Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Mama's Cookbooks

Psst...These days I'm in the throes of writing my term papers before the D-day for submission- April 19. But after every 250 words, my thoughts freeze. I hate academic blarney, for want of another word...And like a guilty child, I come back to my blog to write things I don't have to reference or attribute to someone else or write in a way that if it were to take the form of a person, it would be appear a stuck up frigid creature...Yuckkk..the thought revolts, so here I am creating my pet posts - which makes me feel infinitely better about going clack clack clack on my keyboard...

So like I was telling you I am so bored with my essay, I have turned in desperation to God's gift to poor students who don't have access to television in Britain...the BBC iplayer.. A friend who is the best chef amongst us is a fan of Raymond Blanc, the French chef who says 'Voila' more times than I can count coherently. So there I am at the stroke of midnight, watching him whip up a mouthwatering souffle and parfaits and lots of other yummy thingummies...Just looking at those dishes, I'm sure I have put on a stone or more...But do I care, we live vicariously don't we?

But that's not the point of the story I have to tell you at this moment...As I sit watching this show, I wonder if my kids will ever get a cookbook like my mom keeps...or if they will be given convenient internet links to such archived programmes on a flash drive or maybe if I'm more benevolent a collection of my favourite youtube videos burnt on a CD each so that the kids don't fight over my years of internet research.

They shall be born unprivileged...They won't have a cooking aficionado for their mother...

What they shall inherit is a mother who is a master of short cuts...Of quick fix recipes...who has little readily purchased boxes of everything that her mother would whip up from scratch ...who is happy to use tomato purees and ginger garlic paste and lemon juice from a bottle..They shall have a master forger, who scans recipes she sees or reads for anything and everything that can be substituted with things at hand or things that involve zero human effort..

Mama's cookbook was different...Written in her very prim and proper handwriting, in English and Malayalam, depending on where she sourced it from, neatly in a hardbound diary...She used to have a notebook earlier that grew tattered. My mother too was definitely not one of those, who knew when they were born that their life was dedicated to cooking...I remember long conversations late into the night about how she had never had to cook till much later into her marriage, as there were always others in the family to do that, while she went to work at a bank. Later, when she started travelling to parts of the world where Papa was posted, she used to tell me about how she would be quivering at the thought of Papa bringing his friends home for dinner. The simple soul that she is, for her, a guest means someone for whom a special effort needs to be taken, even if it is a family we are really informal with. So out would come the best crockery and serving ware and her cookbook. 

When I began to take an interest in cooking, purely academic, I would love leafing through Mama's handwritten, well thumbed stained pages searching for the recipes of the meat cutlets and chicken biryani that she makes. And like any proud child, I'd say no one cooks like my Mama...The best part of her cookbooks would be the Good and V Good she'd have jotted on the right side of the name of the dish if she has experimented with it....I'd sometimes thumb through her books to check how many had received such honorary mentions...Later on, when my secretarial skills improved vastly, I remember jotting down some good recipes for Amma as they were being shown on TV....But she always kept written copies of the recipes. 

I remember trying to make my own cook book very early when I began college. I thought every girl had to do that as a rite of growing up. But somewhere soon, I think the project was quickly abandoned. Today, I have a trusted few websites and the google search engine where I enter the ingredients that I suddenly feel like combining, and there it throws up miraculous permutations and combinations of what I can rustle up with them...

Suffice to say, I shall have no scrapbook of cooking exploits....I'm told I can ensure that no one goes hungry for lack of anything edible to eat...I shall take that as a compliment...My recipes are rarely conventional, so have instant names. And then are instantly forgotten too, the moment the last bite is done...Rarely is any recipe revisited - either due to distinct disinterest or because the ingredients used the first time around have been used up...

This post makes me want to put together a book of my quixotic recipes...but even then I'm sure I won't have the patience to write it by hand anymore...I have become so accustomed to the keyboard....My cookbook might be a printed one, with copies saved on my laptop in case I misplace the hard copy.....

Look at the lexicon, hard copies and soft copy, typed and double spaced, with appropriate pictures copy pasted from the internet....

So clinical, so calculated....The smell of love is missing...and Mama's handwriting...that personal touch that makes it a treasure to be bequeathed and cherished.....


  1. Just had to smile at the mention of aunty's 'Good, V.good' markings coz that's exactly how my mom does it too. Except tat the remarks are more of symbols. A tick mark for the good ones and a cross for the not-so-grt-ones. Though my cookbook (or attempt at making one) is more of photocopies or recipes copy-pasted from google, I have inherited the tick-cross habit.

  2. My mom was a wonderful cook and all of her kids blame her for the weight problem we face.. She could not read or write but had excellent memories to remember her recipes and never missed one single spice.. I always kept postponing the day I would sit down and write all the recipes and as usual that never happened. Anyway we could never re-create what she cooked even if she was guiding us.. so may be the taste lies in mothers love. Very good blogpost ...

  3. a very awww post :) I know...even I do not have a cookbook. Internet zindabad.

    My mom too has a well thumbed book of recipes...with her own measurements and secret methods which I am sure none of the cook books can ever give us.

  4. Love your foodie style posts, when you're far away from home I guess home-foodsickness is inevitable...Having said that, my cooking exploits include the the elegant art of making maggi noodles for which I have a PhD in methods of messing it up . So you come up instant names for your recipes...should be interesting...I am generally not creative with names for dishes for some cookery events for which my mom participates.

    And about the printed cookbook, maintaining a written journal is almost becoming a lost art these days isn't it? Other than my college notes which I write to please my teachers I don't think I have anything else in written form and btw you turn to blogging for a respite from your academic ventures... it is time you bring out a book like confessions of a blogaholic the bloggers anonymous would be really proud...

  5. Sree: Funny how we adopt the quirks that we see growing up na??

    Farila: Thank you..:) It's wonderful to hear from writers I like that they enjoy my rambling

    LP: I have so grown to Mama's measures like 'take a handful or just a little pinch' and I think a lot just gets transferred from mom to daughters, doesnt it? Not making a sexist statement...interested sons also do inherit, but unfortunately yet to find a Mallu son who ventures anywhere near the kitchen..:)

  6. Analyst: So true about the written journal..For my last birthday, my best friend gave me a lovely hand made paper diary....I lovingly wrote my name on the first page, kept it aside so that I could begin scribbling in it during my journeys across Europe...The pages are blank to date..the only saving grace is that there is this online journal..its not as if I have let my writing go to utter rot amidst all the living and the procrastinating...:)

  7. U spicy thing, u :)! Many congratulations !!

  8. I was re-reading some of your writings in the blog and came across this one. My favourite so far. Ohh and I was also wondering, who is this friend of yours that is the best cook among your friends, that likes Raymond? :P Couriosity you see !!