Antedating of "Pastrami"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 26 13:35:51 UTC 2012

As promised, a note on "pastrami" and "basturma", incorporating some
personal experience. A few points here, mostly concerning the OED entry,
taking off from the etymology note, then the definition.

> *Etymology:* < Yiddish /pastrame/ (in Ashkenazic pronunciation
> /pastrami/ ) < Romanian Compare the following earlier quotations, the
> first two probably reflecting the Turkish etymon (in quot. 1834
> relating travels in Asia Minor in the first half of the 17th cent.),
> the latter two reflecting the Romanian:/pastramă/ pressed and
> preserved meat (1792; also as /păstramă/ ) < Ottoman Turkish
> /baṣdirma/ , lit. ‘something pressed, forced down’ (with reference to
> the process in which the cured meat is prepared; Turkish /pastırma/ ,
> /bastırma/ ), verbal noun of /bastır-mak/ to suppress, to press down.
> Compare modern Greek /παστουρμάς/ , Bulgarian /pastărma/ ( < Turkish).

First things first. My limited knowledge of Yiddish made me flinch when
I saw that "Ashkenazic pronunciation" somehow differs from the generic
Yiddish--silly me, I thought all Yiddish speakers were "Ashkenazic".
That also makes me wonder how "Ashkenazic" is defined, but that's an
inquiry for another day (I did not even bother looking it up).

On the other hand, once we get past the Yiddish, there is all that
wonderful Turkish/Turkic derivation, through the lens of occupied Balkan
territories. But the Ottoman Empire extended well past the Balkan
territories--including, of course, Asia Minor, much of the Middle East
and parts of the Caucasus. As such, Turkish food products and
corresponding terms spread to Syria, Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan (where
they speak a close cognate of Turkish) and parts of what later became a
part of the Russian Empire. So there is a giant gaping hole in that
derivation. On one hand, there is no question that the Yiddish version
of /pastrame/ came up through Turkish-occupied (through 1878) Romania
and Bulgaria. On the other hand, this may not have been the only path
for the words similar to /pastrame/ to enter into English.

Not to belabor the obvious, but consider the earliest OED-cited mention
of /yogurt/:

> 1625 S. Purchas /Pilgrimes/ II. ix. xv. §9. 1601 Neither doe they
> [/sc./ the Turks] eate much Milke, except it bee made sower, which
> they call /Yoghurd/.

Now, this is a good cite. And it takes only a couple of clicks to find a
copy in GB. Immediately following the cited sentence, there is another
that mentions "/Kaymack/" ("clouted or cloded Creame")--a word that is
not mentioned in the OED (it's somewhere between creme fraiche and
clotted cream--Wiki suggests it's "originally Serbian" but I find that
very hard to believe). And the next paragraph arrives at the point I
wanted to make. (1905 edition) (1737 edition)
> Now as for flesh, every yeere in the Autumne, Winter drawing nigh ;
> the Bashaw causeth the Provision of Basturma [So called because the
> flesh is pressed and made flat.] to be made for the Kings Kitchins ;
> and they make it of Kowes great with Calfe, for then say they, the
> flesh is most tender and savourie : they use it in the same manner as
> Christians use Swines flesh, for they make Puddings and Sauceages of
> it, and the rest they boyle and dresse after other fashions.
> This sort of dryed flesh, after that it is sufficiently dryed with
> hanging a moneth or better in a Roome, and little or no Salt used
> about it, will last the whole yeare, and eate very savourly : and it
> is in such use amongst the Turkes, that there is scarce a house of any
> fashion or account, but doth yeerely make provision of it, and it is
> held a very thriftie and sparing course ; but they doe not all make
> their Basturma of Kowes great with Calfe, for there are some which
> love the other better, which is made of Oxen and Bullocks ; and they
> can buy it farre cheaper.

The term /Basturma/ is used in Armenian, Russian and possibly in Arabic
(I can only suppose the latter and wish someone would correct me if
that's wrong--Wiki tells me it's "basterma"). In fact, I just had some
basturma earlier this week (Armenian, but from Lebanon). Most versions
are dried thick cuts of beef, rolled in combinations of spices that
include cumin and fenugreek--the emphasis being on /dried/. The meat is
cured but not smoked--obviously it needs a bit of preservation prior to

I doubt I can beat 1602 on Basturma. But, obviously, it's the same kind
of dry salted beef that's taken as a precursor to pastrami in the
etymology note on the latter.

