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Some Like It Hot: Class, Gender and Empire in the Making of Mulligatawny Soup

Some Like It Hot: Class, Gender and Empire in the Making of Mulligatawny Soup

From its humble origin of pepper water, mulligatawny soup seems to have travelled around the globe, and across time. The rise and fall of the popularity of mulligatawny, its adoption and rejection, its asynchronous though linked histories in Britain and in India, serve as the barometer for measuring British attitudes towards India. It allows us to think about histories of cultural exchange and reveals the linkages between food, identity and power. This paper looks at the creation of this soup in the British-Indian Empire. It explains its origins and popularity, and its current ubiquitous presence on menus in Indian restaurants. The history of this soup is a story of class struggle at the level of the dinner table and it is a story, inevitably, about gender.

SPECIAL ARTICLE

Some Like It Hot: Class, Gender and Empire in the Making of Mulligatawny Soup

Modhumita Roy

From its humble origin of pepper water, mulligatawny soup seems to have travelled around the globe, and across time. The rise and fall of the popularity of mulligatawny, its adoption and rejection, its asynchronous though linked histories in Britain and in India, serve as the barometer for measuring British attitudes towards India. It allows us to think about histories of cultural exchange and reveals the linkages between food, identity and power. This paper looks at the creation of this soup in the British-Indian Empire. It explains its origins and popularity, and its current ubiquitous presence on menus in Indian restaurants. The history of this soup is a story of class struggle at the level of the dinner table and it is a story, inevitably, about gender.

A longer version of this paper received a Sophie Coe Memorial Prize. My thanks to the Special Collections Librarians at New York University, New York and at the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British L ibrary, United Kingdom. I am grateful to Brian Steele of Yeolden House Hotel, Devon, UK for carefully transcribing mulligatawny recipes from his collection of rare cookery books.

Modhumita Roy (modhumitar@gmail.com) is with the department of English at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA.

Then jungles, fakers, dancing girls, prickly heat, Shawls, idols, durbars, brandy-pawny; Rupees, clever jugglers, dust-storms, slipper’d feet, Rainy season, and mulligatawny.

– Curry and Rice on Forty Plates1

“We discovered Lake Nyassa a little before noon of the

16 September 1859”, records Dr Livingstone. After a

gruelling 40-day trek, on 6 October 1859, he arrived back on the ship “in a somewhat exhausted condition”.2 The exhaustion, it turns out, was caused not so much from the long march to the sea, but due to the food the cook had prepared. “We had taken a little mulligatawny paste, for making soup, in case of want of time to cook other food”, he tells us. The cook, instead of using “a couple of spoonful” had used it rather rashly, resulting in a “soup (that) tasted rather hot”.3 Although boiled rice was added to it to counter the excessive use of the paste, “in consequence of the overdose, we were delayed several days in severe suffering”.4

The irony of Livingstone’s condition is worth noting: the British in Madras often turned to mulligatawny before and after meals as a digestive and it was considered by some a trustworthy remedy for “sick headaches”.

From its humble “origin” of “pepper water” (from the Tamil milagu tanni), mulligatawny seems to have travelled around the globe, and across time – from Livingstone’s meals on his African trip in the 1850s to the “Soup Nazi” of the popular American television sitcom, Seinfeld. While afficionados of the show may recall Kramer’s craving for “a hot bowl of that Indian soup…simmered to perfection”, the first known reference to the soup, according to the trusty Anglo-Indian dictionary Hobson-Jobson was in 1784, not surprisingly the same year “currystuff” or a combination of spices also became available in Britain.5

Dr Kitchiner, a physician and gourmet, in his The Cook’s Oracle (1818) testified to the growing popularity of the newly “invented” soup and opined that though “Mullaga-tawny…the more familiar name of curry soup” may not yet have “sufficient of the charms of novelty to seduce (a restaurant goer) from his much loved Mock Turtle. It is a fashionable soup, and a great favourite with our East Indian friends.”6 Indeed, so popular was this soup among the British residents of the Madras Presidency that “mull” – a contraction of mulligatawny – “was applied as a distinctive sobriquet to members of the Service”.7 But a mere 60 years later Wyvern, one of the most successful of cookery writers in the Indian empire, announced that “a really well-made mulligatunny is, c omparatively speaking, a thing of the past”.8 As we shall see, in

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the following pages the announcement of its demise had been greatly exaggerated.

Fortunes of Mulligatawny Soup

The fortunes of this soup has to be traced on two registers – on the one hand, the greater familiarity, even growing popularity, of Indian curry recipes in Britain throughout the 19th century made mulligatawny a household soup. Starting out as an item of haute cuisine, enjoyed by the prince Regent and his aristocratic set, it gradually became part of ordinary household menus.9 In India, on the other hand, among the Anglo-Indians, it proved to be a dividing line of class and caste. Though the adaptation, even incorporation, of Indian cuisine to suit British taste owed much to British women travelling between metropole and colony, as the Anglo-Indian wives in India, for the most part they shunned I ndian cuisine, preferring to serve pies, roasts and potted meats in order to distance themselves from those they governed, and distinguish themselves from those with whom they governed, the Anglo-Indians (that is, British residents of India). The rise and fall of the popularity of mulligatawny, its adoption and rejection, its asynchronous though linked histories in Britain and in India, serves as the barometer for measuring British attitudes towards India. But more generally, it allows us to think about histories of cultural exchange, and helps reveal the linkages between food, identity and power.

