In Sense and Sensibility we are told that Colonel Brandon served in the East Indies and, for the British Army at that time, this most likely would have meant being on active service in India. In chapter 31 the poor Colonel recalls to Elinor Dashwood what happened to the woman he loved while he was away:
My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were not what they ought to have been, and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced as Mrs. Brandon’s, was but too natural. She resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation; and happy had it been if she had not lived to overcome those regrets which the remembrance of me occasioned. But can we wonder that with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her, (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies), she should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps — but I meant to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me,” he continued in a voice of great agitation, “was of trifling weight — was nothing — to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It was that which threw this gloom, — even now the recollection of what I suffered — “
Living in the East it is entirely possible that Colonel Brandon might have developed a taste for eating highly spiced food. If, on his return to England he had wanted to continue eating curries, could he have expected his staff at Delaford to have been able to recreate one? The answer, rather surprisingly, is, yes. It is really interesting to note that the first recipe for curry published in an English cookery book appeared in 1747.
Above, is the frontispiece to the first edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by a Lady, produced in facsimile by Prospect Books. It was in this edition of her famous book that Hannah Glasse gave this first printed recipe in English, for a curry:
You can enlarge this image along with all the others in this post, simply by clicking on them. The method given for this particular curry has a lot in common with a modern Biriani- with the rice being cooked in with the sauce, not served separately. But the most interesting point to note is the very few spices used in Mrs Glasse’s recipe. She uses only pepper and coriander seeds which have been toasted.
By the time Martha Lloyd complied her collection of household remedies and food recipes in her Household Book things had moved on a little. Martha Lloyd was, of course, Jane Austen’s great friend and one of the cluster of ladies who lived together with her at Chawton Cottage from 1809 onwards. This is a picture of her as an older woman and as Frank Austen, Jane Austen’s brother’s second wife:
Her book dates from the late 18th to the early nineteenth century, and is now in the collection of the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, where I took this photograph of it, last year:
Her recipe for curry is a far more complex item than Mrs Glasse’s version, and is called A Receipt to Curry after the Indian Manner:
Cut two chickens as for fricasseeing, wash them clean and put them in a stew pan with as much water as will cover them, with a large spoonful of salt sprinkle them and let them boil till under covered close all the time, skim them well; when boiled enough take up the Chickens and put the liquor of them in a pan, then out half a pound of fresh butter in the pan and brown it a little, put into it two cloves of garlic and a large onion sliced and let these all fry till brown often shaking the pan, then put in Chickens and sprinkle over two or three spoonfuls of curry power, then cover them close and let the chickens do till brown frequently shaking the Pan, then put in the Liquor the Chickens were boiled in and let all stew till tender. If acid is agreeable squeeze the juice of a Lemon or Orange into it.
The curry powder she refers to was most probably not a proprietary brand which could be brought in the shops, though Alan Davidson the food historian in his Oxford Companion to Food thought that:
Commercial mixtures had been available to cooks in Britain from late in the 18th century but seems not to have been a common article of commerce until later.
Certainly it is true that in the 1796 edition of Hannah Glasse’s book, the recipe for curry required curry powder to be added to it. But this does not mean that a commercially produced powder was always used, because recipes for curry powder exist in cookery compilations of the era. In Martha’s case she was most probably referring to another recipe in her book. Her recipe for curry powder appears to have originated from her aunt, Mrs Jane Fowle. Mrs Fowle was not only Martha’s aunt but was also the mother of Thomas Fowle, who had been engaged to Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister. Sadly, he died in 1797 before they could marry, of yellow fever, while accompanying his kinsman, Lord Craven, on service in the West Indies.
Her recipe for Curry Powder, or as she terms it, Curee Powder, is as follows:
Take of Termeric (sic) Root and Galangal Root each half an oz. Best Cayenne Pepper a quarter of an oz. Let the Termeric and Galangal be reduced to a fine powered separately, then mix them with the other articles and keep for use. N.B. two oz of Rice powdered tone mixed also with the other ingredients.
Galangal root is a member of the ginger family, and it is fascinating to note that this exotic ingredient was available to purchase to these ladies living in the early 19th century. The roots of turmeric and galangal were most probably not bought fresh, as they can be today, but were more likely to have been bought already roasted and dried so that powering them could take place in a pestle and mortar.
An authentic curry powder originating from southern India was most likely to have included the following: coriander cumin and mustard seeds, red and black pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and the possible additions of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and chickpeas, all roasted and then ground to a powder. So you can see, by comparing the two , that the British attempts at curries in the early parts of the 19th century, were rather tame things. My family are curry aficionados and I have attempted to recreate Martha’s recipe. Using my own version of Mrs Fowle’s curry powder it produces a very nice, sweet tasting dish, but it is not very authentic, in my family’s rather strongly given opinion.
However, it is fascinating to me that as early as the late 18th century Jane Austen and the members of her family circles were eating such an exotic dish,and approved it so much that they took the trouble to write it down and most probably enjoyed it in the dining room at Chawton Cottage, seen below in one of my terribly short videos.
Next, where Colonel Brandon could have gone to eat a more authentic version than the one his cook at Delaford might have tired to recreate for him.