Paysandu potted tongue

H. Rider Haggard is not well-known for product placements (other than for firearms) in his tales of Englishmen having adventures in colonial Africa. This is why mention in Ch. 5 of She (1886) of “Paysandu” potted tongue stood out. His heroes had washed up on the shores of eastern Africa with only preserved goods to see them through.

Then, taking shelter from the sun under some trees, we made a hearty breakfast off a “Paysandu” potted tongue, of which we had brought a good quantity with us, congratulating ourselves loudly on our good fortune in having loaded and provisioned the boat on the previous day before the hurricane destroyed the dhow.

Paysandu potted tongue sustains the characters for a couple of meals before they are able to start hunting the local wildlife. In the same chapter: “So we lighted a lantern, and made our evening meal off another potted tongue in the best fashion that we could”.

Paysandu is a port, and the second largest city in Uruguay. Its potted tongue – and that of Uruguay generally – were military field staples at the end of the nineteenth and, according to this replica website, and through World War I as well. That tongue had a long history as high-status food for sea voyagers is reflected in the tradition, from long before 1703 until 1915, of giving a newly-commissioned captain in the British Royal Navy a cask of ox-tongues. (J. Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 121)

While there were other types of containers and preservation methods available, it’s entirely plausible that Holly and his companions, in She, were eating tinned tongue. Delightfully, here is a reproduction of an 1896 label for Paysandu canned ox tongue, as imported to London by McCall & Co. The lively package design would indeed have been an icon of English civility in more ways than one for colonialist travelers washed up after a storm, on the verge of adventure into the unknown


I first realized that “mango” might mean anything other than the fruit, Mangifera indica, when reading John and Karen Hess’s The Taste of America. This fascinating polemic – which is largely about why American food is bad – includes several chapters on the development of cookbooks in America. Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery (1796) includes the recipe “To Pickle or make Mangoes of Melons”. (This cookbook, the first one both written by an American and printed in America, is also available via Project Gutenberg.)

“Mango” became a generic word for pickled foods in England and America, at least, thanks to the major means by which mango-the-fruit journeyed from its areas of cultivation in India and South-East Asia. The OED’s earliest attested use of the word in this sense comes secondhand from Peter King quoting John Locke in his Life of Locke (1679) on the riches and varieties of London: “Mango and saio are two sorts of sauces brought from the East Indies.” Locke wrote that the worldly edible variety of London comes from Bermuda oranges, Cheshire cheese, and Colchester oysters, in addition to the East Indies. (p. 134)

A mango might be made with walnuts or cucumbers (1699), melons (1728), peaches (1845), musk-melon stuffed with horseradish (1859), or green peppers (1940). Although its earliest instances were English, by the last two centuries, it seems to have become purely an Americanism. (Now a very obscure one if it is still used at all.)

A mango may not be a pickle any more, but it is still, in the U.S., in Ohio and Indiana, a name for green peppers. Pickled Mangifera indica passed its name onto pickles more generically which, by 1948, had passed their name on to the most frequently-found version of them in the region, pickled green peppers; similarly, “pickles” have acquired the generic meaning of “pickled cucumbers” in the U.S. today.

*© S. Worthen 2009