Often synonymous with curry soup, no purveyor of domestic advice in the 19th century could afford to ignore the mulligatawny soup. Indeed, all the great writers of cookery books of that period had their own recipe for the soup, this “most celebrated of Anglo Indian dishes”, as David Burton calls it.10 Curry, that other peculiar British concoction, and the one invariable ingredient in all the myriad variations of the soup was commercially available in London by 1784. As early as 1733, the Norris Street Coffee House at Haymarket was serving something called “curry” though its popularity was both limited and doubtful. The earliest recipe for curry and for mulligatawny (mulagatwy) is probably Stephana Malcolm’s in 1791, which she seems to have obtained from her brothers, all 10 of whom were working in India.11 By 1809, Dean Mahomed had opened the first Indian restaurant, “The Hindostanee Coffee-House” near Portman Square in London, for “the Nobility and Gentry”, where he served “Indian dishes, in the highest perfection…unequalled to any curries ever made in England.”12 The Domestic Economy and Cookery for Rich and for Poor (1827) included recipes for the soup with the view “of introducing a less expensive, a more wholesome, and a more delicate mode of cookery”.13 Mulligatawny, as we shall see, proved to be a versatile, adaptable menu item, sometimes prepared with expensive meats and a variety of condiments and at other times, made with leftovers and common vegetables. As such, it proved to be a great boon to frugal housewives who made the lowly broth the repository of disparate ingredients, some leftover from previous meals, others that could easily be found in local markets. Soups, in general, share this virtue, of course, but mulligatawny, in particular, having no “classical” version, displayed an ability to move up or down the scale of snobbery – from the simple broth to a sophisticated,

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even extravagant, item of haute cuisine. It was a protean creation; starting out as a “native” dish which was eaten with quantities of boiled rice, the English “added other condiments, with chicken, mutton &c, thickened the liquid with flour and butter and by degrees succeeded in concocting a soupe grasse of a decidedly acceptable kind”.14

Of late there has been a proliferation of commodity histories, all purporting to have changed the world: Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilisation or Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World or Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World.15 Bruce Robbins perspicuously observed the underlying narrative formula of these commodity histories: they are the rags to riches story of a humble plant or fish or mineral that struggles mightily against aristocratic prejudices to finally find favour among one and all. “In e ffect”, writes, Robbins, “each commodity takes its turn as the star of capitalism’s story”.16

But there is another, less sensational, tradition of writing about commodities. Sidney Mintz in his classic Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History accounted for the ubiquitous presence of sugar in modern life by carefully linking the institution of slavery (which made fortunes for the upper classes) to the British working-class’ acquired habit of sweetening tea. In unveiling the concealed social relations between the production of the commodity and its consumption, he reminds us that the “creation of a radically new diet cannot possibly be explained by reference to some single narrowly confined cause”.17 Shifts in diet are c onnected to and often signal much larger social and economic processes at work.

The story of mulligatawny, I trace, follows this latter example. My ambition in this essay is modest: I wish to look at the creation of this soup – mulligatawny – in the British-Indian empire. I do so not to confect a story of triumph, nor to produce an insidious tale of the exotic invading, occupying and overwhelming the delicate cuisines of the west, but to try and explain the “origin” creation, and popularity, and its current ubiquitous presence on menus in “Indian” restaurants. The history of this soup is a history, not so much of the clash of civilisations as an internecine skirmish within and among Anglo-Indians to define themselves. It is, I hope to show, a story of class struggle at the level of the dinner table and it is a story, inevitably, about gender.

‘Civilising Mission’ and Women

Upon arriving in Calcutta in 1856, Lady Charlotte Canning, the governor general’s wife, set about transforming the government house into an English country house. “It (the government house)” exclaims Lady Charlotte, “is improved by 450 yards of rose chintz, a great many arm-chairs, small round tables, drawings, etc, and flowerpots in number”. But as Deirdre David comments, “Although Lady Canning’s lavish transformation of colonised spaces into something resembling Derbyshire drawing room could not be matched by lower-ranked Englishwomen... they too did their English domesticating bit. Among other things, these women grew pansies in Simla, served afternoon tea in Ceylon, and arranged croquet parties in Jamaica”.18

U nequal partners in the project of empire-building, British women, nonetheless, constructed what Mary Procida calls “a new approach to imperial domesticity”.19 In analysing women’s contribution to the “civilising mission”, commentators tend to focus on the racial divide between coloniser/colonised rather than the class divide within the British. Though David notes the difference between Lady Canning and the lower ranked

o fficers’ wives, rather than tease out the implications of class divisions within each category,20 commentators often fall back into a rigid dichotomy of coloniser/colonised – or as David puts it, “one culture’s desire to control and thereby transform another”.21 How, one wonders, did the wives of lower ranking officers manage to transform their sitting rooms on meagre budgets? Could they possibly have afforded to buy vast bolts of chintz to “improve” their own living quarters?

In Victorian England, women became “resonant symbols of sacrifice for civilising the ‘native’” as much as they became the “emblems of correct colonial governance”.22 Women’s domestic postures – efficient housewife, able mate, upholder of etiquette

– were at the heart of defining and maintaining British national identity abroad. But these identities were never, of course, immutable or stable. Rather, they were always open to revision and negotiation, contingent as they were on the changing ideological requirements of the empire. After the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869 which facilitated the increasing presence of British women in India, the idea of a unitary English identity came into direct conflict with social class within the ranks of the Anglo-Indian community. Presidency towns and even r emote military cantonments became home to sizeable British communities, where not just race, but class belonging became a boundary issue. Women certainly did not cause this schism, but as Margaret Strobel has argued, “women in their social roles as wives and hostesses, maintained the hierarchy within the European community… by elaborate rituals”.23 They were held r esponsible for standing in direct and visible contrast to the “natives” (“No collector’s wife”, writes Wilfred Blunt, “will wear an article of I ndian manufacture…and all her furniture, even to her carpets, must be of English make”24). The Englishwomen were also expected to reform home and husband since, especially in the case of the latter, as Emily Eden noticed with some dismay “their poor dear manners are utterly gone – jungled out of them”.25

There was an obsessive attention to vigilance along the borders of race – racially mixed (“Eurasians”) were to be shunned as much as the class of bureaucratic servants of empire, the English-educated Indians. Even though frenetic socialising (“promiscuous sociability” as Maud Diver termed it) helped remedy the ennui that set in, the British in India maintained as rigid a caste hierarchy as the Hindus.26 There was a line drawn between the members of the covenanted (that is, the top officials of the British Indian bureaucracy) and clerks, assistants, and lower rungs of the service which Eden saw as racial: “we with our pure Norman and Saxon blood, cannot really think contemptuously enough of them”.27 Not surprisingly, food – the cooking, serving and eating of it – was one ritual among many where the British in India sought to reproduce and maintain the caste system of imperial life. The dinner party, especially, helped reinforce social boundaries, set the tone for social etiquette and interaction by attending to such weighty questions as whether guests should be exempted from wearing white gloves in hot weather, where the director of smoke nuisance should be seated at dinner or whether mulligatawny ought to be served at parties or best left for “cosy dinners”.