> 1831 A. N. Groves /Jrnl./ 12 Sept. in /Jrnl. Resid. Bagdad/ (1832) 250
> We made him some sausages, called in this country /pastourma/.
> 1834 J. von Hammer tr. Ç. Evilyá /Narr. Trav./ I. ii. xxx. 148 The
> Merchants of dried salted beef (Tajirání Pasdirma) ... cry to the
> beholders, 'Take Pasdirma.'
> 1853 /Househ. Words/ 17 Dec. 374/1 The common articles of food [in
> Varna] are /pastruma/, that is to say, the meat of oxen or buffaloes
> salted and dried in the sun.
> 1887 M. Thorpe tr. E. de Laveleye /Balkan Penins./ xii. 352 They ...
> dry the meat, which is, as pastrama, ... their favourite dish.

A slight antedating of this cluster:
Travels in Turkey, Egypt, Nubia and Palestine: in 1824, 1825, 1826, and
1827. Volume 2. By Richard Robert Madden. London: 1829
Letter 34. To the Rev. D. M'Pherson. Damietta, July 1, 1827. p. 218
> The great objection of Dr. Clarke to Bishop Patrick's opinion of the
> impossibility of drying quails in the sun, without inducing
> putrefaction, is the evidence of Maillet, that fish is so dried in
> Egypt without salt. The fish I saw cured on the lake Menzalè was first
> sprinkled with brine, and then dried in the sun; and that sort of
> /hung beef /which the Turks call /pasturma, /and which is said to be
> cured by simply drying it in the sun, is likewise sprinkled with salt.

The issue of Household Words cited above is in GB (
). The rest of the sources, save for the earliest, are not particularly
interesting. A number of British publication--both independent magazines
and government papers--for some reason offer discussion of contents of
ships departing "Turkish" ports of Ibraila (Wallachia), Galatz
(Romania/Moldavia), Varna (Bulgaria), etc., and one of the items making
regular appearances is pastroma. The same volume may give different
names to the same item.
Report on the Commerce of the Ports of New Russia, Moldavia, and
Wallachia, Made to the Russian Government, in 1835.
By Julius de Hagemeister [IUriĭ Gagemeĭster]. London: 1836
Chapter 3. Export Trade. XIII. Salted Meat. p. 153
> In the two principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, beef is dried,
> and it is sold under the name of Pastrama; under this preparation, it
> is very much sought after in the country itself, and in Turkey. In
> 1832, 15,000 poods of it were shipped from Galatz.
Tables of the Revenue, Population, Commerce, &c. of the United Kingdom,
and Its Dependencies. Supplement to Part XIV. Statements Relating to
Foreign Countries. London: 1849
p. 343
Turkey. Statement of the Quantities of the various Articles Imported and
Exported at the Port of Samsoon in the Year 1842
 > ...
 > Beef, Preserved Bales 806

p. 344
Turkey. ... Samsoon ... 1844
 > ...
 > Preserved Beef Bales 2,123

p. 348-9
Moldavia. Statement of the Number of Vessels, belonging to various
Nations, which Departed from the Port of Galat, with the Nature of their
Cargoes, in the Year 1845
 > Preserved Beef

p. 350
Moldavia. Statement of the Quantities, Value and Average Prices of the
several Articles Imported and Exported at the Port of Galatz, in the
Year 1843
 > ...
 > Beef, Jerked (Pastromah) Cwts. £0s10 221 £110

p. 351
Moldavia. ... Exported ... 1845
 > Beef, Preserved Cases 31,654 £5,198

p. 353
Wallachia. Statement of the Number of Vessels, belonging to various
Nations, which Departed from the Port of Ibraila, with the Nature of
their Cargoes, in the Year 1843
 > ... Jerked Beef, 151 Bales ...

p. 354
Wallachia. ... 1845
 > Pastroma, 155 Cwts.
 > Jerked Beef, 1,539 Cwts.

p. 355
... 1843. Exported
 > Beef, Jerked (Pastromah) Cwts. £0s10 482 £241

p. 356
... Exported ... 1844
 > Jerked Beef Cwts. 129 £60

A couple of other items that are mentioned among the exports but
apparently not listed in the OED (and with which I am familiar through
buying and using them with some regularity):

Cascaval (a.k.a. kashkaval--a type of sharp sheeps milk cheese, with
different varieties identified with Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Turkey
and Hungary, but the name apparently derived from Sicilian "caciocavallo")
Mahlep (a.k.a. mahleb, mahlab, mahlepi--kernels of cherrystones with
flavor resembling bitter almonds, used in baking from Greece through the
Middle East)

Both have detailed coverage in Wiki.

