Curry Powder Past

January 19, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 12.24.15 PMLooking for old Chinese-language Chinese food cookbooks I came across Chong Jan & Co’s Chinese Cookbook: A High Class Cook Book in English and Chinese. As I flipped through the pages – amazingly, available  online through Harvard – I expected to find imperial cuisine of the Manchu emperor variety, or recipes in the tradition of chop suey – a dish that was surely ubiquitous in 1913 San Francisco.

But what I found was quite different. Recipes for forcemeats, hard sauces, fricassees. Instructions ridding those pesky English currant stains from linen tablecloths. This is a housekeeping manual for Chinese-speaking servants and while there is no mention of Chinese cuisine in the entire book, there is a chicken curry. And a mulligatawny soup:Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 1.50.12 PM

With barley!

The first commercial curry powder, should you care to know, was also a product of Anglo attempts to reproduce Indian flavors at home.  It was available for sale at a “perfumery” in England in 1784. Here’s the ad that announced this new elixir in the Morning Post: 

First-British-Curry-Advertisement1784-small Among a few specious claims, I like this one best. Curry powder, supposedly, “contributes most of any food to an increase of the human race.”

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