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What About Them Apples?

June 11, 1997|CHARLES PERRY

A lot of people have the idea that apples are a curry ingredient. Many American cookbooks of the '40s and '50s, from "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook" to "The Gourmet Cookbook," put apples in their curries. In England, most of the numerous 20th century cookbooks that called themselves "Mrs. Beeton's" did the same.

Tasty though apples may be, this is not at all the practice in India, one pretty good reason being that apples don't grow there outside remote Kashmir. Though you'd think knowledge improves over time, the earlier English curry recipes were more authentic than the later ones in this regard. Only apple-free curry recipes appeared in 18th century and 19th century English and American cookbooks, including Fanny Farmer's--and, in fact, the original 1859 English cookbook that was actually written by Isabella Beeton.

So apples seem to have sneaked into the recipe in late 19th century England. Maybe they were originally a substitute for tart Indian flavorings such as tamarind pulp or pickled mangoes, because the apples were always supposed to be green. "Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book" (1907) called for green apples "or an equal quantity of gooseberries or rhubarb, according to the season."

But apparently some English cooks had already been using apples this way for quite a while. A scrapbook of old royal recipes presented to the young Princess Victoria in 1831 included "Lord Clive's Curry (ca. 1750)," which began with six onions and two apples. (This had to have been a recipe Lord C. used when he was back home in Blighty.)

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