In October I spent some time in the Kimberley region. Still early in season, the mangoes were delicious. They tasted like they had just come off the tree, not stored in cold storage. So perfect, I had to take a picture! I feasted on them and looked forward to the mango season later in the year further south. Come December, I could not help but ask, where have all the mangoes gone? The ones that appeared in the supermarket were tasteless and obviously stored, bruised and turned to mush, within a day.
As I had not cooked for so many months before Christmas I found myself wandering around the supermarket lost in the unfamiliarity of the once familiar. The colour of the pasta sauces, the curry pastes, just like the mangoes in the supermarket, all looked paler and did not taste the same as I recalled from a year ago. When mentioning this to the young adults, they stated, they avoid processed food as much as they can. “Make your own paste and sauces, Mum”, was the challenge they set. I attempted to defend my reluctance by saying I was time poor, but then …
I found myself telling them about kitchen memories from childhood ….
The cook would spend a few minutes in the morning with my mother who gave her the menu for the day. Although the cook knew the recipes well, ritual like, she would go over them with my mother who, unlike me, had unlimited patience with her. A woman would arrive early at the kitchen door with a cane basket of crisp vegetables, covered with a damp cloth. The usual bartering would take place as the cook haggled the price down because of the amount of soil that still clung to the carrots or beets. Then, she would set off to the market carrying a cloth bag and return with fresh corriander, chillies, ginger and garlic. Having a fridge, a luxury in those days in a Third World country, the cook would never have thought to store them. They had to be fresh! The butcher would arrive mid-morning. A Muslim man, he wore a tunic and a lungi (a sarong type of garment). At the back of his bicycle a wooden box of chipped ice, carrying meat. A hand held weighing scale of wooden bar with metal plates hanging off string, a knot in the middle for balance, and an eye for accuracy completed the transaction with honesty. By late morning the cook would set herself up over the grinding stone, a heavy slab of pocked stone with a smooth hand held oval grinder that she slid back and forth crushing everything between the stones. The aroma of fresh herbs and freshly roasted spices remain with me to this day. A sprinkle of water or perhaps vinegar (if it was vindaloo) giving her a brief respite between slides. Then she washed the stones clean and started cooking at noon. This was her daily schedule.
I found myself over the holidays attempting to make my own pastes and delighting in the process. My efforts made easier with just about every grinder, blender and mill, you can think of. My son has been a willing and happy taster to everything that appears on the plate. In a short month my shopping habits have changed dramatically.
It makes me wonder … had it not been for the mangoes ….
Until next time
a dawn bird