Book Review :Madhur Jaffrey: Climbing Mango Trees

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (Vintage)

I read through cookbooks the way some people read magazines. The first thing i look for in a cookbook, is signs of personality, some idea of where the person comes from - that is generally a very good indicator of which recipes are the strongest. Some cookbook authors come across as being good eaters who ate far and wide enough to put out their recipes collected from good home cooks, yet others like Rose Levy Beranbaum come across as being entirely scientific in their fascination for food - each of her recipes is meticulously tested and rigorous in its precision. Madhur Jaffrey has been around forever, or so it seems to me , and is somewhat of a renaissance woman - she has acted, written a lot of cook books, hosted television cooking shows, opened restaurants.

I have read and cooked from many of her cookbooks- from her earliest, an Invitation to Indian cooking to Madhur Jaffreys World vegetarian. I was leafing through Curries and Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian spice trail(one of her best IMHO) when her description of her family in Delhi leapt out at me, something about her familys caste - the Kayasthas - being  called Sharabi Kababi Hindus. How fascinating i thought , we generally like to think of religion and caste as these immutable, fixed creations - but with one sentence Madhur Jaffrey pointed out , very humorously , that the forces of religion and caste are constantly evolving.

That is the core of  Madhur Jaffreys memoir - it is not really a cooks memoir. It is a fascinating lesson in history - what it meant to be a child growing up in the the 40's in North India in a well to do family. The book dishes out copious descriptions of meals, the way they were cooked(with rasoiyyas and maharajs) and consumed. But the tumultuous period in which she grew up ends up with the star billing of the book.

 The book reads very much like your grandmothers favorite reminisces - "You know when we were little, your great grandfather had 20 cooks and he knew the vice roy of yada yada .....". At the same time she has a light touch with heavy topics - caste divisions, the emulation of British customs by indians and the reconciliation with Indian traditions etc.

I would highly recommend this book if you are a history buff.


KitchenKarma said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog while browsing through Indian food blogs. Lovely review. I have been toying for sometime whether to but this book or not. Now I know I want this one!