Savitha, my friend, gave me a story. She is the great-granddaughter of this incredible woman. Daughter’s daughter’s daughter … its a rich heritage to have running through your veins. I empathise here … I have a similar lineage. It makes me – humble. Savitha and I – we share a lot – family, a love of nature, a love for photography, a love of language … and now we discover this … a strong matriarchal bloodline! Such are the fine threads and knots that create this rich tapestry called friendship.
Dharmambal Amma. A traditional name, a traditional lady. Widowed early and kept to the rules imposed by society on Hindu widows – saffron-beige saree, no blouse, no ornamentation of any kind … life was difficult for widows four generations ago. Eight children. Seven dead. The eighth born after she was widowed. She outlived this one too. And a son in law and four grandchildren. She lived to be a 100.
Such times produced grit in a woman. They were strong in every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally and morally. There were no false or half baked notions of right and wrong. black and white. They knew that greys existed. They saw life for what it was and they knew what they had to do to deal with it. And they did it. They knew that home and hearth were what made the world a better or worse place.
And they were phenomenal cooks. There was no nonsense about their ingredients or methods or equipment. There was no sophistication and nothing exotic. The food we eat today at home – delicious, nutritious and comforting – the food we NEED to keep us happy – these traditional recipes have been handed down by generations of such women.
Savitha says her great-grandmother was “an amazing woman who taught me a lot, not just the kootu”. But here she shares with us this recipe. We have converted “hand and eye” measures to more specific terms. But as any who has ever cooked will agree with me – the only way to get that perfect flavour is to add a pinch here and a drop there!