Texas 1905: Beyond the Realm of Worcester Sauce

And since I’m now in Texas, here’s a little cartoon I ran across.

No Worcester sauce in Texas

Alex E. Sweet and J. Armoy Knox, On a Mexican Mustang Through Texas (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905)

 

Two Englishmen go into a store at Weimar [in Texas].

“Aw, ‘ave you got henny Lea and Perrin’s Wor’ster sauce?”

“No: don’t keep it, sir: never heard of it.”

“Never ‘eard of it! By Jove, what a blawsted country!”

Turning to the other exile,

“‘Arry, let’s go back to hold Hengland”

Yes, the humor is a tad heavy-handed.

But it’s telling in its way because Worcester sauce is a pretty good marker of the reach of the British formal and informal empire.  Everywhere British steamships went and British merchants set up in business in the nineteenth century, they sold Worcester sauce.  So you still find it in remote towns on the pampas of Argentina, dusty shops in the old town in Panama City, and in kitchens in Japan.

Now of course you get it in Texas supermarkets too.  But not, apparently, in 1905.

This whole business of culinary markers of older empires is a fascinating one.  Stuffed meat dumplings, for example, map the outlines of the Mongol Empires from China to Turkey to Russia. Curry powder as well as Worcester sauce are markers of the British trading area. Vinha d’alhos works pretty well for the Portuguese Empire and for subsequent Portuguese diasporas  being found from India (vindaloo) to Hawaii.

These markers don’t have to originate with the empire in question (see curry powder and Worcester sauce, the latter a version of the fish sauce of Southeast Asia).  But they do have to be something that was popular and easy to transfer.

Any other candidates? I don’t know the former French colonies as well.  But what about the triangular foil-wrapped cheese, La vache que rit?

 

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20 thoughts on “Texas 1905: Beyond the Realm of Worcester Sauce

  1. Gary Allen

    What are you doing in Texas, Rachel? There are a few dishes you MUST eat while there: brisket (barbecued over mequite, of course), fried okra, slow-cooked butterbeans (I’m assuming you’re already quite familiar with pintos), and ‘peas (that is: blackeyed peas — not those little green things that Texans call “English peas”). It goes without saying that you’ll be sampling chili — just make sure not to make a damnedfool of yourself by asking why there are no beans in it.

    There might be another explanation for the cartoon… it’s extremely unlikely that a native Texan, in 1905, would have imagined that “Worchestershire” might be pronounced “Worster” or even “woostersheer.” For that matter, most Americans STILL believe that “Worster” makes no sense, whatsoever.

    As for remnants of the French influence abroad, what about mayonnaise?

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Hi Gary, I live here. And I will be following up all your suggestions with enthusiasm.

      And what do you mean “Worster?” It’s wuster!! Yes, and I don’t want to put too much weight on a single cartoon. But I think the shape, color, and size of the bottle was a giveaway.

      Not sure about mayonnaise. Such a complex history Perhaps as the ubiquitous “Russian salad,” itself a pointer to the fact that French cuisine really was international. But do the French have a bottled mayonnaise?

      Reply
  2. Nick Trachet

    Interesting exerciise

    For the French, how about baguette? This industrial fast bake bread of Parisian origin is ubiquitous in Western Africa and other former French colonies.
    Anisette (pastis, Ricard…) might also fit the picture, … and that’s bottled!

    For the Dutch, I think of shag tobacco

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Yes, baguette might do it. I didn’t know about the West African colonies but it’s clearly there in Southeast Asia. And yes, pastis. And bottled asparagus, I think. Hmm, I’m sure you’re right about the Dutch. I tend to think of meatballs.

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        I was actually going to say the baguette too! And it western Africa (and northern Africa too) you find plenty of evidence of it. Even here in NYC where I am now living, people from Senegal (there are lots), Togo, Benin, Mali, etc. all love their baguettes. At the Senegalese restaurants you get practically a whole one with meals eaten on premises or as take out.

        And I’ve read plenty about boulangeries as a staple of communities in cities and towns in French-speaking western Africa and especially Senegal it seems. Not so sure about Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe but I would imagine the latter two for sure.

        Reply
        1. Rachel Laudan Post author

          So square bread where the British go, baguettes where the French go. Certainly in Vietnam too. Too late, probably for the Canadian and US French outposts?

          Reply
  3. Rachel

    I was also thinking about couscous as something similar, though the lines seem blurry to me because it could be something that existed as an (northern, western, eastern) African dish (I say this because their traditions of grain based dishes and processed ones made from corn or root veg make it plausible that something similar to couscous could have existed independently of and before the type we associate with Middle Eastern cuisines) or a Middle Eastern one that spread with conquest into those areas, that in turn finds its way to the Americas where you see it in the American South and the Caribbean under pretty much the same name coushcoush/cuzcuz, etc.

    And let’s not forget fufu, black-eyed peas…

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Agreed both about the persistence of couscous and its complex history. Akara balls seem another dish that crops up everywhere. I remember, Rachel, you asked me about them in the US once, speculating that they must be around somewhere. It has crossed my mind that hush puppies, which otherwise don’t seem to link to maize traditions, just might be mutant akara balls.

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        That’s possible. But I’m not sure, as you do have similar breads in the Caribbean and other places, festival, in Jamaica for instance. It’s more of a torpedo shaped hush puppy. Much to think about…

        Reply
  4. evilcyber

    One thing I always wondered about regarding culinary legacies of empires is why the Roman garum just about disappeared. As common in the empire as today is ketchup for us, it can still be traced in Byzantium and then is practically gone.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Yes, garum is an interesting case and I’ve never seen a convincing explanation. The same could be said for the murri of medieval Islam, made from bread, but with a similar taste apparently.

      Reply
  5. E.

    I can concur with the bagettes in Burkina Faso—I was in Ougadougou during a dust storm in the 80s and they were gritty but eaten by everybody, including me, nonetheless.

    Reply
  6. dianabuja

    Here in Burundi – an ex-Belgium country – mayonnaise with frites is a central marker. But only in the urban areas. Interesting blog, Rachel.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks Diana. Yes, I think these markers are more commonly in urban areas than rural ones for obvious reasons. Is this a Hellman’s-Kraft commercial mayonnaise or a more European style?

      Reply
    2. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks, Diana. Yes I would suspect these markers are commoner in urban areas both because colonial influence penetrated deeper there and because there is more money to buy such goods. Mayonnaise with frites, how interesting. You have a climate that can grow potatoes? And the mayonnaise? From a jar or made especially?

      Reply

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