras (5th edition, 1885; republished London, Prospect Books, 2007, ed. Leslie Forbes)

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