I admire pretty much all Anthony Powell’s writing; the novels, the autobiography, the journals. The last are probably the most fun, written towards the end of his life, an old man getting on with things, rereading the classics, occasionally fretting about his car, and going out to his local Indian restaurant in Frome, Somerset, sometimes cooking a curry for himself.
As regular readers know by now, Pyscho-gourmet isn’t usually the place for recipes, but I’m making an exception here, for reasons that will become obvious. I’m going to present the great Anthony Powell’s not so great curry recipe which first appeared in 1985 in a book titled Men's Menus by Alice Boyd, published on behalf of the Cornwall Historic Churches Trust. Stay with me on this.
Anthony Powell's Curry
Mutton, pork, chicken, shrimps, prawns or hard-boiled eggs
3 or 4 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp curry powder
1 small apple
1 pint stock
Slices of pimento
Worcestershire sauce and/or Antgostura
For serving with the curry:
Take three or four onions of medium size (I like plenty of onions) and chop them coarsely.
Add two cloves of garlic (again to taste, I like garlic) and chop or press fine.
Put these to cook very gently in three tablespoons of olive oil. Cook till soft and just about to brown.
Add a tablespoon of flour and stir in.
Add curry powder (obviously varying amount according to strength of curry powder and taste of guests).
Cook very gently, making sure onions do not stick to pan.
Add a small apple, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices.
The longer you can cook at this stage the better.
Add three tomatoes cut small, with all their juice.
Add some stock and let the curry bubble and hiss. At first a pint of stock may seem too much, but as the curry cooks the stock will be absorbed, especially if the curry is made a day or two before. Again it is a question of taste as to how liquid you like your curry to be.
Add salt, a handful of raisins, a teaspoon each of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, along with other mixed spices, a few thin slices of pimento cut small, a tablespoon of coconut, any herbs available, a tablespoon of mango chutney and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Pour rest of stock in gradually and stir.
This can simmer all day; I favour making a curry on, say, Thursday, to be eaten on Sunday.
If you leave the curry to cool it should be taken from the pan and put in a dish, then put back into the pan and warmed very slowly.
Half an hour before you propose to eat the curry, put the meat in, cut in fairly small chunks. It must have all the fat removed. Pork is always good, with chopped-up sausages of all kinds. Personally, I like mutton best and chicken least.
If you use uncooked meat it must be cooked with the onions and curry powder.
People are naturally inclined to use leftover meats for curry. This is perfectly all right, but if really good meat is used the result is correspondingly good.
A dash of Worcestershire sauce and Angostura may be added during the cooking process.
Bombay duck is dried in the oven, but popadums are not at all easy to cook without making them greasy. A fish-slice is useful in holding them down and removing them at the right moment from the pan.
Fried banana (at least one per person) is good at relieving the hot taste of the curry, as is cucumber cut in small chunks and dressed with vinegar and brown sugar.
Shrimps, prawns and eggs can be used instead of meat. If eggs are used they should be hard-boiled and set in halves on the curry.
Odds and ends of potatoes and vegetables may also be called into play, though the last should be used in moderation. A purely vegetable curry can be very good.
Some hints of the famous Powell prose style there, and it’s by no means the end. He then goes on at what seems to me needless length about how to cook rice. Fortunately he ends with the thoroughly Powellian remark, “Leftover curry may be used for mulligatawny soup.” Well yes it may.
In a book titled The World As it Is, Patrick French quotes one of Powell’s relatives as saying of the curry, “it was disgusting but we had to pretend to like it.” I think the relative was were being a bit harsh. In fact this sounds like a typical home-made English curry of the very old school. The first curries I ever ate in other people’s homes always involved raisins and bananas, which now sounds as much Polynesian as Indian. But I was never offered Worcestershire sauce, much less Angostura bitters.
One of Powell’s less obviously admirable traits: he found Margaret Thatcher sexy, (though it’s amazing to discover how many did: JG Ballard and Christopher Hitchens among them).
Powell writes: “I continue to find Mrs. Thatcher very attractive physically. Her overhanging eyelids, hooded eyes, are the only suggestion of mystery (a characteristic I like in women, while totally accepting Wilde's view of them as Sphinxes without a secret). Her general appearance seems to justify Mitterand's alleged comment that she has the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe …”
On the other hand he had his doubts about Thatcher as a hostess, suffering through a number of Prime Minister’s dinners, including this one described in his 1985 journal:
“In the anteroom before dinner we were given well-iced non-vintage cgampagne (International Cooperative Wine Society?) “it appeared that, owing to last-minute changes, the food (cooked mostly by Vanessa Thomas), which we subsequently ate, was brought down by car from Ladbroke Grove. It was eatable, without being at all exciting; the claret was decidedly dim…”
- Some, no doubt, would have been reluctant to sit down with Margaret Thatcher, but Powell had, a long time earlier, once sat down with the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley.
Powell was working for the publisher Duckworth who had published a book in which Crowley thought, indeed hoped, he might have been libeled. (In a later case the jury decided he was a man impossible to libel.) So Powell and Crowley had lunch at Simpson’s in the Strand: they both had the roast mutton. Powell drank beer, Crowley drank milk. The event seems to have been essentially uneventful, but I think Powell’s description of Crowley gets him absolutely. “There was much that was absurd about him; at the same time it seems false to assert - as some did – that his absurdity transcended all sense of being sinister. If the word has any meaning, Crowley was sinister, intensely sinister, both in exterior and manner.” The account appears in Messengers of Day.
- We now know that Crowley was also a maker of curries. Here’s a passage from his book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley:
“The weather made it impossible to do any serious climbing; but I learnt a great deal about the work of a camp at high altitudes, from the management of transport to cooking; in fact, my chief claim to fame is, perhaps, my “glacier curry.” It was very amusing to see these strong men, inured to every danger and hardship, dash out of the tent after one mouthful and wallow in the snow, snapping at it like mad dogs. They admitted, however, that it was very good as curry …”
Well this sounds like tosh, doesn’t it? In any case the recipe has been lost, if it ever existed, but a recipe, without quantities, for “Riz Aleister Crowley” “to be eaten with curry” was found among his papers at Syracuse University: raisins are again involved, along with almonds, pistachios and “cardamoms (very few).” The MS looks like this – (I found it on http://dangerousminds.net/, but I’m not sure where it originates):
As with Powell, this sounds like overelaborate instructions just for cooking rice, but I suppose a little effort is to be expected when you’re “Making it a Poem of Spring.”