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A hint of gentle spices

Today we’re taking a look at a selection of spicy nineteenth-century recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. 

Curry powder could be bought ready-made in London from the 1770s, but many cooks would have prepared their own. In this extract from The Cook’s Oracle William Kitchiner describes how to prepare a typical curry spice mix:

19th century recipe for curry powder from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

19th century recipe for curry powder from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Dry and reduce the following spices &c to a fine powder: coriander seed, three ounces;  turmeric, three ounces; black pepper, mustard and ginger, one ounce each; lesser cardamoms, half an ounce; cayenne pepper & cummin seed, a quarter of an ounce of each. Thoroughly pound and mix together and keep in a well stopped bottle.

This aromatic powder has cayenne pepper for punch, but Regency and Victorian curries were generally far milder than today’s British curry house favourites.

Most Regency curries also bore little resemblance to the dishes that Indians would have eaten. Most were prepared by were made by simply adding curry  powder to traditional  stews and soups. The following recipe for Mulligatawny is a good example, as a traditional veal stew is given an Anglo-Indian twist by the addition of a little curry powder:

Curry or Mulluga Tawny Soup 

Curry or Mulluga Tawny Soup, a nineteenth-century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Curry or Mulluga Tawny Soup, a nineteenth-century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cut 4 lbs of a breast of veal into pieces about two inches by one. Put the trimmings into a stewpan with two quarts of water, 12 corns of black pepper and the same of allspice. When it boils, skim it clean and let it boil an hour & a half, then strain it off. While it is boiling, fry of a nice brown, in butter, the bits of veal and four onions. When they are done, put the broth to them. Let it simmer half an hour. Skim it well, then mix two spoonsful of curry and the same of flour with a little cold water and a teaspoonful of salt. Add these to the soup and simmer it gently till the veal is quite tender.

Another recipe for ‘curry balls’ offers a spiced-up alternative to stuffing balls, which would have traditionally been served as an accompaniment to meat and sauce or a casserole.

Curry Balls for Made Dishes

Are made with bread crumbs, the yolk of an egg boiled hard, about half as much fresh butter beaten together and seasoned with curry powder.

None of the curry recipes in our Cookbook are particularly demanding of the English palate, or show any fundamental shift in the way the nation ate. The spices may have been imported from the East, but indigenous cooking methods and techniques seem to have been resolutely left behind.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at how one extraordinary man attempted to introduce Regency London to authentic Indian cookery…


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