June 19, 2005

Dear friends, the original plan for tonight's post was to describe, in detail that leaves no turn unstoned, my plan for making something beautiful from the two quarts of strawberries I bought yesterday at the Greenmarket, and how I ended up eating both quarts out of hand.  But it is Sunday night, the beginning of a week about which I'm really not excited about participating, and thus will the tale of the strawberries -- sounds rather like Mutiny on the Bounty, doesn't it? -- have to wait.  I only managed to accomplish about 30% of the things I wanted to accomplish this weekend, but one of them was the baking of a cherry pie, made with the sour cherries I bought last summer and froze.  I had done this so that if the urge to bake a cherry pie struck in February, I would be prepared.  I did in fact bake a cherry pie this winter, but I was so distracted and careless that I made mistakes in scaling the flour for the pie crust and measuring the arrowroot for the filling, and the resulting pie was the definition of what Daily News restaurant critic and American Pie author Pascale Le Draoulec referred to as "Dumpster Pie."  It was so awful that I was nervous about trying again.  This weekend, though, I was ready.  It was not a perfect pie:  the crust was a little overworked and the cherry filling was a dark red, nice enough but not nearly as beautiful as that rose-red hue that comes from fresh, never-frozen sour cherries.  I started apologizing to Lloyd and didn't stop until I realized that he had eaten nearly half the pie.  In homage to this weekend's successful pie, and in continued homage to my stay last summer at the Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow, where I started work on what is now just known as The Egg Book (for new readers of PTMYB, the Egg Book is a history of the use of eggs in baking, which didn't sound like a terribly ambitious project until I received a fellowship to write the damn thing), I am revisiting, in pictures and words, the Accidental Pie.

Part One:  The Tale of the Accidental Pie (originally published July 17, 2004)

Dear friends,

As promised, today I am kicking off Tales Out of Eureka Springs with a story that has been told so many times that I almost feel compelled to turn it into stanzas, much like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Luckily for you, I will not. I will simply call it the Tale of the Accidental Pie and leave it at that. I could stop being pretentious and just refer to it as cherry pie, but I won't because this is not my idea of a cherry pie. On the other hand, it's good enough to deserve a name of its own.

The road to the Accidental Pie began with a food adventure that ate up close to an entire damn day. Part of the point of a writers' colony is that in exchange for the money you send to them (or the money that your fellowship underwriters send to them), they will take care of your room and board. At Dairy Hollow, we want for nothing. The cook fixes us dinner on weeknights. All other times, we are invited to use the kitchen and to take whatever food we want. If we want something the Colony doesn't stock, we are invited to write it on the board on the fridge and they will pick it up for us on their next supermarket run. If you are lucky enough to stay in the room with that giant superb kitchen, i.e. me, you can take the food from the main kitchen back to your kitchen and cook it yourself. I have to remind myself that the Colony will buy me anything to eat that I want, that I don't have to spend my own cash on it. The problem is that I like the whole process of shopping, and unless I tag along on market runs, crying "buy me this! buy me this!" like a six-year-old, I won't be able to indulge the shopping bug. Said bug has only been made worse by a phone call two days before my departure, from a pal of mine who is also staying at the Colony, who says brightly, "Oh, you'll love Eureka Market! They have everything you can get at the health food store in New York, but they have a sign saying 'Pie cherries are in!'" I can feel myself getting giddy at her words. Pie cherries are a rare jewel, in season only for about eight weeks in the summertime. I will have access to pie cherries in Eureka, and a grand kitchen in which to bake them. On my arrival in town, I can't get myself to Eureka Market fast enough. "We can get them for you," says the store manager, a very nice young man. "We don't usually stock them, but we can get them. We have to order them by the case. Can you use a whole case of them?" Well, golly. I can probably make about two pies, which will still leave pints and pints of cherries, but heck, I can make cherry jam out of them.

It is my first Friday at the Colony, June 18. I head to the kitchen to grab some cereal, when Jan, the assistant director of the Colony, tells me that I have a message: Eureka Market has called and the pie cherries have arrived. Off to the market, via two trolley lines, I go. "I'm here to pick up some pie cherries," I announce brightly to the young woman at the counter. "Oh, you must be Jen," she says, and hands me a small, densely packed case. It is an odd shape for a case of fresh fruit, but I'm not overly concerned. I can't wait to open the case and bury my nose into it, to smell that bright bracing fragrance, just aching to be turned into pie. I rip the case open.

