A PASSAGE TO INDIA, REVISITED … SORT OF (AND BOOKSTORES)

For those lucky souls living in one of the larger cities of the eastern United States, bookshops purveying only cookbooks exist just around the corner. In Portland (Maine), Philadelphia, and New York City, to be exact.

Who knows? You might find a copy of one of Elizabeth David’s favorite books, a rather pompous Anglo-Indian cookbook from the nineteenth century, Culinary Jottings for Madras: A Treatise in Thirty Chapters on Reformed Cookery for Anglo-Indian Exiles Based Upon Modern English and Continental Principles with Thirty Menus For Little Dinners Worked Out in Detail, by Col. Arthur Robert Kenney-Henry, of the Commonsense Cookery Association, which he founded. David, one of Britain’s stellar food writers, found the book to be “meticulous and clear,” and said that anyone with any sense at all and an interest in nineteenth-century British cooking had better own a copy of it, indeed should “snap them up.” David describes Kenney-Herbert’s work thusly: “Writing in the British India of the nineties, under the pen name of Wyvern, Colonel Kennery-herbet’s cookery books were directed at the bewildered mem-sahibs who often found themselves transported from cosy suburban or small copuntry houses into an uncomfortable situation as ruler of a whole hierarchy of Indian servants, incomprehensible in their ways and highly erratic in the performance of their duties.” Hmmm — a somewhat Orientalist attitude, would you not say?

At any rate, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what side of the bookstore door you’re standing on, the book is available for free online. Prospect Books published a facsimile of the 1885 edition in December 2007.

Read more about it in V. Narayan Swami’s witty deconstruction of both the book and the author.

And  visit the following bookstores, too, if you can — I have no ties to any of them except a longing to see one of them open up in my town:

Kitchen Arts and Letters, New York City  

Rabelais, Portland, Maine 

The Cookbook Stall, Philadelphia

Like Forrest Gump and that proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to find.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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2 thoughts on “A PASSAGE TO INDIA, REVISITED … SORT OF (AND BOOKSTORES)

  1. I know — but given the time period and the mind-set, well, it’s an interesting book. Narayam Swami’s comments really give the whole thing a different perspective, coming from someone who knows the culture as only one born in it could.

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  2. Hi cindy, I remember being quite taken aback when I actually first read Kenney-Herbert. Given Elizabeth David’s glowing recommendation, it was not at all what I expected. Curry as a velouté manqué had me speechless. And now I’m off to check out Narayam Swami. Can’t wait.

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