"Food for body and soul"
This was going to be a first recipe post, and I will certainly do that in the following days, but as I opened my chosen book - Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India, I was struck by this double spread photograph of an Indian kitchen. The simplicity of it all. Obviously it is not a photograph of the entire kitchen, but one can well imagine that it shows a very large portion of the implements and equipment that are in daily use.
Actually the photograph is slightly too big for me to scan, and so the full artistic quality of the composition is a little lost, not to mention the join in the middle - well not a join exactly, more a bend in the page. But it is beautiful is it not? I would be happy to have it on my wall.
I guess it demonstrates poverty - those two red containers are for water:
"two large earthenware water-vessels, in which water cools by the age-old process of condensation and evaporation."
And I imagine that water has to be fetched from a well or a spring somewhere. And yet everything is so neat and so clean.
It's a complete contrast with my own huge kitchen loaded with expensive appliances, equipment and food. I am still nowhere near having exhausted my store-cupboard supplies that I vowed to used up at the start of this crisis. My store-cupboard even has two large overflow drawers under my work bench. No shortages here. And a large number of devices to choose from to cook my meals. Some of them are hardly ever used. Indeed there may even be a few that have never been used. So if you only have a few implements and a small space there is not much choice. And yet, as this photograph shows, you can produce delectable food.
Once upon a time in our small Hampstead basement flat I managed this too, with the small top of the fridge as my work space. My mother too never had a large kitchen or fancy equipment and yet she turned out delicious meals.
I remember an estate agent saying to me once, when perusing photographs of a potential house to buy, that if the kitchen wasn't featured in the photographs of the property then it had not been recently updated. Ditto for bathrooms.
Well the kitchen is the heart and soul of the house is it not? I well remember in my youth that even at parties, it seemed that everybody gathered in the kitchen. In almost all of our houses we have made sure that there was a separate space in which our two sons could 'play'. And yet they never used them very much. They tended to cluster around the kitchen. And from the latter part of the twentieth century the kitchen stopped being a separate room and did indeed become the core of the house, surrounded, not just by a dining room but living space too. A recognition perhaps that children didn't want to be shut away at the end of the house but wanted to be where 'mum' usually is? Or is it the proximity to food? They still walk into my house and go straight to the fridge to see what's on offer. Is that a boy thing, or do girls do it too?
The photographs above were taken by a photographer called Henry Wilson, who died tragically in a bicycle accident in 2017. He was fascinated by India which he first visited in 1983. This book was published in 1985 and he is responsible for all of the location photographs in the book. They are wonderful. I don't think we give enough credit to the photographers who make this kind of travel/cookbook so gorgeous. The food photography too is great - by one Christine Hanscomb. I could not find a photograph of her, but I did see several of her still life photographs which were pretty wonderful. And yes both of them do get a credit on the front page, which is heartening because so often you have to look carefully at the small print hidden away somewhere to find out who was responsible. No food stylist is mentioned - I suspect this is a later new specialisation, but there is a designer of the whole book, who is probably responsible for the Indian miniatures dotted here and there throughout the book, the font, the design of each page, etc. He also gets acknowledgement but in smaller print.
This is one of the beautiful miniatures which is placed right near the beginning of the book and which certainly expressed the notion of 'food for body and soul', which is the title of the introduction. For one of Madhur Jaffrey's aims in this book is to demonstrate the connection between food and spirituality as well as nutrition and health, and downright pleasure. And that is all there in this miniature.
"Around the world, food is eaten to fill stomachs and to keep bodies strong and healthy. In India, there is frequently, a shift in emphasis. We, like everyone else, eat to survive, but we also eat to keep our bodies finely tuned, physically and spiritually." Madhur Jaffrey
This is a beautiful book and I have cooked many of the recipes within. Like her Flavours of India which I talked about before, she divides the book into chapters on specific regions - some of them overlapping with the previous book, some of them not. There seems to be a TV series too - and if you live in England you can access it through the BBC - but it was not made until 1995, and so I do not know whether it is based on the book or whether they just used the same title. It's not a very original one after all.
I was going to write about the actual first recipe (or two) but I was so taken by that photograph of the simple, but beautiful, yes spiritual kitchen, that I've rabbited on about nothing really. So I will just leave you with another glorious photograph of a make-shift kitchen for a delicious looking picnic outside Shah Jahan's Red Fort. Apparently the people are Kashmiri tourists. Alas they can't do that now.