About ten years ago the idea of writing a little cook book had its birth. We were in Almora that summer. Almora is a station far up in the Himalayas, a clean little bazaar nestles at the foot of enclosing mountains. Dotting the deodar-covered slopes of these mountains are the picturesque bungalows of the European residents, while towering above and over all are the glistening peaks of the eternal snows.
We love to think of this particular summer, for Lilavate Singh was with us. The thought of her always brings help and inspiration.
One day she prepared for the crowd of us a tiffin of delicious Hindustani food. That afternoon while we were sitting under the shade and fragrance of the deodar trees, we praised the tiffin. Before we knew it we were planning a cook book. It was to be a joint affair of Hindustani and English dishes, and Miss Singh was to be responsible for the Hindustani part of it. Our enthusiasm grew. For three or four days we talked of nothing else. We experimented, we planned; we dreamed, we wrote. But alas! other things soon thrust themselves upon us, and our unfinished cook book was pigeon-holed for years and years.
And it is not now what it would have been if finished then.
Many of the recipes, however, are those that Miss Singh gave us then. Some of them she might not recognize, for they have become quite Americanized, but they are hers nevertheless, and I hope that you will not only try them and enjoy them, but that they will help you to solve some of the problems of living and giving which are confronting us all these days.
I have told this story before, but it fits in well here. A lady in India once had an ayah, who from morning until night sang the same sad song as she would wheel the baby in its little go-cart up and down the mandal or driveway; as she would energetically jump it up and down; as she would lazily pat it to sleep, always and ever she could be heard chanting plaintively, "Ky a ke waste, Ky a ke waste, pet ke waste, pet ke waste."
The lady's curiosity was aroused. The words were simple enough, but they had no sense: "For why? For why? For why? For stomach! For stomach! For stomach!" wailed the ayah.
Desiring to know what was for why, and what was for stomach one day, the lady called the ayah to her and sought the interpretation thereof.
"This is the meaning, Oh mem sahiba," said the ayah: "Why do we live? What is the meaning of our existence? To fill our stomachs, to fill our stomachs."
You may smile at this and feel sorry for the poor benighted Hindu, who has such a low ideal of the meaning of life, but after all we cannot ignore the fact that we must eat, and that much as we dislike to acknowledge it, we are compelled to think a great deal about filling our stomachs. This is especially true these days, when prices have soared and soared and taken along with them, far out of the reach of many of us, certain articles of food which we heretofore have always felt were quite necessary to us.
The missionary on furlough is naturally regarded as a bureau of information regarding the land where he has lived and worked. Many are the questions asked. These questions are inclusive of life and experience in general, but in particular they are regarding the food. "What do you eat there? Do you get meat there? What kind of vegetables grow there? What about the fruit of India? Why don't missionaries do their own cooking? Do the cooks there cook well? Aren't you always glad to get back to the food in America?" These and similar questions are sure to be asked the missionary and others who have lived in foreign countries.
Feeling sure that everybody wants to know these very things about India, it might be well just here to answer some of these questions.
In regard to the meat in India: The Hindus are vegetarians, but the Mohammedans are great meat eaters. So are the English. Meat can be had almost every place. The kind of meat differs much in locality. Chickens can be obtained anywhere. The Indian cock is small of head and long of leg, shrill of voice and bold in spirit. The Indian hen is shy and wild, but gives plenty of small, delicately-flavored eggs. On the whole, aside from a few idiosyncrasies, the Indian fowl is very satisfactory.
In large cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Lucknow, Madras, etc., where there is a large English population, any kind of meat may be obtained. In other places only goat meat can be obtained. This is especially true in many hill stations. Even in small places, if there happens to be a large Mohammedan population, good beef and mutton can be obtained in the cold weather, and in many larger places where there are few Mohammedans no meat of any kind is to be found excepting chicken, and one usually has to raise them himself.
Meat is cheap in India. Indeed, in some places beef can be bought for two cents a pound. However, it is not so good as is the beef in America. In the hot weather, as it has to be eaten almost as soon as it is killed, it is tough and tasteless.