The upper echelons of the British administrative class led u nimaginably pampered lives. Socialising centred on the burra khana and it was “on their dinner tables that the British in India most extravagantly displayed wealth and status”.28 In the early days of British presence in India, everyday meals were an u nmanageable hodgepodge of European and Indian dishes e xhibiting abundance which, as Padre Ovington observed, attempted “to please the Curiosity of every Palate”.29 The fabulously wealthy merchants of John Company, “the Nabobs,” who were “envied yet despised” in England revelled in their conspicuous consumption, freely adopting the extravagant lifestyles of the I ndian ruling classes.

While senior merchants feasted on opulent meals, junior officers and subalterns often had to make do with frugal fare, punctuated by compulsory fasts on high holy days. The diet of the common soldier in the regular British army, “was notoriously meagre…The men at Madras had to pay for their own provisions while in garrison”.30 Under these circumstances, curry for various meals, including breakfast was neither uncommon nor frowned upon. “Ordinarily”, wrote Peter Mundy, “we have dopege and rice, kedgeree and pickled mangoes”.31 But food habits of the British shifted dramatically through the late 18th and 19th centuries. Even in the late 18th century, breakfast was frugal, consisting mostly of tea and toast. “But by the early nineteenth century”, writes David Burton, “it had become a huge meal of meat, fish and fowl”.32 Perhaps a more noteworthy shift was in the kind of food that was served. “Throughout the nineteenth century, Indian food became increasingly rare at dinner…Plain roast and boiled meats, often in obscene amounts, became ever more common at…parties”.33 By 1838, Mrs Postans was “congratulating her contemporaries on their refined tastes in having adopted delicate…pies and preserved meats for lunch…”34 Despite these changes, Indian curries, in various guises continued to grace the dinner tables of the British Indian community – and if there was one constant menu item that made its appearance, despite shifts in taste and fashion, it was the mulligatawny soup. James Munro Macnabb, for example, the acting mint master and magistrate of Calcutta, who spent a princely £ 55 a month on provisions to maintain his place in Calcutta society always provided a sumptuous feast: “delicious salt humps, brisket and tongues…superb curry and mulligatawny soup”.35 An 1830’s feast describing the fare as “fit for Homer’s heroes” included “soups of all kinds – mulligatawny, vermicelli, turtle, huge turkeys and huge hams”.36 In other words, no stigma was attached to the serving of curry dishes or mulligatawny soup alongside more European fare. It was only later, when British hegemony was well established, that curries and mulligatawny definitively lost caste and were banished from fashionable tables of the British raj.

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Colonial Cook Books

In Britain, by contrast, the soup became a popular and familiar menu item. The East India Company merchants returning to Britain carried with them a penchant for mulligatawny and set off a craze for the soup. By the 1850s, tins of mulligatawny had a ppeared, a supply of which, presumably, Livingstone took with him to Africa. By century’s end, mulligatawny soup mix was commonly and cheaply available for 4d from Thomas Nelson and Company. Capitalising on its popularity the American company Heinz tinned and sold it in Britain, eventually added “beef curry” to the label, indicating the standardisation of the item. Contemporary cookery and household management books could not a fford not to provide its own version of the mulligatawny soup. By mid-century, mulligatawny had already entered the cookery lexicon, spawning as many variations of the recipe as ways to spell it. The recipes ranged from a quick and simple clear broth to the most elaborate collection of vegetables and meats that took hours to cook.

The most famous of these manuals, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in volume form in 1861, included a recipe for mulligatawny which advised readers to begin by “lin[ing] the stewpan with bacon”.37 The vegetable version of the soup, she tells us “is made with veal stock, by boiling and pulping chopped vegetable marrow, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes, and seasoning with curry powder and cayenne”.38

Her predecessor, Eliza Acton, in her Modern Cookery in All It’s Branches (1845) included not one but three recipes for the soup devoting more space to the soup than any other. What is particularly striking is that the recipe is not listed under foreign cookery though Acton does make oblique references to the delicate palates of her readers, unaccustomed to certain flavours and condiments: “Unless precise orders to the contrary have been given”, she warns, “onions, eschalots and garlic, should be used in seasoning with great moderation” since these are “very offensive to many eaters” and “to persons of delicate habit their effects are sometimes extremely prejudicial”. Perhaps the most important reason for exercising moderation with onions and garlic (the basic ingredient not only in almost all mulligatawny recipes, but Indian curries in general), is that “it is only in coarse cookery that their flavour is allowed ever strongly to prevail”.39 In other words, Acton’s suggestions point the way to the domestication of exotic and foreign menu items to the more cautious British palate and plate. The incorporation of the soup into British food habits was well under way.

Acton’s version of mulligatawney, wedged between her directions for pheasant soup and “an excellent green pea soup,” is quite distinctive. The instructions begin innocuously enough for any soup recipe – “slice and fry gently in some good butter three or four large onions, and when they are of a fine ambercolour, lift them out with a slice…” What might give one pause is the next step: “throw a little more butter…and then brown lightly in it a young rabbit”. The rabbit can be substituted, we are told, with prime joints or a fowl. An hour or two of patient tending to the broth and the addition of lemon juice and “two heaped tablespoonful of currie powder” produces the desired

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dish. “Serve it very hot,” advises Acton, “and send boiled rice to table with it”. The soup is prepared with “part of a pickled mango and is much recommended by persons who have been long resident in India” (p 53). The rather less adventurous palates of her primary readership (British and American), she acknowledges, have made her modify the recipe and include the “sort of receipt commonly used in England”, But, she tells her readers, “a much finer soup may be made by departing from it” (p 53). The variant she recommends calls for three or four ounces of grated cocoa-nut “which will impart a rich mellow flavour to the whole” and for meat, “the flesh part of calf’s head previously stewed almost sufficiently…with sweet-bread also stewed or boiled in broth tolerably tender…will make an admirable mulligatawny”. Ever mindful of expense, Acton adds, “The flesh of a couple of calves’ feet, with a sweet-bread or two, may, when convenient, be substituted for the head” (p 53). In a subsequent, revised edition of Acton’s recipe book, published in 1900 titled, The People’s Book of Modern Cookery f urther concessions are made to expenditure: “the scalp or skin only of a calf’s head will make an excellent mulligatawny”.40 We have come a long way, indeed, from the austere pepper water of southern India!

