Four Mumbai families reveal secrets that have preserved their ancestral homes
Four Mumbai families leaf through memories of food put together by moms and grandmoms in books over decades
Writer JRR Tolkien once said, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." In Indian households, where the latter is most prized, and the former treasured, one can only wonder in whose favour the scales were to tip, if it came down to preserving them as heirloom.
Deepti Anand browses through the food cuttings and cookbooks that she discovered in her ancestral home in Delhi.
Our curiosity piqued, we reached out to Mumbai foodies and asked them to dig into their lockers. There was that rare ancestral gold neckpiece, yes.
Shakti Salgaokar-Yezdani's notebook, where she jotted down her grandmother's recipes
But, their equally precious finds were old cookbooks, some meticulously put-together, which have exchanged several hands within the family, for generations. We find out the stories behind these rare collectibles from their owners.
A peek into Thane resident Vidya Heble's mother's handwritten notes.
For pickles, from grandpa
Deepti Anand, archivist, 23
Though I'm from Shimla, I was raised in Delhi, and hence, disconnected from my pahari roots. It's food that has kept this connection with our culture alive.
My great-grandaunt was a brilliant cook, and her legacy continues because my mum and her sister painstakingly took down all the recipes from her, back in the mid 1970s. I got the copy from my mother, and I go back to it often for the many interesting pickle recipes that were shared by my grandfather Hardyal Doegar - galgal (hill lime) pickle being one. My favourite dishes from this book are mandara (white gram and curd) and maani (black gram mixed with mango powder and wheat flour).
Another very interesting set of recipe books, which I recently discovered in my ancestral home in Delhi, was my grandfather's collection of in-house cookbooks from the brewery Mohan Meakin Ltd, where he retired as executive director. These books date back to the 1950s, and comprised recipes where alcohol was a key ingredient. We owe my grandfather a lot for this unique heirloom.
From mum's kitchen
media professional, 51
As a child, I remember eating my mum's delicious adais - a crispy dosa made from different kinds of dals and crushed green and red chilies - and wondering how she managed to bring so much variety into South Indian food. In the later years, when I went back to the recipe, which she had published in a book, it felt like a huge accomplishment. Adais go perfectly well with butter and jaggery. And though, I have never come close to making it like my mum does, whoever I have fed this to, has relished it. It's also my favourite memory associated with her cookbooks.
Though my mother, Hema Lakshman, is a doctor, food has always been the centre of her universe. She started cooking when she was very young - right after she lost her mum. So, she grew up in a situation where all her four siblings, including her two brothers, did all the cooking. Hence, for her, it was absolutely normal to train me and my brother to cook. Her recipe books are an effort in this direction.
She released her first cookbook Idli Dosa in Marathi, in the early 1960s - she grew up in Pune and is hence, fluent in the language. Then, in the later years, she felt that she needed to leave behind her food legacy for her sons and went out to publish three cookbooks, in the Southern Savouries series. The books, which have some popular vegetarian snacks like vadas, murukkus and halwas from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, were originally typed by my dad, journalist S Lakshman.
But what makes the food in our kitchen a total delight is that my wife, Ruby Pavri (who heads the psychology department at St Xavier's College) is a Parsi. She has her own set of cookbooks - 101 Parsi Recipes by Jeroo Mehta (1979 edition) among them - and her mother's handwritten notes, which have been in her family for decades. Though I'm a vegetarian, I often try out the non-veg dishes, dhansak being my favourite, from these books. The books are a good resource and helps us stay in touch with our roots.
The file of recipes
Vidya Heble, writer, 52
My most vivid memory of my mother, Anuradha, is her relaxing on her favourite armchair, feet on the footstool, telling me, "Bring my file." Right then, I just knew that some yummy treat was going to be produced. My mother used to clip interesting recipes from magazines, and stick them on sheets of paper, which got numbered and slotted into an office file. I still call it "The File". She must have started this file when I was very young, or perhaps even before I was born. Recipes were divided into soups, entrees, salads, appetisers, desserts, drinks. There was even a table of contents with page numbers.
What she could not clip out, she wrote by hand in a notebook. In this, she would also jot down recipes from friends and relatives. My father had a transferable job, and, subsequently, the notebook acquired contributions from people my mother had met in the different regions of India that they had lived in. Unfortunately it has suffered some damage, but most of the recipes are still legible, including her go-to 1-2-3-4 cake, so named because of the proportion of the main ingredients.
I still remember an incident, when I was probably in my late teens. My mother was out of town visiting relatives. My father had invited a colleague for dinner. He asked me to cook chicken. I had to choose between the file and the notebook, and finally settled on a chicken korma from the latter. It turned out well.
My mother, also owned an original copy of Rasachandrika, the standard recipe book for Chitrapur Saraswats, written in Marathi in 1938 by Ambabai Samsi for younger women who were increasingly being educated, and would not have time to learn traditional recipes by heart. The copy went to her daughter-in-law, but I bought myself the English edition from Strand. One quaint thing about the Rasachandrika is that when the recipe tells you to "blend well", it means mix, as in a salad - not blend in a blender.
Since I belong to the Konkani community, I also refer to two Goan books - Great Goan Cooking by Maria Teresa Menezes, and Ishtann by Padma Mahale. On the web, one finds lots of blogs by keen foodies and cooks, who do post their food memories, and traditional recipes, but that's still not comprehensive in the way a dedicated recipe book can be. And, it's definitely not a replacement for one's mother's recipes.
The keeper of memories
If there was one thing my grandmother, Jayashree Salgaokar, was most attached to, it was her kitchen. She could never part with even a dabba or vessel, and so in 2013, post my wedding, when she handed over all her recipe books to me, I was overwhelmed, because I knew how difficult it must have been for her. The collection I own is an assortment of old and new cookbooks - Annapurna by Mangala Barve, Grihani Shikshak by LN Joshi, Khamang by Durga Bhagwat, Ruchira by Kamalabai Ogale, to name a few. But it's Laddoocha Laddoo that was written by her, and in which she showcased recipes of 52 different types of laddoos, which really brings out her love for food.
Manuaai, as I fondly called her, was always a curious cook. She started cooking only after she got married and moved to Mumbai with her husband. With humble beginnings in the city, they initially lived in a building where there were a lot of Sindhi refugees - that's how she got interested in food from other communities, apart from being a specialist in traditional Goan-Malwani cuisine.
When I was young, she'd regale me with stories behind the dishes that she'd prepare. One such dal that she'd make was called sutarnichi amti (carpenter's dal). It was different from the dal prepared in Kokani-Brahmin homes, because unlike the latter, the poor couldn't afford green chilies and would substitute it with dried, red ones. Similarly, she had learnt to make nankhatai from a friend, who was married to a doctor, and that was called doctornichi biscuit (doctor's wife's biscuits). She always gave them quirky names.
In doing so, she developed her unique set of recipes. I still remember how people would travel from as far as Pune, to enjoy her food. In the last years of her life, especially after my grandfather died, she lost interest in cooking. It's then that I decided to occupy her by sitting with her, and jotting down all the recipes in a notebook. Unfortunately, she passed away soon after. Though I regret not being able to completely document her legacy, I feel fortunate to have these books to hold on to.
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