Vegetables differ, too, according to the locality. If Mrs. A, returned missionary from India, pathetically states that year in and year out she never gets _any_ home vegetables, and thereby causes everybody to pity her, and if Mrs. B, returned missionary from India, boasts that she gets plenty of home vegetables, even better than she could get in America, and thereby causes everybody to envy her, don't think that either Mrs. A or Mrs. B have fibbed. Mrs. B lives up north and Mrs. A lives south, and both speak truthfully.
The same is true in regard to fruits. Certain fruits, such as the citrus fruits, the unexcelled mango, bananas, etc., are found all over India; but in certain sections there are not only these, but all the home fruits. This section is to the north and northwest. Pears, apples, peaches, plums--in fact, any fruit that can be grown any place in the world can be grown successfully in this favored section of India.
"Why don't missionary ladies do their own cooking?"
The idea seems to be abroad that the reason that missionaries in India do not do more manual labor is because they have a certain dignity that they must maintain; that they would lose caste and influence should they do menial work of any kind. This is quite a mistaken idea. One of the things that a missionary stands for is serving, serving by hands and feet as well as by brain and spirit. The simple reason is that missionaries are employed by the missionary society to do other things. It isn't a question of giving eight hours a day to mission work, but it's a question of giving all the time.
But suppose she hadn't her hands so full of mission work, even then she could not do her own cooking.
Perhaps she might do some of it if she had an up-to-date little kitchen, with linoleum on the floor, if there were a sink and a gas range, and all sorts of lovely pots and pans, but alas! in India there is not even a kitchen. It is a cook-house, and is quite detached from the rest of the house. If she cooked there, the missionary lady would have to keep running back and forth in the hot sun or in the pouring rain of the monsoon. There is no linoleum--only a damp, uneven stone floor, and there is no sink--all the work requiring water is done on the floor by a drain-pipe, and sometimes if the screen gets broken over the mouth of the drain-pipe, toads come hopping in, and sometimes even cobras come squirming through. The Indian cook-house is always dark and smoky. There is no little gas range; just a primitive cooking place made of bricks plastered together. This contains a number of holes in which are inserted grates. Charcoal fires are burning in these little grates. Charcoal has to be fanned and fanned with a black and grimy fan to get it into the glowing stage. Of course a clean fan would do as well, but one never sees a clean fan in an Indian cook-house.
However, do not suppose for a minute that the missionary lady has no responsibility regarding the cooking. She has. She cooks with her nerves and brains. She has to train up the cook in the way he should go, and after he has gotten into the way, she has to walk along by his side, for she must be brains for him for ever and ever. She has to see that he walks in paths of truth and uprightness. She has to keep everything under lock and key, and is apt to lose her keys when she is in the biggest hurry. She is also apt to lose her temper, and feels worse over this than she does when she loses her keys. She has to argue over prices; to fuss over the quality of charcoal consumed. She has to keep her poise when, after ordering something especially nice for dinner, the cook proudly passes around something quite different and not at all nice. She dare not even visit her own cook-house without coughing and making a noise, for fear that she will have a case of discipline on hands that may leave her without a cook. Verily, she is not deceived by the fact that when she enters the cook-house the cook and half a dozen other men who have been playing cards and smoking are respectively standing around like little tin soldiers. She _sees_ the hooka or big water pipe standing behind the door, and she _knows_ that the bearer has a deck of cards up his sleeves. But even knowing this, all she can do is to meekly transact her business with the cook and go out without saying a word.
However, in spite of all this, the Indian cook is a great comfort. He grows on one. It is surprising how equal he is to emergencies and what really fine things he can make with very few conveniences and often a very stinted allowance of material. There are very few of them who do not take pride in their cooking, and they are never happier than when there are guests in the home and they are having a chance to show off. Nor are they uncleanly, as is often supposed, but they keep their kitchen in such mild disorder that things really appear much worse than they really are.
And now for the last question. Often and often we are asked, "Aren't you glad to get back to the food in America?" My answer is, "Rather," and it is to be spoken with a rising inflection.
We love the American people, and we enjoy the American food, but we think that when it comes to making nice tasty somethings out of almost nothing, America is not in it at all. Nearly every nation in the world can do better.
I hope these recipes will help.