Chefs of 19th Century

In addition to recipe writers, the most famous chefs of the 19th century, Alexis Soyer and Charles Elmé Francatelli, each had their own recipe for mulligatawny. Soyer, chef de cuisine at the Reform Club in London, and perhaps the most celebrated cook in Victorian England, published his book of recipes, Modern Housewife in 1849 in which his recipe for mulligatawny begins, “Cut up a knuckle of veal, which put in stewpan, with a piece of butter, half a pound of lean ham, a carrot, a turnip, three onions and six apples”.41 Soyer ends his recipe with the observation “ox-tails or pieces of rabbit, chicken, etc, leftover from a previous meal” would be equally acceptable. Francatelli, the chief cook to queen Victoria, included his own version of the mulligatawny in The Cook’s Guide. Unremarkable for the most part, the recipe borders on the more extravagant, calling for a dozen onions, six unpeeled apples and poultry, game, veal or pork and the addition of Crosse and Blackwell’s curry paste, which, in Francatelli’s opinion, was the best available.42 Of all the early mulligatawny recipes, it is Soyer’s which, having weeded out the more exotic ingredients, with the exception of the hallmark “curry paste”, created a recipe which is European in its basic idiom.

Acton’s recipes and advice were directed at creating a “refined modern table” by deliberately “intermingl[ing] many foreign recipes and elements”.43 Since rice, which was usually served at table with the soup, was not a usual item of consumption in England, her recipes for the mulligatawny included a separate section on how to boil rice for the soup. Here, she advises her reader that the “The Patna, or small-grained rice, which is not so good as the Carolina” nonetheless, goes well with the soup. While her various versions of the mulligatawny called for marrow, cucumber, apple and cocoanut, Mrs Beeton substituted cocoanut with ground almond. Some “clear” versions of the soup listed coriander, cumin, fenugreek and c innamon as required ingredients. Alexis Soyer, added ham, thyme and apple to his recipe, thereby producing a soup that is a far cry from the “original” mulligatawny. A combination of commodities – Carolina or Patna rice, coconut and curry powder, cardamom and ground almond – make the 19th century English larder a reflection of the globalised economy of England. These recipes which called for a mixing of the familiar with the unfamiliar were exercises in creating a cosmopolitan sensibility commensurate with the ambitions and disposable incomes of the rapidly increasing middle class which, throughout the 19th century, grew corpulent and rich on the surplus of empire. Mulligatawny recipes reflected the circulation and availability of exotic items for consumption in the metropolis and the hegemony of the middle class in dictating the terms of sophistication and taste for, as Burnett points out, “England had become very largely their England”.44

In the colony, however, cookery and household management books were always conscious of the rigid class/caste differentiations that had to be maintained between Britain and India in the first instance, but also between the upper and lower classes of Britons: there was the dual anxiety of either appearing to have gone native (“junglee”), or to reveal oneself to be common. Thus, in India, mulligatawny’s proximity to the “natives” resulted in its downward spiral in popularity. While Acton’s and Beeton’s manuals laid the foundation for middle class living in Britain, for the Indian empire the classic work was, of course, Flora Annie Steel’s Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. First published in 1888, her compendium on domestic advice was influenced in good measure by her own experiences. Steel arrived in India in 1867 as the wife of a British-Indian army officer and became a best-selling author, architect and educationist, touring various parts of northern India, often under challenging conditions. She is always concerned with the exhibition of competence – that is, the maintenance of a British persona, intrepid and in-charge under any and all contingencies. Acton, and more especially Beeton, makes clear that the housewife’s domestic responsibility was to entice her husband back to the dinner table by offering delectables. For Steel, however, the domestic was a seamless extension of the i mperium where displaying “British” values was as much part of the recipe as suggestions for meals or receipts for menu items. It is in this context that we ought to read her recipes for mulligatawny soup.

Unlike British recipes, Steel’s mulligatawny is a déclassé item which earns a reluctant mention without any of the elaborate descriptions reserved for the more fashionable parts of the recipe collection. Appearing first under “clear soup”, her recipe simply, even curtly, describes it as “flavoured strongly with curry powder, and served with rice quenelles poached separately. A little lemon juice.”45 Mulligatawny makes a second appearance under “Thickened Soups” where the recipe calls for three sliced onions which are to be fried “without colouring in 1 unit of butter.”46 To this is added one apple, cut in slices along with the expected curry powder, flour, and stock. Not one to subscribe to extravagance, Steel, unlike her metropolitan counterparts, makes no mention of knuckles of veal, rabbits, whole or in pieces, calf’s head, bacon or ham. Instead, she recommends serving the soup “with any remains of cold poultry cut into slices and warmed in the soup. Rice and lemons in slices, to be handed with it.”47

A third version – this time with a more sophisticated sound, if not taste – appears under “Soups without Meat”. The instructions read, “As for mulligatawny, but made with fish and the addition of a little anchovy”. In this incarnation the soup is called, “Bisque a l’Indienne”.48 Unlike Beeton and Acton, Steel makes no mention of mango pickles or Patna rice which, exotic and d esirable in Britain, in India would have rendered the soup u ncomfortably close to its “native” root. Acton, by the mere juxtaposition of her recipe of “excellent green pea soup” with mulligatawny, the latter redolent with heaping spoons of curry and coconut, emphasises simultaneously the domestic and the exotic. Steel’s recipes are variations of Soyer’s and of Francatelli’s. Her dismissive tone, the introduction of poached rice quenelles in place of plain boiled rice, the substitution of the tropical mango with the temperate apple, are her attempts at camouflaging the “native”, and make it pass as a European, and therefore, more sophisticated dish.

