This is a "special" on the menu for me. Sam tagged me for the Childhood Memories meme and has given me the opportunity to wax poetic about the simplest things in life, a tendency I have to curb, while writing weblogs in general.
I promise not to go back to Proust and his madeleines 'n' tea but to add some of my own little biscuits.
1. Burnt Offerings:
Every Sunday our gang aged 5-8 went out in search of THINGS TO DO. One morning we went fishing in the tanks of water lining Raj Path, that majestic road that leads up to Government House in Lutyens designed New Delhi.
Lying flat on our stomachs and hanging out over the water peering into its dusky two foot depths, we spied many tiddlers, which, I expect, were going to be gold fish one day. After an hour or more (anyway it seemed like an age, of trying to catch a fish with poles, threads, and safety pins as hooks) we gave up.
Someone had the brilliant idea of using a handkerchief with four corners tied together and we managed to haul out quite a few. Comparing our catch (huge! meant at least an inch) we trudged back to our kitchen where a tava was reconnoitered and we set about cooking our catch in time honoured style.
Screams of horror and pity emanated from a few sensitive souls as the fish were grilled to death. The results were blackened carcasses - but what an aroma filled the morning air.
Even the most squeamish could not resist a bite of "fish fry" as we called it, offering the bits around to rest of the gang.
2. Strawberry jam: Cultivated strawberries were not available in my youth. The best we could hope for were wild strawberries, half an inch in size, found nestling under clover and grass in the woods around small towns in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Each carrying a bucket, my sisters and I went up and downhill in the happy anticipation of sighting a startling red strawberry hidden to all the others. A day of gathering resulted in a couple of pounds and we would proudly carry our harvest home to make our very own jam.
My mother would supervise as we set the fruit on the boil. Not one tiny one was thrown away. Sometimes we would forget about the jam making and get involved in some other games. I recall that our jam often became what we called "fudge". More like brittle since the sugar had caramelized, we ate it with equal relish.
3. Pickled Onions: Going out to eat was not the done thing in many Maharashtrian families. Pune got its first new fangled restaurant sometime in the '60's. So I remember very vividly a trip to "Purohit's" in Bombay. It was a vegetarian restaurant in Churchgate. Hungry and curious I attacked the small bowl of chillies and onions placed on our table. The onions were pickled... delightful. I'd never tasted them before. Under the nose of the disapproving waiter I polished the whole lot off.
Still love them.
4. Ladoos: Ambutai , an aunt who was closer in age to my grandmother, came to stay with us for a while when I was 11. She loved cooking, and though it was not Diwali, undertook to make a lot of Dinkache laadu . This is a sweetmeat, often fed to expectant or lactating mothers, which has a hundred different ingredients. Days were spent in leisurely shopping for all those goodies walking about slowly in the markets, Ambutai dressed in her crisp, fine, nine yard cotton sari. Then, sitting out on the clean, cool floor of the verandah with all the thali's arraigned before her, each with one ingredient, Ambutai instructed me to give her a little bit of grated copra, a little bit of resin and so on till each laadu was painstakingly formed and put aside in another large thali to dry. All of this took a dreadfully long time. I helped till my hands were sore.
My sister recalls helping for hours but never getting to taste a thing as it was all promptly packed up and sent off to relatives. But I do remember eating several of the concoctions, which were not that easy to get through, as the resin stuck in one's teeth and each of the laadu's must have had a 1000 calories, what with the pure ghee it was full of. Dinkache laadu. Must get one today.
5. "Bread:- beauty and brotherhood are the three great needs of man" wrote E. Markham, and we had all three in Jatog, a summer getaway close to Simla, where the family retreated from the loo (hot dry winds, not what you think!) and duststorms of Delhi, with temperatures reaching 45 degrees C.
Jatog was an unspoilt place, built on and around three hilltops, where we children found plenty to keep us busy in the forests surrounding the settlement. Coming home after a day of walking, cycling, climbing trees, and picnicking, we would be famished.
On the pathway we would catch the baker wheeling his cycle with a large tin trunk perched on the back. We would follow him home and crowding around him, wait till he opened the trunk, from where the most amazing scent of fresh baked bread would rise.
He baked a small, very soft white loaf, which, when eaten warm as we did, would melt in the mouth. Rolled between the fingers, the bread seemed to revert to dough. It had a slightly sweet taste and no butter was needed to add flavour.
He also sold nankatai, buns, biscuits and muffins but his bread was out of this world.
Sometimes, when travelling, I catch sight of a baker with his trunk, usually in small towns and hillstations, and my mouth still waters at the very idea of that bread eaten so long ago.
* Namita thank you for making the lovely illustrations. You caught the essence of the memory so completely it's almost as if you were there.Twottertje.
If you are tagged, here's what you do: Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog’s name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect.
Next: select new friends to tag and add to the pollen count.
Then create a post listing your own five food memories.
Hope you take it up and enjoy it as much as I did.. Once the memories began it was a great journey into the past.