What we have here is a case of two parties making assumptions and neglecting to define terms. If you scroll down a bit, you will see what I consider pie cherries. What I consider pie cherries are fresh, raw sour cherries, a/k/a tart cherries, Montmorency cherries, morello cherries, etc. If you click here, you will see what the market staff considers to be pie cherries. As canned cherries go, they are a fine product: organic cherries, canned in organic pear juice, no added sugar, but they have two strikes against them: they are canned, not fresh, and they are sweet black cherries, not tart reds. I have a case of them. 12 cans. It's not what I want, but the market people are so nice and apologetic, and after all this is a special order for me, that I agree to take them, and see what magic can be worked with them. I decide to pick up "a few more things," which translates to a little bottle of arrowroot (just in case I can make pie from those cherries, after all), a pint of raspberries, a quart of little red new potatoes, half a dozen rapidly ripening and softening nectarines, a bag of almond meal, a quart of vanilla yogurt, a pint of heavy cream (in glass bottle) and a quart of whole milk (ditto) from Hosanna Hills Farm. And, of course, a case of 12 cans of cherries. I have just spent $70 and encumbered myself with 30 pounds of groceries, not counting the box of cherries. It is entirely fitting that I am living in America's Largest Open-Air Asylum.

This pie really had the odds stacked against it, and yet it came out on top, like the scrappy underdogs of Chariots of Fire, or Meatballs, or Disney Presents The Strongest Man in the World starring Kurt Russell. I would call it the Little Pie That Could, but I won't. For starters, it was a pretty big pie.

The Accidental Pie was a two-fold accident. Not only did I have the wrong kind of cherries, I also had a crust that should have been straightforward but left me near-to-weeping in confusion. I should have just told the truth and begged off prettily, but I had told one of my fellow writers of my plans, and she looked so ecstatic at the thought of cherry pie -- on her last dinner at the Colony, no less! -- that I vowed to do it. I had promised Karen a cherry pie, and cherry pie would we have. Measuring revealed that once the pear juice was poured off, 1 15 oz. can = 1 cup of cherries. I used four cans. As I do with my "regular" cherry pie recipe, I took a cup of them, put them in a saucepan, shook a couple tablespoons of sugar over them and turned on the heat. Eventually the cherries began to cook down, fall apart and bubble. I tasted them and threw in a little more sugar. Because the liquid looked a little low, I threw in some of the merlot I brought back from dinner. If I had to guess, it would have been about 1/3 cup, although a more accurate unit of measurement would be "glug...hesitate...glug again." When it looked about right to me, after maybe 5 minutes, I put 2 tablespoons of arrowroot into a custard cup and made a slurry out of it. Again, I couldn't remember if that was how much I usually used; it just seemed like a nice round number. I'd like to say that I have an instinctive knowledge of the basic principles of kitchen science, but let's be honest: dumb luck was on my side. I added the arrowroot slurry to the boiling cherry-wine syrup. It turned to mucilage in about 20 seconds. Through the fog of panic I reminded myself that this was what it's supposed to do, because I have another three cups of cherries going into that pie, and that arrowrooty paste will help to gently thicken the juices that are exuded by the rest of the cherries in baking. I turn the paste into the bowl of cherries, stir, stir, stir, and add almond extract, a trick I learned from my teacher Nick Malgieri at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. Cherry pie needs almond extract; I believe this with the fervor of one who has just found Jesus.

But I am getting ahead of myself, describing the filling. I did something dumb, namely try something new on a crowd of strangers. I was so convinced that this pie would need all the help it could get that I had the bright idea to make the almond pie crust from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking. Normally when I make cherry pie, I forgo my old standard flaky pie crust for something called pate sucree, a sweeter, cakier dough. So I didn't think it would be as much of a stretch to use a more cookie-fied recipe. Chef Yard's recipe calls for all-purpose flour, pastry flour, almond meal, butter, egg and a full cup of sugar. "It has a tendency to crumble," she warns. There's a funny object there, that tendency. I was already in an advanced state of nerves from opening up the pastry flour from the health food store and discovering that it was, in fact, whole wheat pastry flour. Wait, that's not what I bought! Ohhhh...there it is, running up the side of the package in the thinnest Bodoni font imaginable: "Whole-Grain." I reached into the bag and made a fist: well, it sure feels like pastry flour, low-protein flour made from soft wheat. What the hell, between the butter and the almonds, no one will be able to tell. The resulting pastry chilled to rock-hardness in the fridge, as pastry doughs do...only it stayed that way after I took it out. This dough does not have a tendency to crumble. It has a mandate. Despite my careful flouring and reflouring of the marble, despite my gentle and persistent loosening of the dough from the work surface with my bench scraper, it would not behave. Split, rip, shatter. I had to apply the mud-pie technique, patting sections of it into the pan, patching and patting until I was sure that all the air that had been incorporated into that lovely dough would be mooshed out, leaving only heaviness and soddenness behind. With great care and effort, I rolled out another sheet, cut some strips for a lattice, and banged everything into the freezer, where they would await the completed pie filling.