What is noteworthy, also, is first, Steel’s modification both of the recipe and of cooking instructions. Having experienced life in remote settlements of the British Indian Empire, she is always sensitive to the trying circumstances under which “English” habits had to be preserved, practised and displayed. Steel, thus, simplifies her recipe and menu recommendations substituting fine joints and rabbit meat with whatever leftover meat was available. Steel aims at practicality and what in today’s parlance we might call, user-friendliness. In the Preface to her first edition she claims (albeit a stock-in-trade of all such books) that there was a felt need for a practical guide for young housekeepers in India who “find themselves almost as much at sea as their more ignorant sisters” with little help from “the crowd of idle, unintelligible servants…”49 While cookery books in England included “Indian recipes” with some fanfare, her inclusion of a few “native dishes” is grudging and comes with the warning: “The following native dishes have been added by request. It may be mentioned incidentally that most native recipes are inordinately greasy and sweet and that your native cooks invariably know how to make them fairly well.”50 Although she does not elaborate as to who might have requested such dishes, we would not be far wrong to surmise that despite her best efforts, curries and mulligatawny were still being relished at Anglo-Indian meals. Read within the context of her milieu, Steel’s recipes for mulligatawny are an instance of the delicate calibration of class and culture that was at the very centre of British Indian identity in the second half of the 19th century: on the one hand, the reality of food habits of the British residents and on the other, the hauteur of a British imperial persona that wished to distance itself from anything with the s lightest I ndian flavour.

For the most part, Steel’s recipes are European with frequent use of French names and techniques, and liberal recommendations of carlton soup, macaroni and chiffonades. By the time of her writing menus in Britain were being written entirely in

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French. This new fashion, transported to India made for some curious translations: Indian curd was transformed into gros lait and Indian gourd in brown gravy became the exotic-sounding podolongcai au jus. Steel’s attempt is not a synthesis of east and west (as in some of the earlier cook books) but like Wyvern, about whom I will have more to say later, her desire is to reproduce E uropean (especially French) cuisine in primitive Indian kitchens. If “Indian” recipes are selectively, indeed, reluctantly included, her opprobrium is equally directed at Anglo-Indian habits of food and entertaining. Breakfast in India, she found to be “for the most part horrible meals”.51 She was not better impressed by that peculiar mid-day meal, so beloved of the British in India, the tiffin: “Heavy luncheons and tiffins have much to answer for in India…It is no unusual thing to see a meal of four or five distinct courses placed on the table when one light entree and a dressed vegetable would be ample”, is her unamused opinion.52 Uncompromising on her stance that even under the most difficult conditions, Englishness must never be abandoned, her manual is a reassurance to the young, inexperienced housewives that with advice from “an old India hand” such as herself, any Englishwoman, even in the remotest corner of the Indian empire could run a household worthy of the ruling race. “We do not wish to advocate an unholy haughtiness”, she avers, “but an Indian household can no more be governed peacefully, without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire”.53

A Turn towards French Cuisine

Like Antonin Carême who had inaugurated the turn towards French cuisine as a mark of a sophisticated palate in Britain, Wyvern “supplied the grammar of classical French cuisine” in British India.54 One of the most distinctive, and certainly the most amusing, cookery writer of Anglo-India, colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert (Wyvern) first published his recipe book in 1878. In equal parts, a cookery recipe, social commentary, and advice with more than a dash of snobbery, Culinary Jottings or A Treatise in Thirty Chapters on Reformed Cookery for Anglo Indian Exiles, was so popular it went through five editions in seven years. In the fourth edition of the Jottings (published in Calcutta in 1883), he reluctantly included “three articles on curries and mulligatunny which appeared in the Pioneer”. Having announced that a “really well-made mulligatunny is comparatively speaking a thing of the past” he, nonetheless embarks on a commentary of “this really excellent soup”. The premature announcement of its demise, along with its preparers (“The old cooks, who studied the art, and were encouraged in its cultivation have passed away to their happy hunting grounds”) allows Wyvern to provide a fulsome obituary. Mulligatawny, he tells us, is “an old standing dish to commence a luncheon party”, but he warns his contemporaries “he who partakes of it finds the delicate powers of his palate vitiated”,55 and therefore, his strong advice is to “reserve the mulligatani for your luncheon at home alone, enjoy it thoroughly, rice and all – and nothing more”.56 It is a “soup maigre” which English culinary genius, with the addition of various ingredients, has transformed into “a soupe grasse of a decidedly acceptable kind”. Even a casual reader of Culinary Jottings would quickly realise that Wyvern,

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here, is damning the soup with faint praise. His culinary philosophy emphasised delicacy, style and expertise. His description of the soup displays the values he most abhorred: food that is coarse, common and devoid of any nuance: “The pepper-water is, of course, eaten with a large quantity of boiled rice and is a meal in itself”.57 To underscore the lowly caste status of mulligatawny, he informs his readers that the soup “in its simple form…[is] partaken by the natives of Madras”.58

Wyvern was outraged by the “careless and slovenly cooking” of his compatriots who relied far too much on tinned food; he advised them to grow marjoram, parsley, celery and thyme in their kitchen gardens. If Lady Canning used bolts of chintz to transform a Calcutta living room, for Wyvern growing an English herb garden in India would have the same effect. In this new sensibility of dining, the place of curry was now at private homes, “only licensed to be eaten at breakfast, at luncheon, and perhaps at the little home dinner, when they may, for a change, occasionally form the piece de resistance of the cosy meal”.59 Despite this concession, Part II of his manual, titled “Thirty Menus, Workout in Detail” contains not a single reference to or recommendation of either curry or mulligatawny. Instead, Wyvern’s suggestions are all French-inspired: from the simple “puree de tomates”, to “canard sauvage” to aubergines a l’Espagnoles and parfait au chocolat – there is nary a mention of the popular (and one might even say populist) curry.

For Wyvern, dinner parties were carefully choreographed performances, inextricably connected to a new sense of class consciousness since what separated the initiated from the hoi polloi was precisely what was served at table. Though he notes the enduring presence of curries at private dinner parties, (“While it cannot be denied that the banishment of curries from the menu of our high-art banquets, both great and small, is for many reasons, indispensably necessary, there can be no doubt that at mess and dinners, at hotels and private houses…these time-honoured dishes will always be welcome”)60 as I have noted, Wyvern’s own set menus make no mention of them at all. While the great unwashed were still welcome to slurp down curries and mulligatawny at the club or at mess, for the fashionable set (that is, the upper echelons of the administrative strata), repudiating all Indian dishes was “indispensably necessary”. The eating of curries and mulligatawny, as we see here, is s imultaneously classed and gendered. “Indian” recipes are relegated to the male spaces of mess hall and hotel, prepared by the incompetent “mootooswami” about whose “ingenious nastiness” Wyvern had much to say. Haute cuisine identified with refinement and class, by contrast, is produced and presented within the private space of the household where the Englishwoman’s task was to “make the bungalow an island of Englishness, secure from a noxious India”.61 If Steel is concerned about contingencies of British Indian life, for Wyvern, there is only the leisurely, lavish meal that must be produced as the fundamental unit of a civilised living.

