My grandmother was an amazing cook who could turn her hand to almost anything, provided it fell under the broad traditional cooking umbrella that she felt inherently comfortable and familiar with. She possessed the unique ability to combine flavours with ease, and her experiments were usually successes, which is saying a lot for the woman who came up with ‘spaghetti korma’ and ‘biriyani casserole’. (A korma is a coconut-based gravy to which you add vegetables, meat, or paneer, but certainly not spaghetti, and a biriyani is a fragrant rice dish which is a perfect combination of spices, meats or vegetables, and basmati rice, but not in casserole form, both of which I will leave to your imagination.) However, and to her unending regret, she was a complete novice when it came to baking and ‘western dishes’; she never let this get in the way of fresh experiments.
I was never a fussy eater as a child, and it fell to my lot to try her various experiments. There were cakes as heavy as saucepan lids that could have taken the place of frisbees any day; then there were the cakes that were so soft as to collapse into crumbling yellow mounds as soon as they were unmoulded, like a diva who has just been informed that she had just given her last performance. There were biscuits that both looked and felt like hockey pucks that no sane person would ever bite into, although I discovered that if you dunked the hockey puck into a glass of warm milk (too disgusting to drink, but admirable as a means of softening stubborn discs that just had to be eaten no matter what) they were not only biteable but also chewable. I chewed my way through all of her baking failures, and rejected nothing. There were cakes that tasted of baking powder; dry biscuits with dreadful bits of burned raisins and sharp shards of nuts that suddenly appeared in one’s mouth, leading to dreadful coughing fits; puddings that stubbornly refused to leave the moulds they were steamed in, leading to the necessity of spooning them out into one’s mouth straight from the moulds, and assorted other baking failures. To me, they were all glorious. Besides, I had discovered that nobody else wanted them, which only meant that there was more for me.
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