Feel free at this point to sing to the tune of "Bang Goes the Drum and You're in Love." On goes the oven. Out comes the shell. In go the cherries. Out come the lattice strips...and here everything falls apart, literally and figuratively. I cannot lift the strips off the pan without their breaking into three pieces. Those few pieces that do leave the sheet tray intact crumble upon being placed on the pie. Finally, in a voice that my mom and I jokingly refer to as "That's it! No tip!," I announce to an empty kitchen: "That's it! We're having streusel!" And I whale on these strips, ripping them to shreds, flicking them off my fingers and onto the surface of the pie, not so much as to cover the whole surface, but enough to be considered proper topping. On goes the egg wash, in goes the pie.

And my word, but doesn't that crust bake beautifully? For a split second I'm afraid it's burning, but no, it's just baking to the deep brown that comes with a lot of sugar in the dough, plus the presence of milk solids in the butter. The cherries are dark and shiny in their bubbly juice. Did I manage to cheat the universe? I'm still not convinced. As with pudding, the proof of the pie is in the eating.

To dinner the pie goes, to be served with Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream. There are four of us at dinner, three women, one man. Karen, for whom I made the pie, opens her eyes wide at first bite. "This is such a wonderful crust!" she cries. "It almost tastes like blueberry pie," says Alison, and she's right, it does. Forrest eats without making a sound, eventually concurring that it's a successful pie. Everyone looks happy as they eat it, except for me. I look relieved.

Dear friends, for your consideration, the Accidental Pie is below, as well as a picture of the real pie cherries I bought at the Greenmarket this morning, the ones that will be turned into real cherry pie tomorrow. Will there be a picture of Real Cherry Pie? Oh, of course. Will there be recipes? You bet.



Part Two:  Accidental Pie:  Epilogue (originally published July 18, 2004)

Don't worry, dear friends. Having gone on for the equivalent of 10 pages about the Accidental Pie yesterday, I see no need to subject you to more of it. But I do remember making a promise to bake a real cherry pie this morning, and to show you the result.


Tvindy had asked if I still preferred the classic recipe to the Accidental Pie. While I will always have affection for the A.P. for providing me such a lark of a story, I'm afraid that when it comes to eating, it just doesn't stand a chance against the Real Cherry Pie. I never liked cherry pie as a kid, and now I know why. Too many cherry pies are made with commercial cherry pie filling, which does use proper pie cherries, but also uses excessive amounts of sugar, corn syrup and thickeners. Some brands even use red dye, which leaves a nasty aftertaste and is completely unnecessary when you consider that the skin of the pie cherry has more than enough pigment to turn your pie the most dreamy shade of pink imaginable.

I love the whole process of making this pie. I love that even though I can go a full year between making cherry pies, when the time comes to do it again, I can pretty much do it from memory. If I am good and organized, pie crust will have been made the day before and left to rest in the fridge. Take it out, let it soften slightly at room temperature, dust the pastry cloth, roll out the dough, turn it into the pie plate, roll out some more, cut out the lattice strips, put it all back in the freezer. Sit down and watch one of your Danger Man DVD's while you pit 2 quarts of cherries. Juice will run all over everything. Your fingers will get sticky with juice that is not so much sour as tart, fragrant and floral and berried and gently mouth-puckering and intensely cherry.

