Cooking is considered part of a woman’s knowledge in India, in all class of soceities. And yet, the most flavour-some hands in our history belong to men – Bheema and Nala. Both of them are said to have been cooks par excellence. World over women today are cooking less and less and even that mostly comes from cutting open packets and heating. And yet, home made food still holds the charm for a large number of people. The mother’s specials are a memory of a lifetime for all.
And so a book of collections of what people have written in their dairies, letters and copy books on food and eating makes a delicious reading. The Joy of Eating edited by Jill Foulston is a pleasurable book.
An entry by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century nun and poet in a letter to the Bishop talks about the varying nature of yellow and white of the egg, though inside the same shell. She goes on to quote Lupercio Leonardo and says, “One can perfectly philosophize while cooking supper. And I am always saying, when I observe these small details: If Aristotle had been a cook, he would have written much more.” Sor Juana published a book of recipes too.
The first cook book printed in the United States was authored by Eliza Smith, in 1742, while her earlier edition was published in London in 1739, which used the word ‘Applesauce’ for the first time.
The best selling cook book of the 18th century was written by Hannah Glasse called the Art of Cookery, made plain and easy in 1747. This made one of the first references to Indian curry in an English cookbook. She says, “If I have not written in the high polite style, I hope I shall be forgiven; for my intention is to instruct the lower sort and therefore must treat them in their own way.” She goes on to tell how to prepare rich and high a sauce or 10 to 12 people on three shillings.
Jane Austin wrote, “I am glad the new cook begins so well. Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” Sylvia Thompson says, “Cooking in love is not like cooking under any other circumstances.” Another writes, “A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.”
Dorothy Wordsworth kept a regular record of what she cooked for her brother William, which gave some interesting anecdote about food and eating habits. Virginia Wolf describes a dinner elaborately in her work A Room of One’s Own.
There is this interesting anecdote about the peas. According to Ella Eaton Kellog, “Peas were introduced into England from Holland at the time of Elizebeth, and were then considered a great delicacy. History tells us that when the queen was released from her confinement in the tower, May 19, 1554, she went to Staining to perform her devotions in the Church of Allhalows, after which she dined at a neighbouring inn upon a meal of which the principal dish was boiled peas.”
The Indian writers who have been quoted are Madhur Jaffrey, Chitra Banerjee, Sybil Kapoor, Julie Sahni, Shoba Narayan and Jhumpa Lahiri. Jeffrey has been described as the person who taught the British how to cook the Indian food, though it had been popular for long in Britain.
An interesting book, especially if one is interested in food and the social manners that go with it. That food and eating have always been a major sources of conversation and comment is well established. The author has given the dates of the writers who are not alive.
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