Wednesday, January 16, 2013
I knew only how to cook basic Food--like the traditional Marathi Dal and Rice combination called "Varan-Bhaath",3-4 types of Vegetable added Potato Curries when Sudhir and I got married.Since I grew up in the erstwhile Indian Punjab, my style of cooking was mainly based on the North Indian variety--learnt by observing the various Cooks my mother employed down the years. Narayan Das and Sohan Singh stayed with us for a long time--the former since my parents employed him after their marriage till I was 6 years old and the latter from my age of 6 years till I turned 13 years old.It was then that with 3 girls in the house and our Nanny--- Amma ---leaving to nurse her old father in their Village prompted Mummy to let Sohan Singh go after he left for a visit to his Village.These two taught me that no dish needs to be embellished to make it healthy and tasty--one only needs to pay attention while cooking it and even when simply cooked it can turn into a satisfying Dish--wholesome,nutritious and finger licking delicious!!
My mother's Kitchen was a huge airy Room--well lighted and spread out with Platforms on all four sides and a huge Ceramic Sink with a Wooden Draining Board in the corner next to the door leading to the Vegetable garden.We also had a spacious Room next to it which was the Pantry also with a huge Ceramic Sink with a draining Board--the built in Stone Shelves held various Items--Cutlery,Crockery,Glasse
s,Jam Jars,Squash Bottles etc. A square 8" by 8' Room we used as a Larder stood next to it fitted with Stone shelves to store huge Canisters of Dal,Rice,Wheat and other stuff like Pickles and Indian Sweet Fruit Preserves called "Murabbaas'.There was also a huge Black Stoneware Jar to keep the Dried Fish in--tiny shell on dried Shrimp called "Zavala", the slightly bigger shell on one called "Sukat".Then there would be peeled and dried medium sized Shrimp/Prawns called "Sodey" and the larger sized ones known as "Sungta".Along with this there would be dried Bombay Ducks,Mackerels,Kingfish and Sardines---all added to various Marathi style Vegetable Curries or cooked in Mummy's Konkani style Coconut Curries--something we used to salivate over since morning!!There also were two other huge Stoneware jars--one to store the Sea Salt and the other to hold Sun cured, cleaned and salted Tamarind Balls.These Condiments would be sent by my maternal Grandparents--Aaji and Aazoba-- in huge Parcels each year--one every two months.The Spring Parcel would contain Dried Fish,Dals,home made Papads,Turmeric and Red Chilli ,Garam Masala ,Konkani Red Masala Powders as well as a roasted,spiced fine Dal Powder called "Methkut"---to be eaten sprinkled over hot steamed Rice,with a pinch of Salt and oodles of Ghee poured over it---- perfect Comfort Food for the Soul in the Winters!!There would also be Jars of Sweet Indian Gooseberry and Bael Fruit Preserves--and all this was made by my Aaji at home.Everything would be carefully packed to avoid breakage--the Jars would be cushioned with old Newspapers and packed in her old Saris to prevent the Glass Jars used to hold the Masalas and the Preserves breaking--thereby ensuring that these reached us in perfect condition!!The excitement of unpacking those huge,cloth covered and Lac sealed Wooden Crates added to our day--and would be the topic of conversation in our home as well as with my friends in the neighbourhood.Since they all were North Indian they got all the stuff they needed locally--hence would be very curious about the contents of our Parcels!!There also were huge Ceramic urns to hold the Jaggery that Daddy would buy freshly made directly from the Sugar Cane farmers around Chandigarh each Winter.This Larder was a Magic place--for there were also old Brass Canisters overflowing with Kashmiri Dry Fruits----Almonds,Pistachioes,
Walnuts,Pine Nuts and Dried Apricots.It also was the coolest place in the house---and a favourite refuge to visit whenever I was starving--which was every hourly!!
The Kitchen in our home was a Coal fired one--there were 4 Iron Stoves built into a Brick and Clay Platform against one wall with a huge cavernous Chimney over it.Each Stove had an Iron Box fitted under it--and these were the primitive Ovens that Mummy,Narayan Das and Sohan Singh used to magically produce melt in the mouth Teatime treats like various Cakes,Biscuits and Pies.Not just that ,these Ovens also roasted the entire "Raan" or Leg of Lamb in Indian or British fashion to succulent mouthwatering perfection--for me till today the smell of a Coal fire reminds me of the wonderful Food of my childhood!!I loved helping out with the Baking and Pie making though creaming the Butter and Sugar till light and fluffy by hand was extremely painful and exhausting--specially in the Winters!!By mid Sixties Modernisation hit our Kitchen--and this was in the form of shining Brass Stoves fuelled by Kerosene or "Mitti kaa Tel" as it was locally called in Punjab.From here on the Romance went out of Cooking--there were Pressure Cookers and Gas Stoves---the Coal Stoves called "Angeethis/Sigris" were retained in their single individual Avatars--but the Food somehow lost that beautiful Ingredient called "Mystique!!