Wash your hands. Turn your cherries into a colander over a saucepan. Add sugar to the juice and cook it over a medium flame. Stop stirring just long enough to get your pie shell and lattice strips from the fridge. When your sugar is dissolved, stir in a cup of those pitted cherries. Lick the bead of juice that has spattered onto your wrist, and thank the universe for the concept of Spoils for the Cook. Watch the cherries give up their juice to the sugar syrup, which bubbles like mad. Stir in your arrowroot slurry and watch the whole lot stiffen up. Add a bit of almond extract and a bit of butter, then the rest of the cherries. Watch everything slacken up again, ready to thicken the rest of the juice that will seep out of the cherries during baking. Cherries in the shell, lattice on the cherries, egg wash on the lattice, everything into a nice hot oven. 50 minutes later, your pie is done, juices bubbling over, the sign that everything has got hot enough and the arrowroot will continue doing its job. You know you have to wait to eat it, that very few things are actually made to be eaten right out of the oven and cherry pie is definitely not one of them, and yet you wonder if you can just dispense with your tomato and mozzarella sandwiches and just eat pie for lunch.

No, it's no contest. Accidental Pie fills me with affection. Real Cherry Pie fills me with love.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:50 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
June 18, 2005


When Lloyd and I passed this restaurant on Leith Walk, my first thought was "Oh!  This is the restaurant Warren Zevon wrote about!  Must take picture now!"  My second thought was, "God, I miss Warren."

Then I realized that the title of Warren's song was not "Werewolves of Edinburgh," so, in all likelihood, this was not the restaurant that inspired him.

I still miss him, though.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:47 AM in • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
June 16, 2005

Dear friends who make their living as horticulturists and/or botanists, your bakerina needs you tonight.  I am perturbed and suspicious, and I'd really like to know if my bad attitude is justified, or if it is merely the product of an ill-informed mind.  Thanking you in advance for your input.

It is my own fault, this attitude of mine.  Wiser people have warned me not to do it, but Wednesday night found me, as most Wednesday nights do, in the football-field-sized mishegoss that is The Supermarket That Starts With W and Rhymes With Volefoods.  There is a new Rhymes-With-Volefoods across the street from my farmer's market, and the New York-based food press has made a lot of noise about whether the farmer's market can survive the competition from RWVfoods, but those of us in the know, namely those of us who have been shopping the farmer's market for years and have built up relationships with the farmers, know that RWVfoods is no competition, not at all.  So what was I doing at the uptown, fancy-mall-based outpost of RWVfoods?  Truth be told, I find myself there every Wednesday night.  It is around the corner from Mental Health Professional's office, just up the street from my subway line, and it sells a few items of decently prepared food, which I'll bring home for dinner.  Normally I just grab my chicken rice soup or my crab spring rolls or my turkey sandwich, maybe a pint of frozen yogurt for me and Lloyd, and beat it out of there.  Last night, though, I found myself wandering amidst the produce section, for no reason I could ascertain other than willful perversity.  It was in this willfully perverse state that I found myself staring at a little mountain of unripe passion fruit.

If you are not familiar with the passion fruit, here is a bit of passion fruit trivia, created especially for PTMYB.  The passion fruit looks like this. The leathery purple (or sometimes yellow) skin is inedible.  What you want are the pulp and seeds; they look slimy and scary, but they taste sublime, intensely tart and flowery.  As they ripen, that smooth skin wrinkles, giving the fruit the appearance of a giant raisin, or a round, egg-sized chipotle pepper.  They are a commercial crop in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Brazil and South Africa.  In the U.S., they are staggeringly expensive.  I usually find them, imported from New Zealand, at Grand Central Market for US$1.75 each.  This is for roughly a tablespoon of fruit pulp.  There is nothing more dispiriting than to open up a cookbook, say, Paramount Desserts by the awe-inspiring Australian chef Christine Mansfield, find a recipe for a lovely passion fruit-flavored dessert, and to read in the ingredient list, "25 passion fruits, juiced, seeds strained out (save a few for garnish)."  Not at $1.75 a pop, I won't.  If I travel across town to Chelsea Market, where I used to shape bread at Amy's Bread, I can buy a liter of frozen Perfect Puree passion fruit juice at the Italian food shop.  It is a fine substitute, but it is not always available.  As a result, I find myself contemplating the passionfruit with a mixture of longing and frustration.  I dream of pavlovas, crunchy meringue, whipped cream filling, passion fruit pulp strewn with luscious abandon across the top.  I want to make this right now.

Rhymes-With-Volefoods sells New Zealand passion fruit for $1.98 each.