Though Wyvern insisted that his contemporaries were now s ophisticated gourmands (“our forefathers…chiefly preyed upon curry and rice, and lived to all intents and purposes, a la mode Indienne. But nous avons change tout cela”62), it would be a m istake to conclude that Anglo-Indian households had all converted to haute cuisine. Despite Wyvern’s hectoring, the emphasis on “common fare” and on the importance of frugality continued through the century. Such popular cookery books as Indian Cookery “Local” for Young Housekeepers, (1883) or The Cookery Book: A Practical Handbook to the Kitchen in India dispensed advice to young wives struggling on meagre budgets. Eschewing elaborate European recipes “never seen on local tables”, and whose methods are “far too troublesome to be adopted”, they recommended “simplicity and economy”.63 EAMF, for example, warned against the cookery books “that are published full of recipes of dishes that invariably require an income two hundred rupees at least”.64 Recipes called for benjall (brinjal) and not aubergine; r ecommended spices consisted of dry, red chillies, jeera and turmeric; and here, unlike in previous recipe books, we find instructions for three kinds of vindaloo: duck, fowl and beef. In these household advice books, Indian recipes rub shoulders with English ones; the pages are a jumble of bael sherbet and raspberry ice, Christmas plum pudding “the Indian way” and rice Blanc Mange, or such curiously hybrid innovations as Jellaby pudding. These cookbooks are instances of what we might truly call an “Anglo-Indian” – ones that are clearly aimed at the modest households of great numbers of the uncovenanted government servants whose food habits of necessity had incorporated Indian spices and vegetables and created a distinctly hybrid and a distinctly recognisable group of dishes which now are so closely identified as “Indian”.

For the most part unremarkable in its compilation of recipes and advice, what we do see in The Practical Handbook and a host of other cookery books beginning to crowd the bookshelves, is a spirit of populism, a tug of war to define “English” life in India. For Steel and for Wyvern, what is at stake is as much the recipe for a particular dish as the receipt for being a member of the ruling race. What is on their menus is not simply a combination of food items but the display of British identity. The sample menus and suggestions for parties, formal and informal, were a veritable theatre of class and culture wars. In Dainty Dishes for Indian Tables (1879), the exemplary dinner menu included Golden Quennelle Soup, Turbot with Cream Sauce, Stewed Partridges with Soubise Sauce, Leg of Mutton with Anchovy Sauce. For Fritzgerald, and others, by contrast, the aim is to provide advice and guidance to families with small budgets, whose daily lives resembled neither that of Indians nor that of the wealthy British. For this middle group, the Anglo-Indians, stationed in remote towns and cantonments, the plebian flavours of curried chicken fry, Sheep’s head baked, Salt Fish Tamarind Fry, and the curiously named but ever-popular “Beef Ding Ding” were the familiar and commonly recommended fare. While a possible breakfast might consist of “cow heel moolee” and “fried fish roe”, the cheap tiffin section invariably recommended a mulligatawny soup, the recipe for which was a reflection of the Indian bazaar rather than the English herb garden: “Eighth bendikai, four heaped tablespoonful of dhall, 12 peppercorns, three tablespoonful of ghee”. The preferred meat is mutton to which is added ginger, mustard, cumin coriander, and even turmeric and c uripalli.65

The Return of Mulligatawny

These mulligatawny recipes return us to the “original” south I ndian concoction; they are closer to the Tamil “rasam” than Steel’s anglicised soup full of apple and marrow and with so much anxiety about the colour and consistency of the stock. For Steel and Wyvern, the inclusion of mulligatawny recipes is a begrudging acknowledgement of the indigenised dinner table. But while they insist on replacing curries and other “Indian” dishes by continental, especially French, recipes, mulligatawny continued to appear on formal menus, reincarnated as “potage de Madras, consommé mulligatawny” or under the even more pretentious, “consommé a l’indienne”. For those less snobbish, mulligatawny soups moved closer to the original south Indian concoction. But no matter what version was favoured by any particular recipe writer, the undeniable fact was that mulligatawny had become part of the syntax of meals in an Anglo-Indian household.

In 1846, Thackeray anonymously published “Kitchen Melodies

– Curry” in Punch.66 A closer look at the actual recipe the poem describes reveals it to be a restatement, with only slight variations, of Eliza Acton’s recipe for mulligatawny soup:

Three pounds of veal my darling girl prepares And chops it nicely into little squares; Five onions next prepares the little minx (The biggest are the best her Samiwel thinks). And Epping butter, nearly a pound,

d67

And stews them in a pan until they’re brown’

In this very domestic scene, “the dexterous little girl” preparing the dish puts “curry powder, tablespoonfuls three” to be “stewed for half-an-hour,/a lemon’s ready juice she’ll o’er it pour” to produce “a dish for emperors to feed upon”.68 This poem, as Susan Zlotnick has usefully argued, announces the incorporation of curry to the everyday diet of even the cockney “Samiwel”.69 Soups at this time were a relatively new food item for the working class who, generally avoided them “on the sensible ground that they lacked the cooking facilities to make them, not to mention the crockery and cutlery to eat them with”.70 Yet, here, the steaming bowl of soup with “beef, mutton, rabbit, if you wish;/ lobsters or prawn or any kind of fish” offers the working class Samiwel more than sustenance: it offers him a taste of urbane sophistication and feeds on his class fantasy of a partnership in Britain’s imperial project. The spicy soup, prepared so lovingly by his “darling girl”, blends together the domestic and the imperial and connects upper class taste with working class aspirations. The changing palate of the English, as we have seen in the many variations of the soup recipe, is the end result of domesticating the exotic, which in turn, transformed the domestic. Mulligatawny stands, here, as a synecdoche for the reciprocal and constitutive process of cultural transmission which produced composite, national identities.

