At a moment when the present is terrifying and the future is uncertain, we’re returning to the recipes of the past for comfort! In this lockdown period, I cooked my great grandmother’s recipe that she would cook whenever someone visited our family home in Chamkaur Sahib. The dish was pataurh, pakodas made from fine arbi leaves. This recipe got lost over the years, with partition, modernisation and fast paced urban life. It was during the lockdown my granduncle, now 95, wrote to me from Los Angeles how he loved having my great grandmother’s pataurhs. I was the fourth generation, hadn’t even heard of the dish. There I was making my great grandmother’s pre-partition recipe to help me cope better with the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
During these difficult times, we can turn to our elders who have lived through uncertain circumstances and find comfort in living the way they did. Some years ago, Grandmas Project, a collaborative space, invited filmmakers from across the world to document their grandmothers’ signature dishes. This project filmed grandmothers from across cultures — France, making soufflés; grandmothers from Lebanon showcasing how to make the delicate mehchi. Author Anastasia Miari in her book, Grand Dishes, spotted a movement while researching. “People want to think back to the processes our grandmothers were using.”
The pandemic is making most people search new and old ways for mindful well-being. Cooking like your grandmother is a big trend in these times. Says chef Akshay Malhotra, “Cooking like your grandmother in the pandemic is giving huge comfort, it’s a time to recreate old recipes. We are now witnessing recipes as family heirlooms. They bring in the togetherness. Finding an old family recipe is more powerful than discovering an old family photograph. It allows me to feel the history through the dish.”
How we cook in a pandemic is changing too. In the COVID-19 world, we celebrate and mourn our emotional experiences through food. Since you can’t dine out, dining in has new interpretations, where families are spending and laughing over meals and counting memories over old forgotten recipes. Here’s what our Grandmother’s family recipes teach us:
Resilience: The kitchen of the past didn’t have electric gadgets to make cooking easier. Making a dish was slog and hard work. Ingredients were tough to get. You learnt to make food exotic with slog, toil and hardwork. It taught you resilience and patience by giving you the secret knowledge of working with the odds.
Reconnecting to the past: Cooking your heirloom recipe helps you relive the history of your family. The memories they shared and how they celebrated through food. It helps you stay connected with the present and reconnect with the past.
Ritualistic cooking: Old recipes follow rituals. Rituals ground us. You follow a recipe step by step, there are no shortcuts.
Renew: Cooking an old dish in the present is renewing the energy of the dish and adding your creativity to it. It renews your spirit too as you recreate something your ancestors made.
Restore: Cooking an old recipe by your grandmother restores your sense of well-being. The aromas and ingredients remind you of a happier time bringing back the emotional balance.