The most delicious stories begin in grandma’s kitchen
Durga puja is without doubt the biggest festival for us Bengalis. However, some of the fondest memories of my childhood days in Kolkata actually centre around the Kojagiri Laxmi Puja instead, which happens a week after the end of the Durga Puja.
Publication: The Times of India (Times Life) Published date: 9th December 2018
Unlike Durga Puja which is celebrated at a community level and is largely an out of home experience, the Laxmi Puja happens both at the pandal (shamiana) at which the Durga Puja had happened as well as in people’s homes. It is usually conducted by the lady of the house. In our family, we would meet at my grandparents’ home for Laxmi Puja and where my didu would take charge of the proceedings. Didu is an abbreviation for didima or maternal grandmother in Bengali.
Didu would do the puja herself, light incense sticks, place flowers from her garden in front of the pictures of the Gods that she prayed to everyday, including that of the Goddess Laxmi, and then read out the Chandi Path. Us kids would look on enthralled, the room smelling of comfort and love just as grandmas do all over the world.
The rituals would end and we would pay our respects to the Goddess and say a prayer too. Then the fun part of the day would begin. In other words, ‘prasad’ time. Dadu, my late grandfather, who would sit at the veranda reading the newspapers while the puja was on, would walk in on cue. My grandmother would wryly say, “he calls himself a nastik (atheist) and says that educated people don’t believe in all this, but come prasad (food offered to the Gods) time and you will see him walk in.” She would say this every year and we would all laugh at their banter.
Dadu was not alone in this though. The Prasad was the high point of the day for me too!
Didu would fast all day till the puja happened. ‘Fast’ as in really fast. She would just sip water till the puja. That did not stop her from launching into her preparations though. She would take a bath and then head to the kitchen to make narkoler nadus (hand rolled laddoos made with desiccated coconut and jaggery or sugar), coconut and milk based shandesh set in in little boxes, kalo jeere or kalonji bejewelled nimki and then khichuri (Bengali for khichdi). She would not trust my mother or my aunts with any of this. Everything had to be perfect for the Goddess.
My grandmother is ninety now and most of us have moved out of Kolkata. She still calls over the remaining members of the family in Kolkata over for Lakshmi Puja. The vagaries of age limit her in the kitchen today, but come Lakshmi puja and you will find her in the kitchen, supervising the cook and rolling nadus and ensuring that the khichuri is seasoned right.
I once called her up and asked her for her recipe for the khichudi. I would like to be believe that the khichudi that I make today would make her proud. I never learnt how to make narus or nimkis though and I think I should give it a try at least.
The three-month long pan India festival season just got over. I did see a number of social media posts from people who had successfully recreate festival food favourites that were their family heirlooms, during this season. Often by asking their grandmothers, mothers and aunts for recipes.
That brings me to the theme of this week. Please go to www.timeskitchentales.com and share your family festival food story with us there. Tell us about a dish that you made this year during the festive season which is based on a family heirloom recipe. Please describe the dish to us. A recipe would be great and do upload a picture of the dish too. Please tell us about who in your family taught you how to make the dish. Do tell us about the festival too and the significance of it in your community. Do remember, the more interesting the story, the more excited and hungry it makes us.
Till next week.
Happy eating and writing,
Image credit – Times Kitchen Tales