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How times change…

I have been re-organizing stuff round here (decorating) and found a slim volume aimed at gels from the typing pool in their first gaff. It’s called, “Cooking in a Bedsitter” by Katherine Whitehorn. First published in 1961 this “New and Fully Revised Edition” dates from 1982 [it was probs anachronistic then].

Here is a sample recipe, with preamble:


Curry finds itself in this section ["Cooking to Stay Alive" - the other section being "Cooking to Impress" - basically a potential boyfriend/suitor who is simply assumed to generally take you out to nice restaurants but now wants to see your diggings!] because it is useless to try to impress anyone with a curry nowadays unless you have spent several years out East and are prepared to talk about it, as well as cook, for hours on end. When it comes to really elaborate curries it is much better to be on the receiving end, and fortunately most people who live in bedsitters know at least one Indian or Pakistani who is delighted to make a curry for an admiring friend [!]. Moreover, they are apt to know their proportions only in terms of .01 grains of saffron per half a sheep, so that they will often make enough curry for you and everyone on the staircase to feed off for a week.

However, here is an unassuming straightforward curry that will work on meat, fish, or any odds and ends you happen to have over.

I have lived almost all of my adult life (and much before!) within easy reach of Indians, Pakistanis (and Bangladeshis – though obviously that country didn’t exist in 1961 when this book was first written and there are also of course Sri Lankans) who were delighted to cook for a paying customer (or maybe possibly an “admiring friend”) or indeed sell the ingredients so you can do it yourself*. I also “love” the racist assumption that you will have a curry wallah on the staircase and their mission is to feed. And also the similarly racist assumption that a native Brit (whatever that means) can’t cook top-notch sub-continental food without having tales to tell of tiger-hunts, malaria and meeting a guru who gives you the recipe upon a sacred scroll that once wrapped the Koh-i-Noor etc ad nauseum. Rather than a book by, say, Madhur Jaffrey (available from all good book-sellers).

Anyway, here is the recipe. Now note this well because I know of one (admittedly unlikely circumstance – guess – it shall be revealed) where it might prove useful…

Curry for Meat, Fish, Rabbit, or Leftovers.

2 onions
2 tomatoes (or squeeze of tomato paste)
1 teaspoon meat extract dissolved in one cup water
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4lb/100g meat or fish or mince
1 dessertspoon flour
fat for frying

Fry onions gently for 5 mins. Add tomatoes and flour; stir. Add meat extract and water; stir. Add curry powder and KEEP THE HEAT LOW AT THIS POINT (too much direct heat seems to burn off the taste of the curry and leave only the sting – if this happens, add more curry, if you can bear to [!] ). Add meat or rabbit and simmer 1hr. If fish, add after 1/2hr. (1 1/4hrs)

This is even better if you let it get cold and then heat it up.

I’d argue if you have got this far in producing this dish fit for the very Moghuls themselves it’s utterly superlative if you bin it and then phone Sayeed down at “The Last Days of the Raj” and order a lamb bhuna.

Unless of course via some peculiar spacetime conjunction between our Universe and Discworld you have Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs round for tea**. Death wouldn’t like it mind – he’s into proper Klatchian.

* I used to live in Levenshulme, Manchester and they even had a hybrid Polish/Iranian grocer.
** Though Mrs Colon always added turnip for the wateriness and sultanas for a “taste of the exotic”.


  1. RAB says:

    a British journalist, writer, and columnist who is known for her wit and humour and as a keen observer of the changing role of women.

    She was the Jilly Cooper of the Observer, and unlikely to be having a laugh with that dreadful recipe. She just can’t cook or clean a doorstep or do the washing up either, but is an expert on Wimmin. Christ I’d try a Vesta Curry again over that crap!

    Hello Sayeed…

    Lamb Rogon Josh, six Papadoms, 2 onion bajees, Pashwari Nan, Pilow rice and raita to go please…

    20 Minutes? see you then my friend…

  2. Bod says:

    The sad thing is that over this side of the pond, you really do need a few copies of Madhur Jaffrey’s books to get good Indian food, unless you’re somewhere like NYC.

    Until 2 years ago, I actually had a fair imitation of a tandoor to cook in until a cold snap (when the fahrenheit thermometer got down to near zero) did the crock in.

    And of course, you correctly identified Mrs Colon as the guiding light behind those wonderful Vesta meals. I remember the chemical-goodness of the spag bol sauce too. And the tiny pack of dust that they called parmesan cheese.

    And whatever happened to Harveys Duo-Cans?

