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Curry Powder

Raj Dishes

Most self-respecting Indian cooks will prepare their own curry spices. But English colonists returning from the sub-continent in the 1800's didn't know how to, a deficiency soon supplied by several enterprising Indian businesses in the form of ready-made spice powder mixes, and with us still. Commonly the mix includes coriander seeds, turmeric, chillies, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, trifala, nagkeser, cloves, cassia, garlic, curry leaves and salt.

Vencatachellum's Madras Curry Powder Tin, 19th Cent
Image: Unknown

The distinctive style of curry spice made for the English market in the days of the Raj is with us still. The 'Ship Brand Green Label Madras Curry Powder' by M. M. Poonjiaji & Co, goes back to 1883 and still carries the legend; "By appointment to H.E. the Governor of Bombay". Vencatachellum's 'Peacock' brand goes back to the 1860's and is said to have been supplied to both Buckingham Palace and to Mr J.A. Sharwood.

Original Receipt from 'Modern Cookery for Private Families' by Eliza Acton (Acton 1845);

Mix thoroughly the following ingredients after they have been separately reduced to the finest powder and passed through a fine hair or lawn sieve:-
6 oz. coriander seed.
3 oz. black pepper.
1 oz. cummin-seed.
1 oz. fenugreek-seed.
1 oz. cayenne pepper.
3 oz. best pale turmeric.
Set the powder before the fire to dry, and turn it often; then withdraw it, let it become cold, and bottle it immediately. Keep it closely corked

Original Receipt in 'An Englishwoman in India' (1864);

Madras Curry Powder
1 lb. coriander seed.
1 lb. cummin seed
6 ounces turmeric
10 ounces chillies
2 ounces black pepper
5 ounces vendee
4 ounces mustard seed
1 handful currypullee leaves.


While the term 'curry' has come to mean Indian-style dishes in general, the word is differently used in the the sub-continent itself. It may derive from the Tamil word 'kari' meaning spiced sauce or the Hindi 'karahi', the name of a curved-base cooking dish. The similar-looking, but unrelated, Old English word for cookery, 'cury' (perhaps pronounced cuu-ry), derives from the same source as the French 'cuire' and 'cuisine'.

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