Thackeray’s Ode to Curry

Poem to Curry

– William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 -1863)

Three pounds of veal my darling girl prepares,
And chops it nicely into little squares;
Five onions next procures the little minx
(The biggest are the best, her Samiwel thinks),
And Epping butter nearly half a pound,
And stews them in a pan until they’re brown’d.

What’s next my dexterous little girl will do?
She pops the meat into the savoury stew,
With curry-powder table-spoonfuls three,
And milk a pint (the richest that may be),
And, when the dish has stewed for half an hour,
A lemon’s ready juice she’ll o’er it pour.

Then, bless her! Then she gives the luscious pot
A very gentle boil – and serves quite hot.
PS – Beef, mutton, rabbit, if you wish,
Lobsters, or prawns, or any kind fish,
Are fit to make a CURRY. ‘Tis, when done,
A dish for Emperors to feed upon.

Sound like the lady could be making Hannah Glasse’s curry – only with veal, no? A delightful example of 19th Century food porn poetry with big onions, little minxes, savory stews and hot pots. As an Englishman born and initially raised in Kolkata by parents both with ties to the East India Company, Thackeray wrote about something he knew well – curry.  Something to amuse you as we continue on our journey examining curry through foreign eyes.

For more on the proper (traditional) definition of food porn, see my post on The Lotus Eaters from 2010. (Words except cited verse by Laura Kelley.)

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6 thoughts on “Thackeray’s Ode to Curry

  1. This is an absolute learning curve I cannot wait to continue! What fun to learn how we all came to love and make ‘curry’ [whatever it really means – to me a dish in a spiced sauce!] ! Oh, more of this food porn, please!!!!

    • Hi Eha:

      Thanks for the kind words . . . more early curries to come. I just found a Dutch colonial (US) recipe for butter chicken from the early 18th Century…

  2. I was just reading about Sauce Indienne (French 19th c) and thought of you and your curry project. Now I read this just after seeing a Tudor cookbook in verse. The idea was that it would be easier to remember a recipe if it rhymed. A novel idea, no?

    Thanks for this… I’d like to try to make it!

    • You found a Tudor cookbook in verse? How fabulous! Is it in iambic? Please write about it for us! What’s your take on Sauce Indienne is it the French adapting Anglo-Indian cookery or something other?

  3. Fascinating! Thanks for posting this. Heard about it on “Eggheads” (British TV quiz programme), but couldn’t find it in my “New Oxford Book of English Verse.” Very interested in the (horrible) history of curry in cookery of the English-speaking world. This is a great find.

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