There may be no equivalent dish in India called ‘curry’, but the way the British modified its spices and flavours during the long colonial encounter is evident from a rare recipe discovered in a domestic servant’s notebook in an archive in East Yorkshire.
Inspired by Indian cuisine, the first curry recipe in Britain was published in 1747, but since then it saw various incarnations as the British modified it to add zing to the palate. The servant, named Eleanor Grantham, wrote her recipe in a notebook in 1890.
Today few cook an ‘Indian’ the way Grantham did, when spices were brought from India and ground together to form ‘curry powder’. Notably, her recipe used ‘sour apples’, which are now rarely used in Britain in such dishes.
Sam Bartle, collections officer at the East Riding Archives, told HT that her recipe was the oldest for curry in the region, and would have probably ‘blown your head off’ when cooked for the elites at the time.
Grantham’s 1890 recipe:
Chop onions & fry in dripping well.
Take them out & put curry powder into the same dripping and fry.
The[n] fry the 2 sour apples chopped in the curry powder.
Then fry ½ lb of lean meat – cut up not too small & sprinkled with flour with the apples & curry powder.
When done add the onions, a breakfast cup of milk & a little corn flour & put in a stew pan with a little sugar & salt.
Simmer for 2 hours or longer is better, stirring frequently.
Things and palates have moved on since Grantham’s time, and today spicy Indian food remains a favourite, with thousands of ‘curry houses’ in almost every part of Britain. Hundreds of cookbooks recommend varieties of ‘Indian curry’.
The Indian food industry is now estimated to be worth 3.5 billion pounds.
The first Indian restaurant in Britain was established by Patna-origin Sake Dean Mohamed, whose Hindustanee Coffee House served ‘curry’, among other dishes, in 1810 in London.