Monthly Archives: March 2017

Currying Favour with the Empire… in the ERO

It was a revelation to me to find that curry was part of eighteenth century cuisine. I had not seen it in Baker and, my curiosity aroused I looked to the Essex Record Office to see if this phenomena of east meets west was something I could see locally. I wasn’t disappointed. With access to digital images on the their SEAX website I found Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book.

The Fly Leaf of Slany’s recipe book dated 1715 – ERO D/DRZ1

The ERO has a blog featuring an overview of Slany’s recipes which also points to an article in  Essex Countryside magazine dated February 1966 written by Daphne E Smith who judges Elizabeth to  be ‘a most efficient housewife who nurtured her family with care.’ Smith also assumes that the recipe book was started in preparation for her forthcoming marriage. However the 1715 date on the fly leaf is a full eight years before Elizabeth married  Benjamin LeHook in 1723 so if true it was quite a lengthy  engagement.

With Benjamin a London agent it is probable Elizabeth did not reside in Essex . However, her eldest daughter did, marrying into the Wegge family of  Colchester. As the ‘hand’ within the book changes halfway through it can be assumed it was she who entered the ‘currey’ recipe, giving me the local Essex location I was looking for.

I admit, realising the recipe was probably the daughters not her mothers did dilute my first ecstatic light-bulb moment of ‘I’ve discovered curry in England as early as 1715 !’ into ‘stop jumping to conclusions and analyse, you’re a historian!’  However, on reflection it was just as exciting to realise young Elizabeth’s ‘currey’ was realistically contemporary with Hannah Glasse’s inclusion of this hot and spicy dish in her book The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy  1747.

Madhur Jaffrey, in the introduction to her book Curry Nation dismisses Glasse’s recipe  as little more than a spicy gravy, consisting of pepper and Coriander seeds which were to be ‘browned over the fire in a clean shovel’ before being beaten to a powder. At this point the rice was added during cooking. Nevertheless,  it gave the women who cooked these exotic dishes a connection to Britains growing empire. It also gave the recipients of such meals a way to ‘virtually tour’ the wider world. Though such recipes were effectively Anglicised claims that they were ‘true’ Indian dishes seems not to have been questioned.

The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. 1758

 

Inevitably the  taste and composition of the dish gradually changed, as seen in subsequent editions of  Glasse’s book plus by the end of the century a commercial curry powder blend had became available.  Bickham, in his study of C.18 culinary imperialism, Eating the Empire  tells us how curry recipes were included in mass produced affordable cookery books. Aimed at a lower to middling sorts these women  would have used curry powder for convenience buying it from grocers shops who in turn sourced it directly from spice wholesalers or from larger shops.

Elizabeth LeHook’s receipt book lists two curry recipes and the first does appear to be a glorified stew consisting of 2-3 Lbs of mutton and onions. She then recommends it be thickened with ‘the curry stuff’ plus to add the juice of two lemons,  some salt and cayenne pepper, adding a note at the end,

NB. 2 large spoonfuls is be sufficient for a curry of two pounds and so in proportion – add to the curry powder about a fifth of turmeric.

A Lady at the Hearth. Pehr Hilleström.

Her second recipe calls for chicken , lamb, or duck to be prepared in the same fashion, stewing the meat in enough water to see it become tender. Shallots or onion are added. Then the gravy is strained off, thickened with a tablespoon of ‘the powder’  and returned to the pan so everything stews together for a further half an hour or,

‘until it is of a proper thickness to be sent to the table’.

Rice was then to be served up as usual.

Elizabeth Slany’s connection to the empire is still visible over the page. Here she  tells us how to make a Turkish pilau. Interestingly as featured in my previous post Methods of Measurement and Delight , Elizabeth uses money as a visual aid stating the pound of mutton required should be cut up small about the size of a crown piece.