There is a version of shyshlyk (shahshlyk==shishkebab) that also goes by
the name of basturma--in this case, the meat is not dried, but it is
spiced and cured prior to grilling. But, like the typical basturma, it
is beef (kebabs from the corresponding region are usually lamb, which
might be one reason for the name "basturma").

The item was defined fairly regularly in encyclopedias, although
sometimes under different names.
The Dictionary of Trade Products, Manufacturing, and Technical Terms:
With a Definition of Moneys, Weights, and Measures, of All Countries. By
Peter Lund Simmonds. London: 1858
p. 277/2
 > Pastoormah, Pasturma, Pastrama, beef preserved in Asia Minor, with
garlic and pepper, and dried in the sun for winter food. It is prepared
in Wallachia and Moldavia, and largely shipped from Varna. Besides
providing all Anatolia, Aleppo, and Damascus, 6000 cwt. or more is
yearly sent from Kaissariah to Constantinople.
 > Pasturma. See Pastoormah.

On the history of pastrami, the note continues.
> Pastrami was apparently first sold in the U.S. in a Jewish
> delicatessen /c/1887. The Yiddish word is also occas. found in an
> English context in the forms /pastroma/ and /pastrama/ . Compare:
> 1914 /N.Y. Times/ 21 Aug. 5 From the local market came the complaint
> of the Kosher delicatessen men that the manufacturers had put up
> prices. Pastrama, they said, had been raised from 36 to 42 cents a pound.

Of course, there is some dispute about this. Katz Deli is among the
claimants to the original pastrami name in the US, but it did not open
until 1888. Another deli that opened in 1887 also claimed the original
pastroma recipe. Wiki points out that Romanian Jews were already in NYC
as early as 1872.

The terminology for pastrami/pastrama/pastroma as a deli meat item
entered US English around that time. The meaning was obviously somewhat
different from the Romanian/Turkish term that was cited in British
documents in mid-century.
Monthly Bulletin of the Dairy and Food Division of the Pennsylvania
Department of Agriculture. Volume 3, No. 5. Harrisburgh: June 15, 1905
Analyses of Food for Month of June, 1905--Continued. p. 47
 > What sold For. Marks on the Package. Chemist's Statement of the
Result of Analysis
 > Pastroma (meat) May 4, 1905. No case.

Given that the item appears next to Bologna, Lebanon bologna, Summer
bologna, and minced ham, I presume that this is the new meaning
(pastrami) and not the old one (basturma).
Annual Report of the Dept. of Health of the City of New York. 1907
Work Performed at the Chemical Laboratory. p. 105
 > Number of pastrama 3
Meats Canned, Preserved, Etc. p. 589
 > 26365 Pastrama D. Moskowitz, No. 49 Cannon Street Free from borax and
 > 26419 Pastrama M. Zimmerman & Co., No. 318 East Houston Street Free
from borax and sulfites

There can be no doubt about this one.

More from the etymology note.

> The extended use, while later in English, is the original meaning of
> the Romanian and Turkish words; in the Balkans, pastrami has always
> been made of any of a number of pressed and preserved meats, rather
> than being limited specifically to beef.

My initial assumption was that the Jewish version--being Kosher--might
have been limited to beef. Lamb was simply not that popular in Romania
and only slightly more popular in Bulgaria. But, apparently, the
original pastrame was made from goose breast, only to have reverted to
beef brisket in New York City. Still, given that most supplies came from
the East Balkan ports, at least in the 19th century, most
pastroma/basturma likely was made from beef.

But it gets better still!
The Nineteenth Century. Volume 12 (68). October 1882
Roumanian Peasants and Their Songs. By C. F. Keary. p. 575
> Thus is the Roumanian peasant a king within his domain, for he owes
> his land to no one. ... Meat he rarely eats. The staff of life with
> him is a concoction from maize and water, a sort of polenta, in fact,
> which he calls /mamaliga. /This is eaten as bread with butter, cheese,
> or a few olives. Sometimes he adds to this a kind of kippered fish
> called /pastrama./

This is interesting for two reasons. First, we have a /fish/ pastrama.
"Kippered" seems to be quite an appropriate description, as it is cured,
pressed and dried. But the other item is interesting as well--at least
from the point of view of culinary history. "Mamalyga" is the
Russian/Ukrainian/Moldavian--and, apparently, Romanian--version of
hominy and grits. It refers both to the whole grain and chipped version.

