“I should recommend anyone with a taste for Victorian gastronomic literature to snap him up…His recipes are so meticulous and clear, that the absolute beginner could follow them, yet at the same time he has much to teach the experienced cook.” That’s from the great Elizabeth David.
Culinary Jottings for Madras was written by WYVERN who was really Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert. He had a military career in India from 1858 till his retirement in 1892 and this book is an icon of the time and the place.
He served as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General for part of his military service and that experience evidently gave him the confidence to attempt to transform the domestic kitchens of the Europeans in India.
It’s hard to imagine those times of huge dinner parties in sweltering heat with menus that were little changed from those of a country house in England in mid-winter. The British were for the most part unwilling to change their culinary habits and must have suffered for it.
The chapter headings well illustrate the order of things. Three chapters on Sauces, A Few Nice Pies, Our Curries, and that’s just in Part 1. Part 2 consists of Thirty Menus – Worked Out In Detail, all those menus being for four or six people. He continues with For a Little Home Dinner, comprising for example, soup, fish with a sauce, lamb, mash, aubergine, blancmange, cheese, dessert and coffee. A nice quiet night in!
WYVERN saves the best till last with a whole chapter devoted to Our Kitchens in India. He instructs on everything from the kitchen building to staff management. His description of the common state of kitchens indicates the reason why so many Europeans died young!
This is a recognised classic and I can understand why. It offers a look at a totally different era with attitudes that are long gone (thank goodness). WYVERN writes well in a style that is Victorian and charming. It isn’t a book whose recipes you are likely to follow, but you won’t buy this book to use the recipes. You’ll enjoy the experience of the Raj at its height and understand why it couldn’t last!
Culinary Jottings for Madras
Published by: Prospect Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018