On the opposite page are instructions  as to the Chinese way of boiling rice. This reflects on the importance eighteenth century housewife’s placed on authenticity or at least the pretence of it, in connection with their perceived social status. The process was simple,   the rice being washed in cold water then boiled in hot until soft. It was then left in a clean vessel to blanch until snow white and as hard as crust. By then it had apparently become an excellent substitute for bread!

To find the exotic in Essex was gratifying and I was fortunate to have found what I was looking for in one of the few recipe books in the ERO to have been digitalised. It was not a  groundbreaking discovery; after all I hadn’t found curry in 1715 had I ?  But, I had found local evidence of what we, as HR650 students had been seeing in recipe books far grander than Elizabeth Slany’s.  If nothing else its a testament to shared domestic knowledge and the proof of domestic involvement in what was then a new and expanding British empire.

 

 

A Recipe for Love

The modern world is obsessed with love. Dating, relationships, marriage and sex, are all topics of discussion and advice. Love is all over the media, from relationship advice columns to the latest romantic comedy in the cinema. As it turns out, contemporaries from the early modern period were obsessed with love too. Through their advice manuals it is interesting to see the continuities and changes in the advice given on love from early modern period to today.

In many advice manuals from this period, sex and relationships is a hot topic. Aristotle’s masterpiece, which was not actually written by Aristotle, provides ‘a word of advice to both sexes; being several directions respecting the act of copulation’[1] which can be comical to the modern audience. It is of course, in the seventeenth century, assumed that this natural act will occur between a married man and woman in order to make babies, and only to make babies, because what other reason could there be?!

The author agrees that the way to a man’s heart (or his penis) is through his stomach as explanation by the importance of food in helping along with copulation (see below). This idea is still a popular cliché. It is also advised that both sexes have passion and enthusiasm to fulfil ‘what nature requires’ but even the author is no expert in this area as this can only be taught through love not by him.

aristotle
Aristotle’s Masterpiece p.93

The mysteries of conjugal love were revealed to the curious men and women by Nicholas de Venette in 1707. These mysteries seem to be more about sex than relationships or love, yet, like the masterpiece, it is amusing at parts especially the description of ‘what constitution a woman must be of to be very loving’ which brings to question if women not of this constitution are not very loving or are they just less loving? Unfortunately if you, like me, do not have black hair and your breasts aren’t large or hard you are not of the right constitution to be very loving, according to Venette anyway.

Attractiveness continues to be of concern today. Images and descriptions of what constitutes as ‘beauty’ have changed over the years but advice is still given on how to be more attractive, for instance Cosmopolitans articles Beauty Tips and The Secret to Getting Any Guy. Images in the media portray popular ideals of beauty which does not apply to everybody, but this is not to say that if you don’t fit the criteria that you are not beautiful. Today, such articles are likely to be taken with a pinch of salt and I wonder how advice from Venette’s work was really received and if it was taken seriously but that’s a question for a different blog.

Advice on love and sex has certainly evolved since the early modern period although some aspects are similar. Scientific knowledge has undoubtedly played a part in this change yet it is important that such advice has remained a hot topic for advice. Manuals exist throughout history on such advice, dating all the way back to before the first century with Kama Sutra which has even been reproduced today! Slightly more recently, the USO Senior Hostess provided a guideline of how women should interact with men in war time. Even more recently, the famous Men are from Mars Women are from Venus gives advice on having a happy relationship. This is important because it shows that it means that there has always been an interest in such advice.

Looking into these manuals has made me question if they are a way of controlling society by enforcing the idea that sexual relations should take place only within marriage between a man and woman. However, with today’s more liberated view towards sexuality, perhaps todays advice is more varied to reflect a more diverse view on ‘love.’

Please see Aristotle’s Master-Piece Completed, in Two Parts – The Unexpected, a great blog on this advice manual.

1. Aristotle’s Master-piece Completed, in Two Parts (London, 1697),p.91.

2. Venette, N. The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Reveal’d (London, 1707), p. 123.