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Est. 1996

Issue 227

November 2015

Curry's Missing Link

by Peter Grove (co author of Flavours of History)




Dean Mohammed - First Man of Curry 1809

The argument rages on - where does curry originate from? Is it from the Tamil word 'Kari' as is widely believed although highly unlikely historically, from kadhi, Portuguese caril or even from karahi? New research, however, at long last gives us a clearer picture.

Some years ago food historians Peter and Colleen Grove suggested that the origins of curry (the word that is) actually lay here in England with the publishing of 'The Forme of Cury' in 1390. 200 cooks and several philosophers were summoned by King Richard II to produce the first English cookery book. The book contained 196 recipes. None of these recipes had any thing in common with Indian curries. 'Cury' was the Old English word meaning cuisine, based on French 'cuire' meaning: to cook, boil, or grill.. After the cookery book, Cury became a popular part of English vocabulary. The term Cury became associated with stew.

So when in 1612, the English Merchants of the new East India Company attended a state dinner given by Jahangir on arrival in India they were served 'Dumpukht fowl stew' made with butter, spices, almond and raisins. According to attendees, the taste of Dumpukht was similar to 'English Chicken Pie' described in a cookery book 'The English Hus-wife' by Gevase Markham popular at the time.

Many spices used in Dumpukht had been in use in Europe for centuries earlier. In the time of King Richard I, cooks in better-off kitchens regularly used Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Galingale, Cubebs, Coriander, Cumin, Cardamom, and Aniseed. They formulated 'Powder Fort', 'Powder Douce', and 'Powder Blanch'.

When one considers that at that time Cury was a common term used in England for stew, and the spices used in Dumpukht stew were similar to 'English Chicken Pie' the merchants must have thought that they were eating Cury.

The next chapter in the story - the missing link - comes from the Jewish community in Goa. Jewish Spice Merchants from Venice arrived in Kerala before the Syrian Christians. The Jewish merchants were settled before the arrival of either British or Portuguese. After World War II most of the Jews departed for Israel. Perhaps this explains why this aspect is hardly mentioned on the subject. The Jews fused their own cuisine with that in India, incorporated the spices they traded (Black Pepper, Pippali, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Coriander), and spices used by locals (Kari Patta, Turmeric, Mustard seeds, Sesame seeds and oil, Tamarind). Jewish laws prohibited mixing milk with meats, so they used coconut milk instead. When Portuguese brought the Chili pepper from the new world, the Jews were more than happy to incorporate chili peppers. They combined the pungency of black pepper, fresh green chili pepper and dried ground red chili peppers. They made fowl stews with dominant flavours from fresh leaves of a local spice tree called Kari. These stews were just called by the type of meat and Kari, example: Kozi Kari. Kari or Kariat was carried over to Portuguese and then to British Merchants. British Merchants called it Currey to differentiate it from their familiar term Cury used for English Cuisine.

The first known published curry recipe is Fowl Rabbit Currey recipe in 'Art of Cookery' by Hannah Glasse in1747. This is the first published currey recipe in UK. The book remained on top best seller list for 125 years. It appeared in 20 editions. The initial 'currey' recipe was for a stew of fowls or rabbit, and used only whole coriander seeds and black peppercorn. In the fourth addition, she added ginger and turmeric.

By the time 'Chicken Topperfield plus Currypowder' Recipe was published by Stephana Malcom 'In The Lairds Kitchen, Three Hundred Years of Food in Scotland' 1791 the 'e' had been dropped and 'curry' appeared

 Mrs Beeton's 'Book of Household Management' was published in 1861 and had 14 curry recipes including Dr Kitchener's recipe for India Curry Powder. After this book was published, many bland stews were Beetonized by adding curry powder. The British love-affair with Curry had begun.


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Peter J. Grove

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