Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian cuisine: Col. Skinner, Maj. Grey, Chutneys and Southern Railway Lamb Curry

While browsing through the menu to order lunch yesterday (Sunday, 29th) at a reputed Chennai hotel, I came across the listing ‘Southern Railway Lamb Curry’. It was claimed to be a repast from the Raj days.

What struck me immediately was that during the British rule we didn’t have a Southern Railway. It used to be South Indian Railway. Regardless, I studied the description thinking that it could be one of the famous Anglo-Indian recipes. But somehow it didn’t appeal to me and I opted for the old fashioned fish and chips with tartar sauce and Colonel Skinner’s Chutney.

No comment on the food except that I felt the mango chutney was not Col. Skinner’s but more likely, Maj. Grey’s. I believe this brand, which is milder than Skinners, is better known in the United States than in India. Col. Skinner outranks Maj. Grey.

Col. James Skinner was one of the most famous Anglo-Indians. Born to a Scot father and Rajput mother in 1778, he was affectionately known to his soldiers as ‘Sikandar Sahib’. He raised the legendary army unit, Skinner’ Horse. The St. James Church at Kashmere Gate at Delhi was built by him. In the culinary world his name is perpetuated by the famed pickle.

Major Grey was a Brit who soldiered in India. He is best remembered for his chutney. I have not been able to ascertain whether this Major Grey was related to Earl of Grey who was Prime Mister of England (1830-34) and a connoisseur of tea. Earl Grey brand tea bags are available in the market.

Interestingly, a Gray (note the difference in spelling) commanded Skinner’s Horse from 1935 to 1947. That was Col. Douglas Gray. He came down from England to attend the bicentenary celebrations of the Regiment in 2003. He was 90 then. Whether he relished Skinner’s Chutney is not known.

With due apologies to Col. Skinner and Maj. Grey – the chutneys named after them were probably the creations of their cooks. In my opinion, neither of these famous preparations can match the uppumanga (salt mango) chutney served in some Kerala homes. The mango pickled in brine is mashed or lightly ground with red chilies and certain other ingredients. That is delicious.

How many chefs know about it?


Also see:

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Britain strikes back at the Empire

Mango Memories


Maddy said...

Again foods named after a colonel, why a colonel? Gray was a major though... Even today in UK, they are very fond of mango chutney as a relish, but that is more like the Gujrati chunda, sweet and hot. mostly sweet.

the vadu or kadu manga achar is brilliant - recently i brought back a pack of narasu's!!

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

The uppumanga? Hmm...that sounds really tasty, especially since i love anything with spice n salt in it!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Old time visitor.
Commenting for the first time.
Could not resist commenting me being a fan of uppu manga. :)

Abraham Tharakan said...

Maddy, I agree with you. Kerala mango pickles are delicious.

Abraham Tharakan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abraham Tharakan said...

Lakshmi, next time you are in India, try to taste uppumanga. I'm sure you'll like it.

Abraham Tharakan said...

nikhil narayanan, thank you for visiting and for the comment. Uppumanga certainly has many fans. I am one of them.

Kariyachan said...

Uppumanga especially of 'nattumanga', and Kanji and other condiments...
My mouth is watering as I write this!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kariyachan, uppumanga goes deliciously well with different dishes including kanji. For a change try uppumanga and red chili mashed together, and pappadam with puttu.

Ashvin said...

I am writing this at 1945hours, too early for dinner, too late for any snacks (as it might ruin my dinner) and my mouth is watering !