How can a national highway diminish the necessity of preserving vegetables by drying them? How would you react if you were told that Uttar Pradesh alone had around 100 types of roti, made by various communities? Or that a dal has been relegated to the pages of history because of the skill and time needed to cook it?
Recipes are getting ‘lost’ from our collective kitchens because of a variety of reasons, that don’t, by themselves, seem significant. Time is one of the factors, but not the most important one. In our grandmothers’ times, joint families were the norm, as were homemaker mums. Inevitably, the casualty is the elaborate meals of yesteryear, when complicated preparation processes and hours-long cooking times are out of the question. However, that is just one part of the equation. The other is the very reason that some foods were eaten.
Photo courtesy Marryam H Reshii
In the Kashmir of bygone decades, winter was extremely severe with heavy snowfall, severely disrupting daily life. The National Highway, the ‘lifeline’ of the Valley, used to be closed for traffic for much of winter. This necessitated every household to be as self-sufficient as possible, and so, from autumn, people would dry spinach, turnips, tomatoes, aubergines, bottle gourd, even mushrooms were sun-dried so that, leached out of all their moisture, they would keep for months at a time. Eating red kidney beans with dried turnip chunks or dried tomatoes with boiled eggs was a treat that old-timers in Kashmir still look back to with fondness. Today, a branch of the efficient Army maintains the highway and global warming has meant that hardly any snow falls most years. So the necessity of drying vegetables in your garden does not arise, and another branch of cookery falls by the wayside.
Rocky Mohan, gastronome, hobby cook, author of several meticulously researched cookbooks and the man behind the Old Monk Rum brand has spent a large portion of his life in Lucknow. The last time he enjoyed a dish of Maash ki Dal Khas was 15 years ago. Subsequently, Mohan dipped into his vast resource of rakabdars who specialise in one or the other type of dish, to try and organise the dal – which needs long, slow cooking, so that the inherent creaminess of urad dal is released to its maximum – without success. All the specialists of this particular preparation appear to have retired, without leaving a successor.
That, in Mohan’s view, is the most unacceptable reason of all, because it hinges on human pettiness. “If your son is not interested in joining your profession after you, you had better make sure that your art does not die after you, because it is not your personal property, but the heritage of this country.”