It’s a warm winter afternoon at Landour; the quaint little hill station near Mussoorie. The year is 1930 and Mrs. Lucas, wife of the pastor of Kellogg Church is getting ready to attend the reading club; something she started with Mrs. Irene Parker, the wife of Allen Parker, principal of Woodstock School, some 10 years ago. Over the last 10 years they have met every week to discuss not just books, but also socio-political affairs and to exchange recipes. They have built a new community center, they have also recently published a book, called The Landour Cookbook. This book is a collection of tried and tested recipes along with a full proof guide to homemaking and entertaining, with household hints, nutrition information and cooking methods at high altitudes. It has been decided that all the proceedings from the sales of the books will go to their reading club.
It’s a warm winter afternoon, some 87 years later in Landour, which still, fortunately, is the quaint little hill station it has always been. I have found my way through the winding roads of the lower Himalayas, to the Landour Bakehouse, nestled amidst the pines on the edge of a cliff. I make my way through the green paneled doors that seem to have transported me to a bygone era.
The smell of caffeine lingers as the waiter serves a steaming cup to the table on my left. The wooden floors creak under his shoes. To my left, I see a deep valley dotted with tall Himalayan Oaks. It’s cloudy and chilly; perfect for a warm cuppa of hot chocolate. The Landour Bakehouse may have opened their doors just a year and a half ago, but its wooden décor, vintage wall clocks and antique portraits make me feel like it’s been around forever. More than the rustic ambiance, the century-old authentic recipes that they use lend it an old-world charm. From the old fashioned Landour Candy, peanut brittle, fresh scones, croissants, hot cross buns, cinnamon rolls, cookies, crepes cakes, and coffee, each delicacy is the result of a unique old recipe from the colonial era.
A board in the café, right at the entrance, gives a little backdrop of the place. ‘When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, most of her people lived in the countryside and every parish had a communal oven or a Bakehouse. Landour was no different and from the early 1900s all its eclectic residents would meet at Community Center book clubs, as well as other social gatherings on the hillside’ it read. The active members soon published a ‘Landour Cookbook’, sharing favourite recipes from the homes of the others living in the hillside. ‘Since this was the age of no refrigerators and makeshift ovens, a lot of practical information about substitutes and high-altitude cooking methods was also included. Most of the recipes had the name (sometimes just the initials) of the contributor.’ Nearly a century later The Landour Cookbook has been rewritten, edited, updated, revised, published and republished, through 5 editions and remains a ‘useful and charming cookbook that holds the secret recipes of so many families that made the quaint Landour their home.’ The Bakehouse is a tribute to ‘the ingenuity and efforts of all these people.
I skim through the beige, sepia tinted paper menu trying to decide between Mary Hoke’s chocolate chip date cake or Mrs. Russel’s Coffee Streusel Cake. Spoilt for choice, I wonder if these people ever realised that their recipes would be immortalized through the Landour Cook Book and be savoured by thousands of travellers, nearly a century later.
I have settled for Vesta Miller’s Mud Pie for there is something too tempting about that name. The crispy base crumbles and the gooey chocolate melts my mouth as soon as I take a bite. There is a tiny blackboard on the wall that cracks me up. It says “We Do Not Have Wi-Fi….Talk To Each Other. Pretend It’s 1895’. It isn’t hard to do so for the bakehouse has been painstakingly restored to resemble a 19th-century kitchen. I order for the Margaret Griffin’s Cinnamon roll, which I have heard is a specialty, spending the next few minutes devouring it. I decide to send my compliments to the chef but the manager tells me that all delicacies are made in the Rokeby Manor, a 175-year-old colonial estate hotel nuzzled amongst the Shivaliks, a 10-minute walk from the Landour Bakehouse. I make my exit, already knowing what my next destination is. On my way, I pick up a copy of the Landour Cookbook authored by none other than Ruskin Bond and edited by Ganesh Saili. The book is said to have more such secret recipes from the hills. I am also taking away a packet of Joy Fastnacht’s Nutty Himalayan Cookies. I’ve had my intake of loads of calories already, but I am not worried.
These ones are glutton free.
The Landour Bakehouse Is Located at 152 Sisters Bazaar in Landour, Mussoorie, and is open every day from 8:00 am to 8.00 pm. You can check out their Facebook Page here.
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