If fish is not your thing, you can try camel.
Travels in Crete. Volume 1. By Robert Pashley. Cambridge: 1837
Chapter 6. February 19. p. 96
> It being Wednesday, the Greeks eat only boiled herbs and bread, to
> which was added, for us, salt-fish, eggs, and a preparation of camel's
> flesh, called pástruma, of which I cannot speak very highly.

Still, beef was the dominant meat.
Bible Lands: Their Modern Customs and Manners Illustrative of Scripture.
By Henry John Van-Lennep. New York City: 1875
p. 175
> In the greater part of Asia Minor it is customary for every family, in
> the autumn, to buy a young bullock or a cow, which is killed, the
> flesh made into sausages, or salted, pressed, and then, well seasoned
> with a preparation of pounded garlic, strong spices, eta, it is dried
> and forms the essential winter provision of /pasturma. /This is also
> an important item of exportation to other parts of the East, the most
> highly esteemed quality being prepared at Cæsarea, in Asia Minor.
Central Europe. By Josef Franz Maria Partsch. New York: 1903
Chapter 11. Economic Geography. p. 169
> The life of the half-savage wandering shepherds, whose wants are
> nearly all supplied by their flocks, which yield them milk, cheese,
> /pastürma /or /postrame /(hard pressed meat dried in the sun and cut
> into strips), skins, leather, and wool, lingers on into the present
> like a remnant of the Middle Ages.

Finally, concerning the definition:

> orig. U.S.
> //
> Highly seasoned smoked beef, usually served in thin slices; (as a
> count noun) a serving of this, esp. as a filling in a sandwich. Later
> also in extended use: other meat or fish prepared in a similar manner.

There is one important step missing from the description. The meat is
indeed cured in brine, seasoned--highly seasoned, similarly to
basturma--then dried, smoked and /steamed/. Steaming is an essential
part of the preparation--more so than smoking--because it softens the
meat and turns it into a deli product, suitable for immediate
consumption. And it is this missing step that links pastrami to
basturma--the latter lacking the steaming process.

In fact, smoking may not be a differential factor.
The Mussulman. Volume 2. By Richard Robert Madden. London: 1830
p. 80-1
> A couple of oars and a topsail were thrown into the little boat; a
> small keg of water, and some flakes of smoke-dried meat, called
> pasturma, a trunk, a compass, and a coil of rope, were also let down;
> and without any ceremony of leave-taking, Mourad and his friend the
> Greek committed themselves to the care of Providence, in a crazy bark,
> in the midst of the wide ocean.

It's also interesting that the dry meat is most commonly beef, although
other meats and even fish can be prepared in the same manner. Yet, the
derivative pastrami evolved from goose and duck breasts to beef (in
order to minimize the cost of the meat and to keep it Kosher), only to
spread out to turkey, other meats and, once again, fish (however, these
products do not reproduce the entire preparation process--instead, they
rely on the heavy spicing to resemble the flavor, if no the texture of
the traditional beef pastrami.

One thing I don't want to speculate on is the origin of the term. I've
spotted some suggestions that it originated in Greek, in Romanian and
even Armenian, yet, given that all these territories had been under
Turkish control for generations, the original determination that the
term is Turkish seems to be reasonable. In fact, one of the Asiatic
Society publications pointed to the name "basturma" given to apparently
drying shed in "East Turkestan".


On 1/24/2012 10:44 PM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> After sending this e-mail, I notice that the wonderful website barrypopik.c=
> om has an April 2, 1909 citation with the spelling _pastroma_.
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________
> From: Shapiro, Fred
> Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:37 PM
> Cc:jester at;bapopik at
> Subject: Antedating of "Pastrami"
> pastrami (OED 1914)
> 1909 _Boston Advocate_ 9 Apr. 6 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)  (adv't) M=
> argolies Kosher Worst Mfg. Co. ... Worst, Corned Beef, Pastrami and Tongues=
> .
> Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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