Curries in 1924

Talented artist, friend of Beardsley and writer on cookery, G. F. Scotson Clark ( see previous Jots) , was particularly fond of curries which, though they had been the staple of Anglo-Indian families since the late eighteenth century, were only just becoming popular with restaurant customers in the United Kingdom when his first book, Eating Without Fears , appeared in 1924. Here are his views on curries. 

‘ I was brought up on curry. Mine is an Anglo-Indian family. So fond was my mother of curry, that she used to declare she was weaned on it. In our old home one day we would have” Uncle Edward’s “curry, on another,“ Uncle Charles’s”. Uncle Charles was the only member of the family who was a Madrasi. All the rest were Bengalis, and our early recollections of Uncle Charles—when I was about seven or eight years old—are that his curries were infernally hot. The older he got—and he was close to ninety then—the hotter became his curries, until at last no one but himself could eat them. He lived in a curious old house in Bayswater, a house literally walled with books. The doubled drawing-room upstairs was always scattered with papers. He wrote from morning till night, but what he wrote I know not, except that he was the author of a Telegu dictionary in some twelve volumes, which I am sure no one ever read…

There is no necessity for a curry to be hot—hot with pepper to burn the tongue. Too much curry powder, or curry powder insufficiently cooked, is generally the cause of this. At the same time it should be piquant and not like a  stew with a flavouring of curry.

When the gas was cut off by the Gas Board at his small ‘ Bohemian Club ‘in London frequented  by ‘ artists, writers, barristers, soldiers, sailors, the clergy, including two bishops’, Scotson Clark volunteered to cook an Indian dinner using only a chafing dish and a spirit stove. The menu was: 

                                                                    Mulligatawny Soup


                                                                     Curry of Veal and Rice

                                                            with Bombay Ducks, Chutney, and

                                                                    West Indian Pickles

                                                                     Iced oranges

                                                                      Fruit Curry

The complicated  recipe for mulligatawny soup is as follows: 

one cod’s head and shoulders boiled until the meat separates from the bones. Put all the bones back into the water in which the head has been boiled and simmer gently for at least an hour, then boil hard till the liquor is reduced to half and it shows an inclination to thicken. Strain into a clean vessel. Meanwhile fry the onions cut in rings in a stewpan till they are a rich golden brown, then add the curry powder and stir briskly to prevent it burning, and as soon as it shows signs of doing so, add a few spoonfuls of the fish liquor. Stir briskly till it boils and then draw to the side of the fire. Now take your strained liquor; bring it to the boil, add the curry and onions from the stewpan, washing the latter out with the liquor till the pan is quite clean; add the apples, which have been peeled and cut in small pieces, the sugar and a little salt, and then let it simmer gently till the apples have quite disappeared. The more it cooks the better it will be , but it should simmer, not boil. When ready to serve it should be about a thick as thin cream; if it is not you have made a  mistake in the time of boiling the fish bones, but it can be thickened by adding a little corn flower or brown roux. Sprinkle a few grains of boiled rice in the soup before serving, but do not put any rice into the saucepan in which the soup has been made

The West Indian Pickles were probably made from Scotch Bonnet peppers or something similar for they were ‘ the hottest thing this side of the Inferno’. The ‘Fruit Curry’ consisted of prunes, bananas, grapes, grated cocoanut (sic) , peaches and seedless raisins.’

It is interesting to note that Scotson Clark does not mention any type of Indian bread. His curries only seem to be served with rice—and ‘Patna’ rice at that, rather than Basmati rice, which suggests that his forebears came from southern India, where rice is more popular. Oddly too, for someone interested in cooking curries, he doesn’t grind the spices separately for each dish, but instead prefers to use a patent ‘ curry powder’, in this case ‘ Ventacatachellicum’s Madras Curry Powder’, which he bought from the Army and Navy Stores in London. He does have a good word for Crosse and Blackwell’s curry powder and indeed for ‘Ahmuti’s Keddie and Company’. Needless to say, no professional curry chef today would ever use such all-purpose curry powders for all types of meat and vegetable dishes, but back in 1924, when Indian grocery stores were very thin on the ground, perhaps the powders he lists were all that were available to most amateur chefs.

Scotson Clark ends his disquisition on curries by revealing the curry powder that his Uncle Edward had created.

6 oz Coriander Seed

1 oz. Best Ground Ginger

6 drms. Cayenne Pepper.

½ oz  Cloves

4 oz. Best China Turmeric 

1 oz. Black Pepper

½ oz. Shelled Cardamons

2 drms. Caraway Seeds

{R. M. Healey}

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