Recipe books are a strange breed of literature. Though essentially a directive, they hold in their oil-splattered pages memories and the history of entire cultures. In the age of the internet, nothing is more than a few clicks away and recipe books have become all but obsolete for practical purposes and instead have evolved into glossy hardcover coffee table books, more prized for their aesthetics than their content. But tucked away in the dusty shelves of most homes, are a few treasured tomes, usually handed down through generations that epitomise the family palate.
For many Keralan households one title that has stood the test of time is Recipes For All Occasions by Mrs. BF Varghese. Originally published in 1974, this little cooking guide has seen it all. A consummate wedding gift for any bride-to-be back in the day, it contained culinary knowledge from across the world. From delicate French souffles to hearty Bengali fish curries, there’s a little bit of everything (and we mean EVERYTHING, even American Chopsuey makes an appearance). Mrs. Varghese hails from a Syrian Christian background and an Armenian kebab recipe signals her Middle-Eastern influences.
A compendium of everything under the sun, it reflects the diversity of the Syrian Christian community and their far-reaching influences. It’s unassuming format has done away with all the meddlesome issues of measuring and instead suggests ‘a pinch of this’ or ‘a fair amount of that’, this is truly cooking from the heart. It includes a number of helpful tips such as to have all your ingredients assembled before you begin; something that I learned after burning legions of dishes while searching through an army of identical spices.
Another name that is a household name for Malayalis of all religions, is that of Mrs KM Mathew who appears on every shelf and is ingrained in every family get-together. Between the two of them, Mathew and Varghese, Syrian Christian cuisine has been immortalised, and even though the cuisines continues to evolves, anybody looking for an authentic look into their culinary history need only pick up and book and begin the journey.
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