newsCO.com.au | Tasmanians have been keen for curry since colonial days

March 24, 2018

@newsCOflash

2018-03-23 21:00:00

Posted

March 24, 2018 08:00:58

From egg sandwiches to modern Thai cuisine, the word curry can conjure up all kinds of flavours and smells.

Whether you like them hot or more coconutty, curry is easy to come by today and has been a part of the Tasmanian diet for a surprisingly long time.

Frieda Moran works in a spice shop, so when selecting a topic for her thesis the history of curry seemed natural.

“As a product of British colonialism in India, it comes to Australia very early,” Ms Moran told Helen Shield on ABC Radio Hobart.

“There’s evidence of curry dishes being sold as early as 1806 and advertisements for curry powder itself in 1813.

“Pastes didn’t arrive until 1831 and they actually arrived in Hobart a year before they arrived in Sydney.”

Ms Moran said the foods imported to Australia at that time were influenced by the British Empire, such as bottled gooseberries from England, sugar from the Caribbean and tea from China advertised for sale in Sydney in the early 1800s.

“You definitely get some huge influences coming from India; it provided a real lifeline at that time to the Australian colonies,” she said.

“We got a lot of Anglo-Indian and their Indian servants migrating to Australia for a more temperate climate.”

But what we know commonly as curry powder — often a blend of cumin, fenugreek, mustard, chili, turmeric, black pepper, salt and coriander — was actually developed by the British.

Ms Moran said the development of these British-influenced curries was a product of the mix of cultures rather than a straight appropriation.

“It was really a product of that negotiation and collaboration between the Anglo-Indians and the indigenous Indians,” she said.

“So you couldn’t just say it was a straight forward appropriation, it was much more complex.”

In the 1860s a Tasmanian brand of curry powder, Keen’s, became a staple in the pantries of white Australia.

Joseph Keen migrated to Tasmania in the 1840s and in the 1850s he ran a store in Kingston with his wife Annie where they produced a range of sauces and condiments.

Their curry powder was a blend of turmeric, coriander, salt, fenugreek, black pepper, chilli, rice flour, allspice and celery, and most of the ingredients were imported.

In 1866 Keen’s Curry Powder won a medal the Inter-Colonial Exhibition in Melbourne and was marketed as a Tasmanian product.

In the late 1800s Keen’s Curry was advertising internationally and the brand associated itself with Antarctic exploration, still with a strong Tasmanian branding.

“No known table condiment has ever got this far before, therefore, it is a feather in the cap of a flourishing Tasmanian industry.” — The Mercury, Monday December 19, 1898.

It was not until 1899 that a connection to India was referenced regarding Keen’s in an advertisement in the Federalist:

“An Anglo-Indian gentleman’s remark: ‘I did enjoy that meal very much. Have you an Indian cook to make your dish of curry?’ Not exactly! All our bright Tasmanian girls can hold their own. They use Keen’s Curry Powder.” — Federalist, May 6, 1899.

Ms Moran said Keen’s moved between selling their curry as a local product to something more exotic in the mid-1900s.

“Before that Keen’s really emphasised the local angle, it was a Tasmanian product,” she said.

“But after [the mid 1900s] they dropped the local angle and really moved to the exotic, Indian angle.”

By the 1950s, Keen’s had been taken over by British firm Reckitt and Colman, which had also bought Keen’s Mustard in the UK, and production was moved to Melbourne.

As it was not a Tasmanian-made-and-owned product anymore, advertising had to change.

Keen’s started to be marketed as “a new Indian type curry” with a “true Indian flavour” in the 1950s, and adverts focused on the Indian and Asian cuisines that could be made with it.

While it may not seem exotic nor an authentic Indian curry in a modern-day, more culturally diverse Australia, the orange tins can still be found in pantries today as those following ABC Hobart on Facebook can attest:

Tracy: “Always use it. Curry chicken noodle. Curry sausages. Curry crayfish. Curry scallops. Curry chicken. Curry couscous. Family faves.”

Ben: “Teaspoon in with a tin of baked beans. Teaspoon in the flour when coating flathead.”

Doxia: “I live in Greece and I do have it in my spice drawer! Have it sent to me. I guess old habits die hard.”

Sam: “I suspect my mum and dad still have some with a use-by date from the 1800s in their pantry.”

Fiona: “Jamaican goat curry. And leftover slow-cooked lamb with rice, pine nuts, onions and peas. All fried up with three tablespoons of curry powder.”

Sergei: “You bet. Curried egg (mayo and a sprinkle) and curried sausages (cream, Worcestershire, tomato sauce, onion, garlic powder and curry powder). Yummo.”

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