British Monks Discovered a Curry Recipe in a 200-Year-Old Cookbook

The Portuguese brought the dish to Europe when they began colonizing India

chicken curry
Paul Williams - Funkystock/imageBROKER/Corbis

As a dish, the spicy, saucy stew now called curry has deep roots. Archaeologists have uncovered dishware dating back more than 4,500 years in the town of Farmana (a two-hour drive west of Delhi, India, today), covered in the remains of ancient proto-curries made from ingredients like ginger, garlic and turmeric, which are all still used today in curries around the world. Over thousands of years, the stew evolved as trade brought new ingredients and cooking traditions to spice up the meal: Muslim traders introduced meat into curry sometime around the year 1,000, and later, Indians began incorporating cloves imported from Southeast Asia into the meal, Andrew Lawler writes for Slate. But it wasn’t until the Portuguese began colonizing India that the spicy dish began to become popular in Europe. Recently, a group of British monks stumbled across a 200-year-old cookbook in their library that, among other things, includes a recipe for chicken curry.

The 1793 cookbook was discovered at Downside Abbey, a Catholic monastery in Somerset. The recipes were written out by hand and compiled instructions for meals made by generations of a wealthy local family, the Western Daily Press reports.

“You can tell it's been very well used,” Simon Johnson, the abbey’s librarian and archivist, tells the Western Daily Press. "It's in a pretty good condition, but there are a few splatters of something or other all over it...It seems to be a working kitchen cookbook as opposed to being for special occasions."

Along with recipes for pigeon pie and turtle soup, the book includes instructions on how to make a simple chicken curry. Because the book was clearly used in a working kitchen, it seems likely that the curry was already a popular dinner choice in England as far back as the 18th century, Nick Rose writes for Munchies.

"It's evoked so much interest because it's a Georgian, Regency cookbook,” Johnson tells the Western Daily Press. “I think people are generally [interested] in the more domestic parts of history. The social history is forgotten – the day to day running of a house."

The word curry most likely comes from "kari," the Tamil word for "sauce." Over the years, it evolved into the modern “curry” and has became popular in kitchens all over the world. The first known curry recipe written in English was published in a 1747 cookbook written by Hannah Glasse, though it was already quite different from what people in India were making, Anna-Louise Taylor writes for the BBC.

"What had been an Indian sauce to go with rice, became an English stew with a little rice in it," food historian Alan Davidson tells Taylor.

You can check out Glasse's curry recipe here.

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