Except that last night...last night they had a big basket of Florida passion fruit, and a sign reading "Passion Fruit:  $2.98/pound."  $2.98/pound sounds awfully cheap for a fruit that sells six to the pound.  I check the sign again; it's not $2.98/unit, is it?  No, the bag of key limes sells for $2.98/unit; the passion fruit are clearly marked $2.98/pound.  It's too good to be true, but just in case it isn't, I drop six into a bag and take it to the register.

As the nice young cashier rings up my order, I ask her to check on the price of the passion fruit.  She punches a few keys as I say, "they're marked as $2.98/pound."  "No," she replies, "they're priced per unit."  "How much are they per unit?", I ask.  "They're $1.98 each," she answers.  "Do you still want them?"  I do not, thank you, and she's very nice about it, even as I ever so gently remind her that the display in produce does indeed bear a sign that reads $2.98/pound.

Here is where I must call on the expertise of my more horticulturally-literate dear friends.  Is there anything particularly fussy about the cultivation of passion fruit, specifically the kind of fussiness that would force RWVfoods to charge the same amount of money for fruit trucked in from Florida as for that flown in from New Zealand?  I promise I'm not being a wisenheimer.  I really want to know.  If this is necessary, if there's no getting around it, I'll just suck it up and pay for my pleasure.  But if it's not, then it's time for me to start looking for a nice stateside passion fruit farmer who is willing to sell in bulk.

A postscript:  The University of Florida IFAS Extension has a neat and informative fact sheet on the passion fruit, but unfortunately the authors lost me at this line: "Both purple and yellow passion fruits begin to lose moisture as soon as they fall and quickly become quite wrinkled if held under hot, dry conditions. Juice in these fruits is wholesome, but they are unsightly and thus unmarketable."  I will refrain from pointing out that this is the reason that beautiful-looking supermarket produce often tastes of nothing.  I won't say another word.  Yet.

Posted by Bakerina at 09:56 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
June 15, 2005

On this date in 2004, I was but hours away from a truly excellent adventure.  Dear Eureka Springs, I miss you so.




Posted by Bakerina at 12:12 AM in valentines • (4) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
June 12, 2005

It is a muggy Sunday here at Chez PTMYB. The air conditioner is cranked, the strategically-placed fans are creating a dull roar all over the apartment, and I am going to facilitate all of this madcap energy consumption by turning on the oven and baking a pie with some of the sour cherries I froze last summer and thawed over the weekend. There is a pound of wild asparagus from the market in the fridge, waiting to be turned into penne with asparagus, creme fraiche and lemon zest, just because I think it will all go nicely together. Usually my ideas for improvised pasta sauces end fall short of the mark I'm trying to hit, but I have a good feeling about this particular sauce. If I'm not sick of running the oven, I might make a little batch of biscuits, whip the rest of the creme fraiche, and make strawberry shortcake with the strawberries I have sitting in a bowl, dressed with sugar and lemon thyme. I might even take a bash at making more stovies, although, frankly, the thought of eating stovies on a day like today makes me wilt. In short, it is a day for home cooking, for puttering, for cutting the roots off fresh coriander and pounding it to a paste with garlic and chiles and salt (and cursing myself for not investing in a mortar and pestle, relying instead on a big bowl and a potato masher, which is not really a good substitute), for making roasted salt-and-pepper condiments. It should also be a day for ending my egg book research hiatus, although the jury is still out on that. (I put the research on hold about four weeks before I left for Scotland, but now I've been back for three weeks, and it's really time to hoink myself up by the scruff of my neck and get back to the damn library already.) What it definitely is, though, is a day for me to engage in barefaced, naked, unashamed endorsement. Dear friends, consider yourself warned.

In the past, I have recommended books that I enjoy, explaining why I enjoy them, recommending that you check them out if you are interested, offering to loan them to you if you are within loaning distance of me. This time, though, I am not going to apply any finesse. I apologize in advance if my enthusiasm feels like a cudgel; it's just that yes, I really am that enthusiastic. The book in question is Cooking Like Mummyji: Real British Asian Cooking by Vicky Bhogal, and it is a prize.

Of course, even unfettered enthusiasm needs a bit of qualifying. If you absolutely, positively can't abide Indian food of any variety, you'll want to give this a miss. (If, on the other hand, you're a fence-sitter, not really sure whether you like it or not, please do read on.) If you live in the UK, you should have no problem finding this book at your local bookshop, but US-based friends will have a harder time finding it. Amazon.com in the U.S. lists three copies, and I have urged my pals at Kitchen Arts and Letters (212-876-5550) to carry it. If you do decide to order it, keep in mind that duty on imported cookbooks is high, and you will end up paying more than you would normally pay for a trade paperback cookbook. But if you do decide to go through the time and expense of ordering it, you will be rewarded richly.

