there was no facebook in my grandmother’s time. when she made batches of a hundred pantuas, no one quickly went and took pictures on their iphone and posted it on fb. there was no iphone too then.
pantua, in case you’ve never had of it, is this delightful bengali mishti or sweet. it’s a lot like gulab jamun, but it isn’t that ubiquitous dessert. pantua is made mainly of chhana or cottage cheese, i.e. paneer… with a bit of khoya in it. gulab jamun has much more of khoya, which is whole milk reduced to a fine powdery consistency, an essential ingredient in several indian sweets.
i remember large pots full of pantuas swimming in syrup; all of them the same size, the same shade of darkish brown, and the same ability to set your mouth watering. if you had to take a picture for facebook, you wouldn’t have to angle the shot a certain way, or carefully avoid a few pantuas that are not looking too right, go close up, nothing. just point and shoot. each frame would be good to go… sorry, upload. yeah, those days, who knew of upload. you just knew, the pantua was cool enough to be eaten… hogged might be a more appropriate verb.
my grandmother made not just pantua, but chitrakut, chhanar jilipi, lavanga latika, malpua, goja of many kinds, patishapta, chomchom, chondropuli, and so many other kinds of bengali sweets. there were no written down recipes, everything was from memory. she and the people of her generation had this great faith in a thing called “andaj” or estimate. you had to have a good sense of estimate, then nothing could deter you. while teaching me how to make shingara – samosa – she said one must put more oil or ghee in the flour than one normally would for luchi. how much more? “andaj moto,” came the answer, as per estimate. what estimate? well, after you’ve mixed the ghee with the flour, and you take a fistful of it and press it gently then let go, it should all hold together for just a while. how long a while? oh, as per “andaj” of course. and so it went. the fire had to be at a certain level, the oil had to be not too hot and not too cold, of course it had to be heated to a high degree at first and then the temperature brought down, otherwise the shingara wouldn’t be crisp. but if the heat was too low, the shingara would get hard. she’d wave her hand over the kadai with the oil and know exactly when it had reached the right temperature.
i still remember her remarkable confidence when making some intricate delicacy. there was even a particular way in which you kneaded the chhana with the heel of your palm. “mara”, that’s what she called it. you had to be careful while gently working the fresh cottage cheese, if not, it would at one point release the oil and that would be an absolute disaster. she knew precisely when this might happen… thanks to that formidable “andaj” of hers.
sweets apart, she made at least four different kinds of pickles and chutneys every year, in large jars they sat, tempting you shamelessly. they would have loved to have been flaunted on facebook, insta, twitter, everywhere, i’m sure.
she also made many kinds of “bori”, sun dried little nuggets made of lentils that we add to many gravies and vegetable dishes, even eat on its own, fried. again, there would be large batches of bori, made with great care, that would last the whole year. i bet they’d look gorgeous on fb, lying in the sun on their beds of fine muslin.
of course, my grandmother cooked every day too. how did she manage all this without facebook? she didn’t even need too much praise from us. just once in a way, the social media of her time would buzz with the tale of how once when she had asked her husband to taste the shingaras she’d made for some occasion, he’d had fifty-seven of them.
she didn’t run short of shingara that day, wonder how many she made then (or maybe there was a wee bit of exaggeration somewhere, but even then).
while chewing paan slowly and rocking in a meditative sort of way, one of my father’s several aunts, one widowed very young and a senior member of that social media network, would declare, “our ….’s wife, though she may be quite muddle-headed otherwise, is really a good cook… yes, her lavanga latika no one can beat, better than even ‘such and such’ fabulous sweet shop’s.”
my grandmother, most likely busy chopping vegetables or helping with some work in the house, would smile ever so slightly. that was all she seemed to need to stay motivated, happily making wonderful and not at all easy to make things.
some day i’ll write about the fabulous stuff my other grandmother and my mother and also my mother in law made. my mother used to often say, food must look right, only then is it really going to taste the way it should. it was really the attitude they brought to the kitchen, to that food they cooked, that has me grinning. would my grandmother want to facebook? spend her afternoons posting shots of her pantua and shingara instead of reading her favourite mahabharat?
picture credit google/uploader