Winters bring with it memories of Kanpur, an industrial and highly populous city in Uttar Pradesh. It is also the place where every December we would go to spend our winter vacations with my grandmother, or Nani as we called her. The hustle bustle in Shivala, Kanpur is much like what it is in Chandni Chowk Delhi. Hawkers line up on either side of the narrow street selling glass bangles, bindis, cosmetics, henna and the tiny shops ahead cater mostly to the needs of housewives offering clothes, jewellery and household utilities for sale. Further on, there’s an open space where the vegetable sellers sit selling their fresh produce.
Nani would wake up early and be ready by 5 a.m. After her prayers, while the house was still asleep, she would leave for Shivala to pick up fresh vegetables to cook for us. Sometimes, she would stir me up from my sleep by hugging and kissing me. I would wake up to the faint smell of Pears soap and her soothing voice. Holding her hand, I would walk down the narrow alley of Shivala to buy vegetables. I was fascinated as she picked up fruits to smell them, poked vegetables to see if they had the bounce to signify their freshness and then haggle with the sabziwallahs so she could save a few rupees at the end of it all. I learnt how to buy vegetables from her. “The pods of the peas must be green and intact. Never buy pods that are split open or are yellow or dull in colour” she would admonish me if I picked up a handful from anywhere. Like any child, I too was not fond of leafy vegetables except the Methi Malai Matar that she made. She would sit on the dining table separating the methi (fenugreek) leaves from the stalks and be fully involved in the gossip sessions. We too would pitch in, shelling the peas or plucking the leaves. She added ground cashew nuts and fresh cream so the taste was rich and a tad sweet. Served with ghee soaked lachedar mirchiwale paranthas it made a meal no one wanted to miss. The oozing of the creamy methi malai matar from the mirchi parantha as one chewed on the first bite was the ultimate – a perfect balance of the subtle flavours of the vegetable with the spicy paranthas.
Nani is no more yet each time I use her recipe to make the same combination at home, it opens a floodgate of memories – of my grandmother, the feel of her wrinkled hand holding mine, the sounds of the Shivala Bazaar, the subzi mandi, the shelling of peas together and so much more. When I started this blog, it was also in the hope of leaving behind this heritage of old recipes for my children and grandchildren, when I’m long gone. Such is the history of food recipes that pass hands from one generation to the next. They must survive.
Do you have any food memories of a similar kind? How do you save your family recipes? Do you document them or simply teach them to the younger generation? Do share your thoughts.