Literary Review

From ammama’s kitchen

I first learned of Archana Pidathala’s culinary expedition, Five Morsels of Love, when she contacted me about potentially working together on a book trailer. It’s a project I wish had materialised the way we imagined, because it reminded me so much of my own connection with food, which primarily is a deep association with flavours and memories of the food I grew up with.

Food has a way of keeping intact the strings that connect us to family, past generations, traditions, and people we love. And Five Morsels of Love is a testament to that sentiment. It was a project that began in 2007, when Pidathala lost ammama, her grandmother Nirmala Reddy and author of the 1974 Telugu cookbook Vanita Vantakalu.

A hurried promise that she had made some years ago to help her grandmother publish an English version of it lingered in Pidathala’s mind. That germinated into a modest blog where she began to share authentic Andhra recipes from her grandmother’s book. But it wasn’t long before a deeper yearning to go beyond just recreating recipes and really celebrate her ammama’s passion for cooking and her incredible love for traditional Andhra cuisine took over. In no time, Pidathala was dabbling with the idea of producing a full-fledged Telugu cookbook, undeterred by the fact that she had little experience in cooking herself.

Five Morsels of Love is the finished work. A tribute to Pidathala’s ammama, it is the English version of the original cookbook featuring over a 100 heirloom recipes. Incredibly well thought-out, with formidable detail, accompanied by spectacular pictures, tastefully designed and produced after an elaborate and rigorous recipe-testing phase, the book is a labour of love, true to its name. “I think that every time we cook, we bring our childhood along with us into the kitchen. When we discover cooking well into adulthood, our taste memory guides us to recreate the flavours and aromas of our childhood,” Pidathala tells me.

The book is a collection of recipes interspersed with memories from the writer’s childhood, anecdotes from her grandmother’s kitchen and other stories woven in. From vegetarian curries to fiery meat dishes typical to the region, spice powders to biryanis, sweets and all-day snacks, it presents a deliciously packaged journey through the unique flavours of Andhra Pradesh (and now Telangana too).

Pidathala tells me her strongest connection with her grandmother was through food. Not surprising, given that her grandmother dedicated a lifetime to culinary traditions and food. It’s been a long project, one that has seen several ups and downs, and has been many years in the making. At some point, the project moved from documenting recipes and translating her grandmother’s original work into keeping her own memories aglow.

“The thought of summer fills me with countless memories of afternoons spent with my grandmother over simple meals — ragi sankati (finger millet porridge) and pachchi pulusu (peanut stew), steamed rice and pachchi mamidikaya pulusu (raw mango in tamarind sauce), mudda pappu (plain cooked yellow lentils) and myriad podis (spice powders) with plenty of ghee,” she trails off, possibly recreating in her mind one of the many meals that will now be rekindled every time she looks through her book.

“Every time my grandmother visited, she would bring us huge boxes of gulab jamun, coconut burfi and carrot halwa,” she adds, and it jogs back to life that familiar anticipation of my grandmother’s visits, which were incomplete without my favourite laddoos, hand-picked mangoes, and halwa.

Food has a special role to play in bringing generations closer. In rekindling memories, allowing us to relive slices of time with fondness, food is invariably the vehicle that helps us journey backwards, even while we’re hurtling through a present that is dotted with an overload of the digitally rendered, hyper-curated food experiences of our time.

Of bringing a modest Telugu cookbook to life in English, she says, “It is great to have so many ways of capturing and archiving food digitally. But for me the book was important because it was my grandmother’s dream. This has been the most soul satisfying journey I have undertaken in my life thus far and it fills my heart with indescribable joy and warmth every time I look at it.”

Five Morsels of Love is a glossy, texture-rich book. A tactile pleasure, you feel it, as much in its large size and eye-popping pictures, as you do in the grain of the rustic recipes that fill its pages. It’s definitely a book to sink into, even if you just want to dive into the flavour-rich cuisine of Andhra Pradesh. “I learnt from my grandmother that cooking a meal for a child or a grandchild or even a friend is the most profound expression of love,” she says. I can’t help but feel the same way about the book itself.

Pidathala strongly feels food plays an unparalleled role in collapsing the distances between generations. Food history, specific cultures and practices, the little details and differences unique to every community and family within it, these all have a way of coming back to life long after you have experienced them. “Our taste memory guides us to recreate flavours and aromas of our childhood. And I couldn’t think of a better way to honour her memory than to capture everything she cooked for us.”

Revati Upadhya, based in Goa, writes on food, travel, culture and lifestyle.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:40:55 PM |

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