Victorian Curry

I really enjoy trying recipes that are not only new to me, but ones that are actually quite old. My collection of vintage cookbooks is slowly growing, one thrift store, garage sale, and used book sale at a time. But that’s not the only place that historic recipes can be found. YouTube is a great resource, and I love to have it playing in the background while I’m cooking, giving me ideas for my next meal. That’s how I came across the English Heritage channel, and How to Make Curry — The Victorian Way.

If you visit the actual video on YouTube, the written recipe can be found in the video description.

Now, of course this is English curry from the 1800’s, not authentic Indian dish at all. The ingredients are ones that were possibly to obtain locally or ones that were fairly easy to import; this was generally a dish served to the burgeoning middle class at the time, and the most expensive imports just didn’t make it that far down the social ladder. However, an English soldier or merchant who’d had a chance to try authentic Indian food — and liked it — would probably like something like this dish when they returned home.

I tried making Victorian-style curry for dinner last night, and I’m happy to say that it went pretty well. The recipe breaks down the components of their curry powder, but not the quantities of each spice, so I had to make an educated guess. I put in:

7g turmeric
5g ground ginger
3g white pepper
3g ground cardamom
5g ground coriander
2g cayenne pepper

This ended up being a pretty hot curry, at least to my kids’ tastes (my husband and I actually enjoyed the burn). I think next time I make it I might halve the amount of cayenne pepper, or even quarter it — which may lead to some difficulties in measurement because my scale isn’t sensitive enough to read weight under a gram. Perhaps I need another, more precise scale?

I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of ingredients in this recipe. As the video suggests, I included two chopped shallots and three diced cloves of garlic, since unlike Lord and Lady Braybrooke, I like both. I thought that the five (five!) onions would make it taste too much of onions, but it really didn’t. I couldn’t taste the cucumber at all, though I suspect that it played a part in thickening the sauce (and adding vegetables to a recipe rarely makes it less healthy). The apple was a nice, sweet touch. I did appreciate that this dish is dairy-free without having to make any changes. I’ve found that many curries, at least the ones made in North America and Europe, use cream or coconut milk to thicken the sauce. I have no idea whatsoever if this is also true of authentic Indian dishes, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert on such things. Not having to alter the dish in this respect was a nice change.

I’m hoping to make up some mince pies and gingerbread the Victorian way for the upcoming holiday season. I also have yet to try anything from my English 18th Century Cookery book, so that’s up there on my list. I’m also looking forward to trying a few of the recipes from my recently-acquired The Tudor Kitchens Cookery Book: Hampton Court Palace book, which I found at a local thrift store. This book has both original and modern interpretations of recipes originally from 1485 to 1603, so it should be a little bit easier to follow than those from 18th Century.

Poutine & Cupcakes

Continuing this week’s pre-Canada-150 lead-up, I’d like to start with some iconic Canadian music: The Log Driver’s Waltz. The song became an integral part of art culture in Canada in 1979, when an became the soundtrack of arguably the most popular animated short in the Canada Vignettes series released by the National Film Board. The short, along with the other Vignettes, was aired on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) between programs as filler, so it was very possible to catch this song multiple times a day throughout the 1980’s. There is also a French-language version entitled La valse du maître draveur. The chorus of the English version is as follows:

For he goes birling down and down white water
That’s where the log driver learns to step lightly
Yes, birling down and down white water
The log driver’s waltz pleases girls completely

Birling, by the way, isn’t a word in common parlance even in Canada (at least not anymore), but it according to the the Free Dictionary, it is “a game of skill, especially among lumberjacks, in which two competitors try to balance on a floating log while spinning it with their feet. Also called logrolling.”

The timber trade in general is a huge part of the history of Canada as a whole, and the Ottawa area in particular. The trade blossomed in the early 1800’s, with log rafts and booms being a common sight on the Ottawa River for over a hundred years. Related trades played a large part in the development of the city, with a large number of local trades becoming part of the cultural landscape in the sawmills and their later cousins the pulp and paper mills.


Homemade poutine

The timber industry was dominated by backbreaking labour, what would now be called blue-collar work, and in a similar vein, the famous French-Canadian dish of poutine is considered a very blue-collar dish (although honestly everyone eats it, no matter their level of wealth). Poutine would probably have been appreciated by log drivers, but it didn’t come into being until the 1950’s, when the local trade was on its last legs. Poutine is a mouth-wateringly delicious pub grub combination of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The one that I made yesterday, pictured above, also had chunks of the ground beef that I used to make the gravy from scratch. I made the fries using the Baked French Fries I recipe on Allrecipies — although I set the oven to 400°F (205°C) instead of the higher temperature in the directions, as per suggestions in the comments. Poutine may look like a hot mess, but it tastes fantastic, and it’s particularly good while/after a few drinks.


Strawberry cupcake with buttercream icing & a maple-leaf-shaped strawberry gummy

Of course, you have to follow a meal of meat and carbs with dessert, right? My family ate these strawberry cupcakes with buttercream frosting following the poutine (I don’t know how they had any room left). The cupcakes were Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes from Martha Stewart. They came out looking great, but I was a little disappointed in the flavour; I’d hoped they would taste more like the strawberry puree that was in the batter, but mostly what I could taste was vanilla. Originally I had planned to make a maple buttercream frosting, but I don’t know what I did wrong and the frosting separated as soon as I stopped mixing. I was so disappointed! I ended up using store-bought Duncan Hines buttercream frosting (which contains neither butter nor cream), which was a blow to my pride, but at least my friends with milk allergies could eat it. And hey, the cupcakes looked red and white for Canada Day!