If you come over to my house and look at my cookbooks, you might come to the understandable conclusion that the last thing I need is another Indian cookbook. I have a shelf full of "key texts" by Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni; I have my well-used, oft-cited, dearly-loved copy of Sudha Koul's Curries Without Worries; I have user-friendly "this is the way we cook today" books by Manju Mahli and Padma Lakshmi; and I have a particularly nifty find, Rotis and Naans of India by Purobi Babbar, a book of beautiful bread recipes that also includes the savory stews and sauces that go so well with them. I have more than enough to satisfy my spice cravings, but I can never resist browsing through just one more, and this was the frame of mind I found myself in when Lloyd and I paid a visit to Blackwells in Edinburgh.

I'll confess that I almost gave this book a miss. Ever since I took a wrong turn around a book celebrating home food that just rubbed my fur the wrong way, I've been leery of books that wear their home cooking hearts on their sleeve. In addition, the short bio of Vicky Bhogal on the back cover identified her as "a bright new star in the cookery world" who "wrote the first-ever academic study of British Asian Youth Culture and Slang and has worked for fashion and lifestyle magazines." Even as I knew I was being shallow, I began forming the snap judgment in my head: here was another cookbook by another posh young thing, written to entice the takeaway generation into picking up a nosegay of coriander and a sharp knife. Did we not have enough of this already on Food Network? Did this cookbook really need to be written? It's a good thing that I untwisted my knickers enough to get past my own bad attitude and actually open the book. By the time I got to page 20, I knew that this book would be coming home with me.

Vicky Bhogal is indeed a bright young woman, a stone-cold pro as a writer, and a real beauty, inside and out. (She bears a striking resemblance to my sister-in-law, Lori; they both have smiles that could run small cities.) She is also funny, intrepid, thoughtful and has a terrific palate. We can all appreciate a beautiful cluster of cherry tomatoes, but when she appreciates a cluster of cherry tomatoes, she turns them into baked tomatoes, bathed in olive oil, cardamom, cloves, pinches of sugar and salt, garam masala and saffron. Since I've been home, I've made this about four times, turning it into a topping for baked potatoes, mixing it into Greek yogurt and eating it with flatbread for breakfast, and just eating them right out of the fridge. While she is skilled at creating her own dishes, she is also skilled at sharing the dishes she learned from her mother, her father, her friends and various aunties. There are recipes for creamy chicken, old-fashioned saag, quick saag, samosas, pakore and carrot halva and the gorgeous rice pudding known as kheer. There are traditional Punjabi recipes such as peas in creamy cheese, and newfangled comfort foods such as Pasta with Yogurt and Chilli Drizzle (which Lloyd and I ate for three nights running last week).

The recipes alone are enough to recommend the book, but what puts it over the top for me is Ms. Bhogal's openminded and openhearted philosophy of cookery. In the introduction, she explains that once upon a time, girls learned to cook at their mothers' and aunties' sides, making the same dishes over and over until they got them right. For the generation of Indians that moved to Britain to find their fortunes, though, the priorities for their daughters began to shift. Girls were still expected to know how to cook, but they were also expected to excel at their studies and to move into prestigious, well-paying careers. Add to this the desire of young women to enjoy the trappings of Western society (e.g. listening to music in their rooms, going to the cinema with their friends, honing their videogaming skills), and suddenly these young women found the traditional way of learning to cook frustrating and more trouble than it was worth. At the same time, though, they recognized that they were losing something potent and wonderful in not being able to replicate the cookery of their mothers. Ms. Bhogal was one of those women, not wanting to spend weekend after weekend in a kitchen trying to determine just what the level of salt should be in a dish, but also not wanting to live on leftover pizza at university. Cooking Like Mummyji is her way of finding a middle ground, an easy reference guide that still pays homage to a magnificent cuisine, and recognizes its both its complexity and its simplicity.