The distinctive inflections in mulligatawny recipes – and one could easily continue to add more to the mix, from Frannie Farmer’s rather stolid American version at the turn of the 20th century to the Soup Nazi’s upscale, contemporary variation calling for pistachios and cashews, and roasted red peppers – are instances of “a strange and hybrid affair [a] mongrel tradition”.71 I do not wish to suggest that the recipes cookery books recommend

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should be seen as an accurate reflection of what people actually ate; rather, as Nicola Humble puts it, “They tell us more about the fantasies and fears associated with foods than about what people actually had for dinner at a particular date”.72 The changing status and changing recipes for mulligatawny are snapshots of time; they reveal something about the historical moments in which they appear. Some recipes are invitations to display via “conspicuous consumption” the status of the producer and at other times, by paring down the ingredients they exhibit Steel’s properly V ictorian values of “economy, prudence, efficiency”. Some recipes were elaborate, even laborious, with great attention paid to the delicate browning of onions, the constant stirring of ingredients, the long slow bubbling of the broth and the precise addition of spices and meats in an ostentatious show of labour as leisure, food as style. Others considered the soup the placeholder for whatever was locally available, handy in the larder or leftover from another meal. In its Indianised form, it remained a defiant staple at Sunday lunches all over British India and in its Anglicised version it continued to be consumed as an “Indian” dish in Britain (and in America).

A Dining Taxonomy

Formal dining became standardised over the course of the 19th century, and in no small measure through the proliferation and circulation of cookery books that came accoutred with readymade sample menus, diagrams for setting the table, and advice about servants and serviettes. Through these “iterative narratives” a “dining taxonomy” began to emerge – what Natalie Meir calls “a classificatory system whereby formerly idiosyncratic a spects of this social experience are codified…and routinised”.73 Planning meals, cooking and serving food properly were connected to a growing understanding of home-making which, in turn, was connected to ideas of modernity and progress. All the notable cookery writers of Victorian England viewed dining (as opposed to the merely functional “eating”) as a mark of civilisation. Mrs Beeton understood well the culture work of cookery in the construction of what has been called “banal nationalism”. “A nation”, she wrote, “which knows how to dine has learned the leading lessons of progress”.74 If in Britain, a cosmopolitan, urban bourgeoisie was busily domesticating “exotic” commodities by buying, selling, exchanging Kashmiri shawls and curry recipes with equal aplomb, the opposite was true of the British in India who became increasingly more insular and conscious of themselves as separate and above those they ruled. The administrative class stressed, even relied on, hierarchy and protocol. For them, the art of dining and arranging dinner parties were extensions of the art of ruling. Domesticity, for the British in India, as Steel astutely observed, “is not merely personal comfort but the formation of a home – that unit of civilisation where father and children, master and servant, employer and employed can learn their several duties”.75

Steel’s and Wyvern’s (albeit in different tones and emphases) more than most household management books circulating in I ndia attempted to codify conventions through their recommendations of recipes and advice insisting on these as markers of “Britishness”.

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Relishing a hot bowl of mulligatawny in England may have a llowed Samiwel and his ilk to imagine themselves “emperors”, for the British raj the soup proved to be an unstable signifier. By the later Victorian era, by the time, that is, of Britain’s imperial hegemony in India, the Anglo-Indians began to look down upon “native” dishes. Wyvern, in his Culinary Jottings noted that, “dinners of today would indeed astonish our Anglo-Indian forefathers…with (our) desire for delicate and artistic cookery”.76 Among his compatriots, much to his relief, “mother curries and florid oriental compositions of the olden times” had been “gradually banished from the dinner tables”.77 But despite Wyvern’s contempt for “florid oriental compositions”, they did not entirely vanish. The persistence of “mother curries” on the Anglo-Indian dinner menus reveals the hidden history of class resentment within British India. Eschewing the “refined system of dinner giving”, EAMF and others recommended a more pragmatic approach to meal planning, where British menu staples had to reckon with the reality of the I ndian bazaar. Though neither Lady Canning’s bolts of chintz nor Wyvern’s expensive French menu items were within their budgets, these Anglo-Indian housewives surely felt the p ressure to conform, to imitate upper class lifestyles on lower class salaries. The result was the truly hodgepodge collections of recipes that put mulligatawny and macaroni on the same table.

Cumulatively, by their sheer repetition, the recipe advice produced “the appearance of a habitus” which served to make certain kinds of social practices not only appear routine, but served to naturalise them.78 They gestured towards a whole ethos of “Britishness” which simultaneously, if paradoxically, solidified and erased class belonging. Style and taste, the conduct books seemed to suggest, could be acquired or learned by following precise instructions without a concomitant change in income or power. The desired effect was the creation of a genteel, middle class sociality that distanced itself from vulgarity or what Thackeray described as the “delightful exercise in gobbling”.79 A proper dinner consumed properly became an occasion for the display of race and class; after all, to dine properly (i e, in prescribed ways) was not to be “junglee”. As in Britain, where “darling girls” prepared feasts fit for emperors, in the colonies women were the lynchpin of this transformative process. Serving or shunning mulligatawny was but one instance of this struggle to set in place dining etiquette that indicated social distinction. Powerfully prescriptive, the dinner menus and recipes, through their repetitions, attempted to refine the palate but their end product surely was the construction of a “refined” self.

Conclusions

Mulligatawny, according to Salman Rushdie, “tries to taste I ndian, but ends up being ultra-parochially British, only with too much pepper”.80 Mark Stein, on the other hand, appreciates m ulligatawny’s “quality of in-betweenness” that it can be “called upon as a sign of the inauthentic, the impure, the invented”.81 The burden of this essay has been neither to praise mulligatawny’s hybridity nor to testify to its authenticity. Instead, I have a ttempted to show that close contextual readings of the various the British residents in India, whose aspirations were far in recipes may yield a quite different set of conclusions; to wit, e xcess of their pocket books, the soup was their compromise m ulligatawny, its invention, reinvention, reincarnations, are between budget and belonging, an acceptance of being at one c onnected to a larger more complex narrative about culture and the same time impoverished and British. From its very and society. b eginning, mulligatawny provided both possibilities: at once

Mulligatawny then, as now, exemplifies the unsteady oscil-too “native” and too exotic, the soup has entered our cultural lation between sophistication and simplicity, between the cos-lexicon and onto our tables in unexpected ways. There is a mopolitan and the common. Cookery books and recipes, after h istorical continuity, however uneven and submerged, beall, are as much about fantasy and desire as they are about the tween taking lumps of mulligatawny paste on an expedition to materiality of consumption. If the British recipes of mulliga-Africa and being a connoisseur of soup in Manhattan. The tawny held out a promise of adventure for the bland British v ariations of mulligatawny, more than most recipes, are a palate, for Steel and Wyvern, mulligatawny was both a grudg-c ulturally polysemic object, affording us a glimpse into ing acknowledgement of mongrel identities of the British and a the larger cultural and political narratives of empire, class vain desire for a “pure” European self. But for the majority of and gender.

