# Category: Biography & Autobiography; Cooking - India; Cooking - History
# Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
# Price: $25.00
# Publishers: Knopf
When Madhur Jaffrey (famed cookbook author and actress ) was born in her grandmother's house in Delhi, her grandmother welcomed her into the world by writing "Om" (a Hindu sacred word) on her tongue after dipping her finger in honey, which the baby Madhur promptly licked clean,it was perhaps that little gesture which prompted her father to name her "madhur" which means, "sweet as honey" . . When you look at Madhur's achievements today in the cooking world, the same seemed highly prophetic -as she puts it, "I was left with honey on my palate and in my deepest soul".
"Climbing the Mango Trees" is the utterly delightful and charming story of Madhur's childhood in India. Madhur, her parents and her five siblings all lived in her grandfather's house in Delhi in a joint family amidst dozens of cousins (many times it was almost 40 of them sitting down to an everyday family meal). Madhur's father wasn't exactly happy to live under the domineering eye of his father, but tradition demanded that he did and all of them living together made for some very interesting family dynamics as those of us who have lived in joint families before will attest to.
Although the author and I are separated by at least a generation, I found so many things in her childhood that could have been taken from my own - the convent education; the tiffin box lunches; climbing the guava trees in our compound rushing the fruit to the kitchen where my mother would prepare plates of "Guava chaat" (diced ripe guavas seasoned with salt,pepper,ground roasted cummin seeds, chilli powder, lime juice and a little jaggery),and who could forget the toffeeman? The toffeeman or toffeewallah(a street vendor hawking sweets in an aluminium trunk which he would lug from house to house) was a permenant fixture of Madhur's childhood and mine, when he would visit our home my favorite thing to eat from among his appetizing wares was the candy pink coconut ice cut into chunky diamond squares - mmmmm, delicious; my mother, like hers, also believed in the power of almonds to nourish the brain and I had to eat almond sweets before every school exam! The similarities go on and on, but I will stop here to let you, the reader, discover for yourself these delicious childhood memories that Madhur Jaffrey so evocatively captures in this enchanting memoir.
(pic courtesy: rediff.com)What I did not have in common with the author was living through the Partition of India (it was way before my time). In her book she explains how Delhi, her city, changed as her Muslim school friends left for Pakistan taking with them their fabulous kheema dishes (spiced ground meat) and making place for Punjabi refugees from Pakistan who arrived in Delhi with their tandoors (clay ovens) in which they baked a variety of bread and roasted succulent meat. As a result Delhi was the first city in India to boast of a tandoori restaurant- the famous "Moti Mahal" - a huge claim to fame when one considers how popular tandoori food is all over India, and indeed, all over the world.
Jaffrey's memoir which is infused with delicious associations with food, spiced with family gossip, peppered with family recipes (32 of them), seasoned with thoughtful and humorous observations and garnished with beautiful black and white pictures from the family album, makes you want to devour this book in a single sitting, but instead of gulping it down, try to savor it page by page, and you'll discover how sweet it is to see the past re-created through food.