Gumbo is hard to get right
and I don’t bother asking for it outside my mother’s house.
there’s no one way to do it, and a hundred ways, from here to Sunday
to get it dead wrong.
– Kevin Young –
I have been cooking and reading and thinking and trying to make sense of what is happening in the world. Cooking and reading are the happy bits, the creative bits, the thinking is on a loop. I keep asking myself and others: why, why is there so much destruction? Why do people break and damage institutions and freedoms? There is no answer and it is pointless to ask. All I can think is that they want everyone to be like them and they want the means to force them to do that very thing.
So let us move on to pleasing things. Cooking! Today I am getting ready to cook soup from my cultural tradition. It involves soaking what South Africans call sugar beans, they look like borlotti beans. And I am soaking samp and that is cracked corn kernels. In the vernacular this soup is known as uncle and aunt. I know! And no, I have no idea why. But one thing I can tell you, I reckon making soup is my superpower! So once the soak is done it all comes together with the obligatory onion carrot celery base. Traditionally one does not use a lot of herbs, I added a bit of thyme, a few cloves, splash of vinegar, stock, and beef shin.
Orange peel and cinnamon stick steeping in milk
A while ago I spoke of a dish from my childhood called milk food. I wonder if that might be our version of gruel although my goodness me, gruel sounds so unappetizing! I found a recipe that combines that comfort with the pleasure of sago! It is, if you will, a stove top version of sago pudding without eggs. So, the sago is cooked in milk with orange peel and a cinnamon stick. Don’t tell anyone but I use condensed milk for half the milk. Oh my, we are just loving it! I can see it becoming the go to Sunday night indulgence.
Thinking about these dishes from my childhood I realise that they were all well suited to feeding people inexpensively. My people were not well off, they weren’t middle class, not even remotely aspiring to be middle class but they cooked well and ate well. I so often wish I had paid more attention back then. I wish had watched my aunt to see how she managed to feed us three meals a day with no real fridge space, a coal stove, and miles out of town! Not that all those meals were welcomed; sometimes tripe and pork trotters was on the menu! Yikes! My cousin and I hated the smell, so when we had to do some chores in the kitchen, we held our noses and complained bitterly!
I remember my aunt bustling around in a clean apron, smiling. Those long-ago meals remain fresh in my memory because of course they came from a place of generosity and love made by such a dear person.
Sometimes producing food does not involve cooking. Do you enjoy salads? We certainly do. Usually here at my house a salad is simply chopping everything that is fresh and edible and drizzling some lemon juice and olive oil over it, but my favourite salad is just leaves and avo with a vinaigrette and a tiny bit of hard cheese grated over.
My grandson is a picky eater. But there are things he can be counted on to eat. There is carrot soup, that is a favourite of mine too and there are fish fingers of course. I still cut them in half so they can cool down faster. When he was really small, I would make him scrambled eggs and divide them between two little bowls, again of course for the cooling down! Now at nine years old he will indicate his level of hunger by asking for one bowl or two of scrambled eggs. I am glad he will have these memories of food made for him in the way he wanted by someone who loved him.
What an emotional issue food is! I suffer guilt because I can write happily about food while just down the road there are people who do not have enough. My poor mother who had suffered hunger as a little girl would cry when she read that a staple food like bread or maize had increased in price. She would say: tonight, some children will go to sleep hungry. But here we are, and one does the best one can. You contribute to soup kitchens and feeding schemes and look hopefully for it all to improve. To feed someone is an act of generosity, a life affirming impulse. When my daughter in law came to visit here from France for the very first time, she brought food in her luggage, and I was moved and suddenly sad that my mother was not with us to meet this girl that brings food.
The heart is cooking a pot of food for you
Be patient until it is cooked
– Rumi –