Although in general I don't like to lift wholescale passages of text, I'm going to do it here, with two of Ms. Bhogal's headnotes, simply because to me, they encapsulate what makes her book such a joy to read and cook from. Any suspicions that she is a culinary lightweight are zapped into oblivion by this beautiful, mindful essay on the dish called khadhi:

I have to admit that I have a real problem with the word 'curry'. Neither Indians nor British Asians use this word. This word instinctively makes me think of the days of the British Raj in India. A time when any English dish that had a bit of chilli added to it was passed off as Indian food and anything, be it fish, vegetable, meat, was all curry. These concoctions were about as authentically Indian as Coronation Chicken. And curry powder? What is that all about? It was invented by the Colonials in Madras to export to England and is certainly not a blend I have ever tasted in authentic Indian food.

I also grew up very confused about curry sauce in chip shops. I am still not sure what it is made of, have not uncovered the tenuous link to Indian food and am not quite sure why it is there amongst the haddock and pickled eggs of such an English establishment, but I like it. Its soft sweetness and velvety texture was always comforting on my walk home from school. Therefore, there is a real use of the word 'curry' in this country and still no one really knows where the word originates from. There are many theories, one of them being that it comes from the name of this dish. The very idea breaks my heart as this, out of all the recipes in this book, is my ultimate favourite. Its seductive, thick, tangy, bright yellow, gram flour, yogurt, lemon and fenugreek sauce with chunks of soft potato and onion couldn't be further away from the pale brown curry in freezer compartments in the local supermarket. I am so enamoured with this Punjabi dish par excellence that I refrained from learning how to make it until very recently. I wanted to retain the mystery of it all. My Mum is the only person who makes it just how I like it and I love seeing it appear on the table. Because it takes a lot of time and constant attention, I am only treated to it occasionally (sometimes I have to bribe my Mum, like, clean the whole house in return, or sometimes I just get it as a treat when she is in a good mood). The recipe is a very old one and is one of those dishes that the younger generation are not cooking as much. That is a shame as this original vegetarian specialty should not be lost.

I was still drinking these words in when I found this essay on the making of traditional Indian cardamom milky tea, elaichi chaa. This made me laugh out loud, loudly enough to garner dirty looks from my fellow subway commuters:

This is the one thing that most British-Asian girls get asked to make but they either don't know how or have forgotten how to. Picture the scene if you will, see if it sounds familiar. Imagine...you're at a relative's house and your Mum has popped to the shops with some distant twice-removed Massiji (aunt) to pick up some coriander from the Indian grocers next to the gold shop -- they'll be at least four hours. You're left minding all the snotty-nosed little brat children and suddenly an elderly Auntyji turns to you, pulls your left cheek and with a toothless grin asks you to make her some Indian tea like a good little girl.

You have been spending more time listening to garage than being in the kitchen, despite your mother's desperate pleas. You have often thought that to spend a Saturday afternoon in a kitchen being taught how to make aloo gobi is a pastime only reserved for the truly socially hopeless pindhus. You have friends to meet, essays to complete, clothes to buy, hair to highlight, ring-tones to download and texting techniques to be perfected. Exasperated as your parents may be, you are happy with a life that is filled with bhangra not bhajis, daytimers not dhal, Moschino not mooli and diamante tikkas not chicken tikkas.

Yet here you are, stuck in this semi-detached in Bradford on a Sunday evening confronted by a slightly cross-eyed creature in a pale green floral Indian suit and brown cardigan with tennis socks poking from leather toe-thong sandals asking for elaichi tea, and there's nowhere to run. You are going to have to somehow make this damn tea and your Mum has left her mobile in her bag tucked beside the sofa. You also know fully well that if you fail, not only will your Mummyji give you a front and backhanded slap when she returns but the Auntyji will wail to the entire Indian community (India and Canada included along with the UK) that you are an absolute disgrace of an Indian girl and a shame to your mother. So here's how to make it just as they like it so this doesn't happen to you again. Sweet and milky, just remember to serve with a plate of assorted biscuits.

Ms. Bhogal says that her family are "the real Dons of the cooking after decades of experience and I am just the humble messenger who loves the results."  It's a beautiful statement, but she is far too modest.  In an industry full of bluffers, "instant experts" and corner-cutters, she is the real thing:  a real cook, a real writer, a real teacher.  Dear friends, this may not be the book for everyone, but if this is the book for you, please, please snap it up. Let me know if you're having trouble ordering it and I'll try to help you get one. And if the powers that be in the food-television industry ever find fit to give Vicky Bhogal her own television show, please do reward them for their good sense by tuning in. I know I will.

Posted by Bakerina at 04:57 PM in please support these fine businesses • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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