Open borders…

File:Spices1.jpg

Photo: Bertrand Devouard GFDL CCASA3

The virus that has been bugging me for the past week or two, manifesting itself under various  guises in order the hide from effective treatment, finally decided a couple of days ago that it would try pretending to be a cold. I am still not convinced that this is not just another feint and it will find some new avenue to explore, but a cold I can handle. There is an old saying, ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’. I decided to feed it. We have a workshop in a little over a week’s time. If necessary, I would feed it out of existence.

Thus, at six thirty in the morning, I was already in the kitchen, working on the premise that if I shoved some stuff in the pot early enough in the day, then whatever time I managed to get home from work there would be a hot meal waiting and no excuses about ‘can’t be bothered’ or ‘too tired to cook’.

I made something that vaguely resembles chilli, redolent with onions and garlic, herbs and spices and enough vegetables to feed a small army. The idea was that if I made enough, it would last me two or three days, the flavours developing over time, making each meal better than the last. By the time I left for work, I was already hungry as the smell wafted through the flat.

Mexican chilli…Indian naan… English strawberries and French Chantilly cream…. that would do nicely.

As I was only making it for myself, I was untroubled by the usual nail-biting over whether I should put more or fewer chillis in there and which other spices I could add to liven it up. Traditional Mexican spices blend well with the Indian ones I invariably add. I have long since learned that levels of spiciness are entirely subjective. I do not appreciate losing the roof of my mouth to chilli, and I like to be able to distinguish the various flavours of the herbs and spices. I also learned long ago that my idea of ‘it really is quite mild’ will send others dashing for the nearest fire bucket.

My education is to blame; it was a good one. I worked for an Anglo-Indian woman who was a mean cook and she introduced me to the various regional dishes made entirely from scratch and taught me to cook them. It was a way of cooking, rather than a set of recipes. The spices were the palette and the pan the canvas. I loved it.

Coming from a provincial, northern city in the decades post-rationing, food had hierto been basic and simple. Up to that point, my only acquaintance with curry was the bland, anglicised version just becoming available in the shops. It was an eye-opener in more ways than one… especially the little green thing beside every plate that her family nibbled delicately as they ate. My first encounter with fresh, raw chilli peppers was an eye-watering experience I am unlikely to forget.

“I’m not eating that foreign muck,” was the reaction at home when I cooked.

Next came a period of utter delight, teaching English to Moslem women in purdah. They welcomed me into their homes, showed me the incredibly beautiful things they made for  their children with silks and embroidery… and then fed me wonderful things. Every time.

The next stage of my education came in Paris at the home of a French-Algerian friend and her family. Unadulterated, homemade harissa is not a thing to be taken lightly… or indeed at all if you value the presence of your tastebuds. I learned that the  hard way… learned how to eat it… and learned to cook Algerian dishes with a hint of Normandy.

The cosmopolitan capital of France taught me a lot about cooking. It was there that Monsieur Steve, a doyen of the Place du Tertre, taught me about chilli. The glass of cold milk should have warned me, but I was young then…

The main thing I learned, though, was that ‘traditional recipes’ don’t normally have one; regional variations can make a basic concept completely different from village to village, based upon what ingredients were cheap and in plentiful supply in the days before refrigeration. Many spices were added to dishes, especially meat, as an anti-microbial preservative as well as for their colour and flavour, especially in the cuisine of hotter climates.

Somewhere, hidden amongst the papers till to be unpacked, there is a huge, scruffy folder filled with handwritten notes on how to cook your way round the world, scribbled on whatever was to hand as I watched and learned. Everyone seemed to have their favourite way of making something that, according to the recipe books, should have been the same. And every good cook who taught me seemed to have understood that the ingredients are not part of a recipe to be slavishly followed, but the raw materials of a creative process as individual as any art.

Their art, like their ingredients, is rooted in the earth of their homeland. Dishes are dictated by the local climate, the local produce, the nature of the land and the seasons, even the lifestyle of its people, with each region having its own unique flavour. It is this diversity that makes cooking…and eating… such a multifacted delight. It occurred to me somewhere along the way that people too are rooted in the land and climate of their home. Our customs and character, dress, dishes and everything that makes humanity the multicoloured jewel that it is, vary from village to village, country to country, and reflect the soil and sky of the land of our forefathers.