  3. NickM says:

    Well, I’ve had very good Indian food in Atlanta but then I was with an Atlantan (which helped). As to “Harveys Duo-Cans”… Do I really wanna know?

    PS. Can we stick to SI? I tend to think in Kelvin anyway. Geek what I am.

  4. Bod says:

    Yeah, you *can* get good Indian food over here, but it’s really tough outside metro centers.

    Harvey’s Duocans were — odd. Interesting idea. Approximate dimensions; top about 4in diam, can height, 6-8in. Normal tin can with a divider across the middle. Cooked rice in one half, curry in the other. I seem to remember the recommended method to cook was to immerse in boiling water for 20 mins, pull out can, open rice end, serve up rice, flip now-unstable can over with curry at top, open that (without the whole shebang tipping over and scalding you) and serve over the rice.

    Conceptually, something you might expect to see in an MRE. In practice, you’d be better off with a proper Cornish pastie. In fact, I did have a curried Cornish pastie once, but it didn’t have gulabjaam at the other end, which was a shame.

  5. JuliaM says:

    “Christ I’d try a Vesta Curry again over that crap!”

    Mmmm, Vesta Paella… *drools*

  6. NickM says:

    I always thought you a lady of taste and discernment. Perhaps it is different down south…

  7. RAB says:

    Can’t remember ever trying the Vesta Paella (sounds well dodgy to me!) but I had the Chow Mein with crispy noodles once, and chipped a bloody tooth on the noodles! Still making the crap though…

    And people still love it! I can imagine that Vesta stuff is what our Army K Rations are like, but hopefully the Army’s are much better.

  8. jameshigham says:

    A vindaloo upon them all I say.

  9. NickM says:

    By most accounts the British army rations are considerably better than the US MRE (Meals Rejected by Ethiopians). Which is good. Shame doesn’t seem to apply to vehicles, boots, aircraft, helicopter support, medical care, general logistics…

  10. JuliaM says:

    “…and chipped a bloody tooth on the noodles!”

    You know you’re supposed to cook them, right? ;)

    Actually, the Paella and the Chow Mein are my only guilty pleasures. I never took to the Curry or the Risotto..

  11. RAB says:

    You must tell us of your unguilty pleasures sometime Julia ;-)

    Well to open another can of worms so to speak…

    What do we think of Fray Bentos and other ghastlies from the pastlies?

    We could even get on to Ginsters? Pot Noodle is looking better by the minute isn’t it!

  12. JuliaM says:

    Pies in a can!!? That’s something I couldn’t eat!”

  13. bloke in spain says:

    Brings back memories of the first ever curry experience. The locale is a Notting Hill as yet untouched by the plague of senior Tories & merchant bankers (there may be a small but discernible difference,or perhaps not) who now infest it. Unfortunately, Toynbee, Polly already did. The venue is a greengrocers off the Portobello Road where a rotund Indian lady served unspecified but princely curries, in a small room behind the shop, for a pauperly half-crown the plate. Curiously, said plate not washed, but just refilled for the next intrepid diner.

    Harvey’s Duocans survive in a French incarnation in the canned food section of most French supermarkets.The French managing to perform the miracle of canned meals that are bloody delicious right from the economy cassoulet at one Euro a go up to canard aux whatever at several more. And in decent quantities, rather than the ‘this tiny tin serves four’ of the Brit experience.
    The emergency standby lurking in the back of the car is always the box containing one cardboard container, cous-cous, one rip top tin herbed & oiled tomatoes. Tip semoule into picnic bowl & stir in contents of tin. Wait 15 minutes & voila, taboulé sufficient to nourish two. Should be chilled for 30 mins but needs must. 1€60 the pack.

    In memory, Vestas had the unique quality of not tasting too bad on the first try & bloody vile thereafter. Hence, once one had worked through the (was it) six exotic varieties one preferred never to return.
    Once existed for a fortnight on a purloined case of canned Fray Bentos steak & kidney pies. Without wishing, never to see another one in my entire life. Which is something of a recommendation, I suppose.

  14. bloke in spain says:

    Incidentally, looking back over La Whitehorn’s curry recipe, two things do indicate its vintage. One is the notion of actually finding flour in a UK larder. The other is the notion of rabbit as a meat animal. Last Brits I offered bunny to almost ran screaming. As if I’d casseroled the family cat or something.

  15. Bod says:

    I ate rabbit 2 weeks ago.

    I guess it’s punishment for having moved to the colonies.

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