This is our family Indian cookbook. It features traditional recipes, Anglo-Indian dishes from the days of the Raj, and some modern and light versions of old favourites.
You might ask what would an Australian know about Indian food, and why would he think anyone would be remotely interested in reading this?
You may find the answer interesting. I come from a Colonial British family. They lived in India for several generations until Independence in 1947. My part of the family returned to England, and eventually migrated to Australia. Other parts of the family stayed, and others migrated to places all around the world. This book is based upon my grandmother’s cooking notes, derived from a lifetime in what she called “the colonies”.
Many of the dishes will be quite different to what you have experienced in Indian restaurants. Firstly, it is because they are more traditional home-cooked recipes, and secondly, they come from a much wider cuisine tradition than most restaurants offer. Other than a handful of regional specialists, most Indian restaurants just offer dishes from the north of India because they comply with the norms of our palates and expectations. This book casts a much wider net.
Having said that, realise that whilst the recipes in this book are regionally diverse, they can’t claim to be very culturally diverse. Most of these dishes were prepared by servants to serve to their well-to-do colonial masters, mistresses, guests and children, which hardly reflects the diversity of the Indian food traditions. Many of the dishes are Anglo-Indian, and reflect an Indian take on things that the English would find acceptable. Or, they reflect an English take on traditional Indian fare.
Whatever. Enjoy reading, enjoy the cooking, and more importantly, enjoy the food. These are the dishes that my family have been enjoying for over two hundred years.
the genesis of the cookbook
My grandmother was what we would now call a foodie. She was also, I am told, a caricature of a memsahib. She managed her six children and her servants with a “firm but fair” – her words – attitude, and would not tolerate nonsense or anything she deemed remotely slipshod. She spent much time in the kitchen with the cooks, observing, and making notes. And, shall we say, offering some guidance. Those notes, of course, became her cookbook, and are the source of most of the recipes here.
The main purpose of the notes was to stop any deviation from what she deemed “just right”. They were also used to instruct the next cook. There seemed to be a progression of cooks according to her notes. Each successive cook was bludgeoned with the legacy of his predecessor, but also tapped for his particular expertise.
Her views on the cooks are an interesting insight to the times. She says, “this new cook the Company have found for us is disgraceful. His wife, however, who he treats like a slave, and has her doing the most menial kitchen duties, has an exquisite touch. She prepares delightful dishes for the children, whilst he massacres the most basic of meals. I must find a way to tell him that we want her to cook for us, not him. If he cooks for the children I am sure they will not complain about the difference. There is no doubt he will see this as an insult. If I do not address this correctly we will once again be searching for another cook.”
The notes were more formally organised when she returned to England. Having lived almost all of her life – she was in fact born in Basra – in an affluent household in India, largely untouched by the Second World War, you can only imagine her shock at post-war Britain.
Appalled by the food, both in quality and preparation, and missing the tastes and flavours she had grown up with, she decided to use her notebooks and cook the food that she and the family were most comfortable with. This, from a woman who had never so much as made herself a cup of tea before.
By 1960 the family had evolved. My father’s three older brothers had become staid Englishmen. Their idea of an Indian feast is to go the local curry house and have a prawn cocktail and a boneless chicken curry. My father’s younger brother had migrated to South Africa, and was eating boerewas. His sister, the youngest, had married an American and moved to California. She was full-tilt at becoming a prototypical American. I was a toddler, and we were just about to migrate to Australia.
My grandmother gave us her cookbooks and notes to take with us to the new country. My father was really the only one left who enjoyed the Indian food of their background.
Those cookbooks and notebooks are mine now, and are the basis of most of the content here.
Clearly the largest influence for this book is my grandmother and the family heritage.
But, over the years I have learned much from others, particularly from Indian friends, and the influences they see. The button below will take you to a page that discusses some of the modern influences that have moderated or improved the recipes you see here.