For me home is Yorkshire pudding and curd tarts, but I wouldn’t want to eat them every day. Not only would it get boring, it would be unhealthy… we need variety in any diet for it to give us the nutrients we need. Including the human one. Too often we are like the caricature of the Englishman on holiday, afraid to try the local food because we do not recognise it…and thus miss out on so much.We live in a time when travel is easier than ever before, when people of all nations intermingle daily on every street and could share the rich diversity of our cultures, yet many are still afraid of crossing self-imposed borders to widen experience…and understanding. Maybe we just need to widen our horizons enough to see that the only real boundaries are the ones we make for ourselves.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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39 Responses to Open borders…

  1. barbtaub says:

    I think the “huge, scruffy folder filled with handwritten notes on how to cook your way round the world” needs to see the light of day. How about the Sue Cooks Her Way Around the World cookbook? I’d buy that.

    Oh, and I hope the chili does its work on your ‘cold’!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. davidprosser says:

    Let’s hope the ‘cold’ finally succumbs to the spices in your meal and you start feeling so much better.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    Like

  3. I was thinking about Yorkshire pudding last night. My mother made excellent puddings, and was horrified that my dad and I liked it with currants in. My dad’s side of the family put blackberries in too, but my mother never brought herself to do that. I confess to never having made it in my life despite being born and brought up in Yorkshire. I liked curd tart too.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      My stepfather like jam with his….Your Dad wasn’t a southerner too by any chance? 😉 I will let the French off for their sweet version, clafoutis, as it isn’t a pure Yorkshire pud.I miss curd tarts…

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      • Nope. Althpugh there were rumours that … he had Lancastrian ancestry mised in there. *shudders*

        I have heard of the jam one though.

        My mum would often bake two (huge) tins, one plain and one with currants. In retrospect it’s weird having something sweet like currants in a savoury dish with meaty gravy. A part of my past. Nice when it happened, not something I’d want now.

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        • Sue Vincent says:

          Lancastrian? My lips are sealed on that one… 😉
          Children seem to accept far more than adults where experimental food is concerned… but I kind of like fruit in savoury dishes anyway. Just not in my Yorkshires 😉

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          • It worked back then for me. ‘What’s for lunch mum?’ ‘Yorkshire pudding’ and whatever followed. ‘With currants in?’ said little roughseas hopefully. She never groaned. Not once! I’m sure she wanted to. I’m not sure I’d like it these days though. From Yks to Spain, we have a local salad, ensalada de la Axarquía, which uses local ingredients of orange, avocado and radish. An odd but excellent combination. Also lettuce, and cucumber, tomato if desired. Fruit works well in curry/Thai as well.
            Did you have big tins of YP or those little ones?

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            • Sue Vincent says:

              My Dad used to work nights, so it was often something like chocolate pudding and custard for breakfast when he came home wanting his dinner 🙂
              I make a lot of salads with fruit, it works nicely…especially mango 🙂
              We had the big deep tins that make the thick based puds as well as the little ‘puffballs’… either would do me nicely 🙂

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  4. Sue, if we never try anything new how can we know we don’t like it? You’re such a talented scribe how could your book not be successful? I hope your cure works and you treat us to more tantalising titbits in the years to come. I like my mouth with a roof as well, by the way, but Indian and Asian cooking always tastes good when cooked with just enough spices to flavour the dish without adding so much heat you can’t taste anything.

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  5. Ritu says:

    I love this Sue!
    This is why if someone asks me for a recipe for homemade curry..I find it hard. It’s all about ‘andazaa’ – estimating. Feeling your way through a recipe. Adding what you feel. It needs no prescriptive recipe!
    It is indeed fun to be internationally creative in the kitchen!
    I sure couldn’t ‘curry’ every day…I love roast dinners too much! 😊

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  6. Mary Smith says:

    Great post – mouth watering! I hope feeding your cold works and you feel better soon.

    Like

  7. merrildsmith says:

    Spicy soups and stews are perfect for when you have a cold–or any other time!
    And the best meals are made with a bit of this and that–and borrowing from many cultures and traditions.
    Hope you’re feeling better!

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  8. Hope you feel better soon. My go to is Fresh ginger & Cinnamon bark tea

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  9. lovessiamese says:

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    Sue Vincent is a rare connosuer of food and culture. This blog so neatly ties together the essence of humanity with all of its flavors of life and habitat. This is a joy to read. Re-blogged from https://scvincent.com

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’d be delighted to eat your foreign muck any time. And I really hope you start to finally feel better. This has been a real siege for you.

    Like

  11. Mick Canning says:

    Sounds a pretty good cuisine, Sue. I read it as a cosmopolitan vegetarian one, exactly what I eat!

    Like

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