Notes 32 Ibid, p 17. 79 Thackeray, Vanity Far, p 30. 33 Ibid. 80 Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands, p 90.

1 Capt Geo F Atkinson, Curry and Rice on Forty Plates (no page number).34 Ibid, p 89. 81 Stein, “Curry at Work”, pp 134-35.

2 David Livingstone, Expedition to the Zambesi, 101.35 Collingham, Curry, p 112. 3 Ibid.36 Ibid, p 30. 4 Ibid.37 Beeton, p 90.

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5 Hobson-Jobsons, 595 (Yule and Burnell 1994).38 Ibid.

Acton, Eliza (1845): Modern Cookery in All Its Branches

6 Burton, The Raj at Table, 96.39 Eliza Acton (1845), p 43.

Reduced to a System of Easy Practices, For the Use

7 Hobson-Jobson, 595. 40 Ibid (1900), p 72.

of Private Families: In a Series of Receipts Which 8 Kenny-Herbert (Wyvern), Culinary Jottings 41 Soyer, Modern Housewife. Have Been Strictly Tested and Are Given with the (1878), 320.42 Francaltelli, The Cook’s Guide, p 46. Minute Exactness (London: Longman, Brown,

9 John Burnett, Plenty and Want, p 82. 43 Acton, Modern Cookery (1846), p xii. Green and Longmans).10 Burton, David, p 94. 44 Burnett, England Eats Out, p 67. – (1846): Modern Cookery in All Its Branches, Fifth 11 Olive Geddes, The Laird’s Kitchen. 45 Steel and Gardiner, p 252. edition (London: Longman, Brown, Green and

12 Times 27 March 1811. Cited in Fisher, The First 46 Ibid, p 255. Longmans).I ndian Author, p 258. 47 Steel, pp 255-56. – (1860): Modern Cookery in All Its Branches: The 13 Chaudhuri, Shawls, Jewelry, Curry and Rice, Whole Carefully Revised by Mrs S J Hale (Philadel

48 Ibid.

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49 The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook (new

14 Wyvern, Jottings, p 321. – (1900): The People’s Book of Modern Cookery:

edition) 1898, Preface, p ix.

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15 Bruce Robbins, “Commodity Histories”, p 454.

50 Ibid, p 356.

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51 Ibid, p 45.

C ompany).

17 Mintz, Sidney Sweetness and Power, pp 178-79.

52 Ibid, p 47

Anon (1879): Dainty Dishes for Indian Tables (Calcutta:

18 Deirdre David, “Imperial Chintz”, p 569.

53 Ibid, p 9. W Newman and Co).

19 Mary Procida, “Feeding the Imperial Appetite”,

54 Forbes, “Introduction”, Culinary Jottings, p vii. Atkinson, Capt Geo A (1999): Curry and Rice on Forty p 123.

55 Wyvern, Culinary Jottings, p 321. Plates or The Ingredients of Social Life at “Our

20 Barbara Ramusack, for example, in her recount

56 Ibid. S tation” in India (Reprint), Asian Educational ing of British women activists and their contri-Services, New Delhi.

57 Ibid.

bution to the reform movements in India, Barbara, Ramusack N (1992): “Cultural Missionaries, 58 Ibid.

writes, “Interaction across class categories will Maternal Imperialists, Feminist Allies” in Chaudhuri not be given the same consideration since both 59 Ibid, pp 286-87.

and Margaret Strobel (ed.), Western Women and the British women and the Indian men and 60 Ibid, p 287.

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women with whom they interacted were of the 61 Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, p 178.

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e dition (Fritzgerald). Beeton and Her Cultural Consequences” in J anet both in the sphere of domesticity and the resist64 EAMF, The Wife’s Cookery Book, p 181 Floyd and Laurel Foster (ed.), The Recipe Reader: ance to them. In a similar vein, Uma Narayan,

65 Ibid. N arratives-Contexts-Readings (London: Ashgate).

in analysing the “relationships between food and c ultural identity, in colonial and post-colo

66 “Kitchen Melodies”, Punch 28 November 1846. In Beeton, Isabella (1861): The Book of Household nial contexts” makes clear that her focus will be

The Hitherto Unindentified (Spielman 1900) M anagement (London: S O Beeton). on “the relationships between colonisers and

p 202. – (1968): The Book of Household Management c olonised, about the different visions of the 67 Ibid.

( Reproduced in Facsimile) (London: Jonathan c olonising project…” 68 Ibid.

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– (2000): Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Abridged Edition (Oxford University

21 Deirdre David, Rule Britannia, p 4. 69 Susan Zlotnick (2003), “Domesticating Imperialism”,

22 Ibid. p 84.

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23 Margaret Strobel, “Gender and Race in Nine- 70 Kathryn Hughes, The Short Life, p 211.

Blunt, Wilfred (1909): India Upon Ripon: A Private teenth- and Twentieth-Century British Empire” 71 Pullar, Consuming Passions, 1.

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24 Blunt, India Under Ripon, p 248. (Abridged Edition), by Humble (2000), “Preface”,

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25 Emily Eden, Up the Country (rpt 1983), 70. p xvi.

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26 Ibid, p 36. 73 Meir, p 133.

Burnett, John (1979): Plenty and Want: A Social History

27 Ibid, p 140. 74 Humble (2000), p 905.

of Diet in England from 1815 to the Present Day,28 Collingham, Curry, p 112. 75 Steel, Complete Indian Housekeeper, p 7.

first published in 1966 (London: Scholar’s Press).29 Burton, p 5. 76 Wyvern, Jottings, p 1.

– (2004): England Eats Out: A Social History of 30 Ibid, p 19. 77 Ibid. E ating Out in England from 1830 to the Present, 31 Ibid, p 3. 78 Meir (2005), p 134. (Pearson Education Ltd, Harlow, UK).

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EPW
august 7, 2010 vol xlv no 32

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