I belong to a household where food has always been a point of discussion. There have been days when I have seen my mother tossing and turning in bed as she could not decide what she would cook for us the next morning. “It’s not cooking that takes time, it is more about deciding what to cook,” is something she often says.
There are times when I wonder about the collection of recipes that my mom has in her repository. Given that we are always rushing to meet deadlines these days, most people wouldn’t even go to the extent of curating new recipes. Experiments rarely happen, and even if they do, it’s mostly on the weekends.
Remembering how there was a time when mothers could perfectly handle their career and give equal attention to cooking, this Mother’s Day I decided to interact with women who have inherited recipes from their mothers, but are still a long way away from perfecting it.
Sarah Jacob, who works with a global non-profit organisation in New Delhi, recalls how she could never learn the Biscuit Pineapple Pudding that her mother learnt from her grandmother. “My grandmother tried it without any recipe book; she basically ‘invented’ her own version. My mom carried it forward, modifying it her way. I have seen her make it for Christmas. It’s layers of biscuits and pineapple slices with custard all over. But when I tried it, the biscuits got super soggy”, she said.
Bhavna Kalra, project manager with a software company in Sydney, who also has a popular Instagram blog where she posts pictures of food she cooks, says she hated bitter gourd (karela) as a child. So she never ate it even though her mother made really delicious stuffed karela, a popular north Indian recipe.
“Which is why I never really took the initiative to learn the recipe. Also, when I entered my teens I started getting acne on my face. These were the days when you relied on homemade remedies suggested by your elders. So my aunt once mentioned how the juice of karela was good for the skin, and I forced my mother to extract the juice for me without realising how bitter it would be. One sip and I was off karela forever. However, I have recently started developing a liking for the vegetable after I tried a really good version of it,” Kalra said.
Monisa Nadeem, a digital content producer from New Delhi, shares how her mother used to make chashni sewain (sugar syrup vermicelli) back home in Lucknow during Eid, which is celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
“I’ve still not been able to get it right, simply because there is such a delicate ratio of sugar syrup involved in it. Since I was a kid, Eid has been associated with sewaiyan. I mean you can’t celebrate it without the sweet vermicelli. You’ll end up finding phirni and sweet toast, which is Shahi Tukda, in Lucknow but nowhere can you get that chashni sewain”, she added.
Similarly, Sonia Jha who is based in Toronto misses the authentic Maithili cuisine that her mom used to cook in India. The Rohu fish is made in mustard curry or the roasted moong dal with a thick consistency garnished with freshly chopped onion, ginger, green chillies, a generous amount of lime juice and few drizzles of mustard oil.
With so many of us unable to master recipes from our mother’s kitchens, has cooking become a lost art, and will these native recipes get lost over the years? The use of indigenous ingredients to prepare traditional dishes has seen a decline as it requires more effort and time to prepare it. Also, with people moving away from their native places, understanding the essence, taste, flavours of regional dishes have suffered.
“It’s very important to learn from our elders because food is an art, it’ll die with generations if no one wants to keep it alive. The aroma and flavours of every dish are unique, depending on the hand that prepares it and we need to cherish it!”, says Nadeem.
However, Kalra has a different opinion and says that cooking is not a lost art anymore. Because of social media, a lot of people are influenced to cook at home. “Food-wise, we are in a very good space right now with so many restaurants and well-known chefs concentrating on regional and seasonal cuisine”, she adds.