• Tastes Of History

Cury or Curry?

During a recent cookery demonstration at Berkhamsted Castle we were chatting to some visitors about the background and history of the recipes we had prepared (which, if you are interested, can be found here). The dishes had all been derived from The Forme of Cury ('The Method of Cooking'), an extensive 14th-century collection of English recipes, the original manuscript for which has been lost. Fortunately, however, the text of this historically significant cookery book can be recreated with some confidence because it was incorporated in nine other manuscripts. The most famous of the latter is a scroll with a headnote citing it as the work of 'the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II'. Some pedigree.


At this point one of the visitors noted the similarity of the Middle English [1] word 'cury' with the modern word 'curry' that describes much of Asian cuisine. The similarities in spelling and pronunciation of both words raised the question as to whether they share an origin. We thought it unlikely as contact and the exchange of ideas and language between 15th-century England and the Indian subcontinent was some 300 years in the future. Yet we could not be certain and thus promised to check. This is what we discovered.


Firstly, 'cury' is simply the Anglicised form of the Middle French [2] word cuire: 'to cook'. Whereas 'curry' was adopted and Anglicised from the Tamil word kari (கறி) meaning 'sauce'. This is usually understood to mean vegetables and/or meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy [3]. As to a linguistic connection, it is theorised that kari was first encountered in the mid 17th-century by members of the British East India Company while trading with Tamil merchants along the Coromandel Coast of southeast India [4]. Here, the British became familiar with 'a spice blend used for making kari dishes...called kari podi or curry powder' [3].


So, despite the outward similarities the two words 'cury' and 'curry' do not share an origin. Both words are clearly separated by both time and space.

Endnotes:

1. Middle English (ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest in 1066 until the late 15th-century.

2. The style of French spoken in the 14th- to the 16th-century and overlapping somewhat with ME.

3. Curry - Etymology (liquisearch.com)

4. Specifically at Fort St. George which was later called Madras and more recently renamed Chennai in 1996.

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