It had been a while since the last entry in A Landlady's Diary, as Zara G. had been on her travels. In this episode, a period of recuperation leads to memories of home remedies from the kitchen.
There has been a long and eventful lapse since the last entry. Done a bit of this and that – travelling, carrying out refurbishments in every sense of word. Not only injecting life into soulless spaces, but also working on the decrepit body. My own body in case you are beginning to panic. To cut to the chase, after doing up the house in Chiswick carefully concealing from the client the agony suffered going up and down ladders, decided time to face up to incinerating the old knee joint and getting a spanking new knee. The left one this time.
Recuperating turned out to be most expedient, hours and hours of resting the grossly swollen leg and taking stock. Recovering, healing et al lead to looking into old-fashioned remedies connected with things in the larder from my childhood memories.
So here goes – a few tips passed on from my late mother; a phenomenal, innovative and cheeky cook. One of my earliest memories is having toothache. The obvious cure for toothache is the most aromatic herb, a simple clove. When you have 8 children ranging from the ages of 11 year old down to a newly born baby, someone always has to be teething or experiencing toothache, a common ailment as far as young children are concerned. When you are deprived of sleep night after night, you tend to become innovative in finding ways of ending the nightmare. She would singe a clove with a match and ask us to lodge it on the tooth easing the discomfort or at times excruciating pain. This always worked wonders.
For earache she would warm olive oil and pour into the affected ear followed by stuffing a wad of cotton to stop the seeping of oil on the pillow. Rearing 8 children warranted preventive methods rather than add to workload. We would milk such an opportunity so that we could lie on the bed and put our head on her knee and make sure that she could not leave to attend to another demanding sibling. Somehow simply doing that would diminish the pain knowing you were in the hands of a mother earth type of person who could perform miracles. Or at least that is how it seemed to us as children.
No sooner could she detect even the most inaudible sound of sniffing, runny eyes, spring chickens would be added to the shopping list for the cook for that day. He would hardly get a chance to unpack and present “the chit” (Indian word for receipt) for the shopping before she would be putting a large pot on coals ready to take whole garam massala, onions, garlic, ginger not to forget a few fresh chillies. The answer to everything you can think of. If you have cold, you are told it is good for you. If you feel lethargic, the elders tell you eat something with chillies in it and soon you will get a spurt of energy and the list goes on. All the ingredients would be fried gently, chicken added and browned followed by water. This would simmer gently on the coals, finished off by fresh chopped coriander leaves. After the chicken had got tender it would be carefully sieved with only the white part of the meat added to the broth. Of all the 8 children none wanted anything other than the white meat of the chicken. Our poor mother would end up always eating the thighs or drumsticks by convincing us she preferred brown meat. It was only when we were all fairly grown up and living our own adult lives that when she would visit us in the summer each year, that we discovered that she enjoyed eating chicken breast. Poor lady! Whether it was the soup or not, all we knew and cared about was that it cured us of our colds and gave one an overall feeling of warmth. The funny thing is that is exactly what my two daughters would ask for when they felt a cold coming on, or used it as an excuse to be spoilt and pampered.
Turmeric is not just a beautiful spice in terms of its colour it has amazing uses. Days before a girl is to be married her girl friends visit the bride-to-be’s house daily and make a paste from whole turmeric mixed with olive oil. This paste is then carefully applied on the entire body to ensure that on her big night the bride would have an envious golden hue.
Another favourite ritual on Sundays in most households with young girls is to mix gram flour, oats, milk and honey which is plastered on the face and neck in a thickish layer (a bit like the paste one makes for papering walls) as an exfoliator or mask. Once dry, it stretches the skin and is carefully removed by using slightly damp fingers in circular motions. A great cure for teenage angst resulting in zits!
In my culture body hair is a complete no no. No female would be seen dead with any hair on her legs, arms, upper lip and anywhere else you care to imagine. So what better way to be rid of it then to go raid your mother’s kitchen. Bags of sugar and litres of honey mixed together and warmed gently, rolled into a ball which is pressed on the skin hard and jerked off with all the might the beautician can apply.
I can think of many other uses for daily food items but for the time being this diversion will do. Hope to regale you all with more stories about food and its pivotal role in our household.