In days of yore, I recall being in the kitchen and undergoing the requisites necessary to becoming a homemaker. I spent hours in the kitchen helping my mom chop vegetables, stir, cut and dice one thing or the other. In short, I had to do everything she thought was necessary to put the required feast on the dinner table .
In the course of learning, I endured stinging hands from chopping up the ‘tatase’ (bell-shaped peppers) that usually went into some of the various stews and. This stinging was a condition that could not be stopped.
The itching hands from cutting yam were another thing, this one incidental to my eating my all time favourite, pounded yam! Whenever my mother had to take a break from pounding the yam I had to put in my minute quota. In this case, I can’t beat my chest and say that I actually ever pounded the entire amount that the family devoured; as a result of my slight frame and stick-like-arms I could not lift the pestle for long, and so all I could do was ensure that the mortar stayed in place.
Everyone has shed tears from slicing into the luscious body of the onion bulb. If you entered the kitchen at the instance I had to chop up a mound, you would honestly have thought that I had been caned severely because of the tears. Weeping from cutting onions was a constant. Thank God that the secret of keeping them inside the fridge and water to lessen the tears is something that I’ve discovered and now put to good!
Until now, I still don’t know how my mum made the perfect pot of ewedu (Corchorus Olitorius) using the classic ijabe (small cooking broom) and kaun (potash). Mine never turned out like hers, huge unsightly leaves was my default setting; the required draw was also sadly absent and after a while I gave up entirely. I know some friends that use the blender to make theirs but that looks like a disservice to my mother’s ‘training’.
Eating moin moin is also something that I love, although the process of getting to that point was a long drawn out one! The aspect of peeling the beans was one that I dreaded but sadly could not be shelved. Soaking the beans was mandatory, preferably overnight; then there was the unpleasant rubbing them against each other until they come off. Mother later taught me the method of using the pestle and mortar to achieve the same outcome; infinitely faster and worthwhile.
Eba with okra soup, ewedu or even efo riro was another favourite in our household. The trick was to buy just the ‘right’ garri (processed cassava). After a while we joined the hordes of people that use only ‘Igbo’ garri (the yellow variety) to make eba and eba alone; as everybody can attest to, ijebu garri takes the biscuit for soaking.
The twist to this was to be able to discern which grains could be thrown directly into the recently boiled water without evolving into a lumpy mess. If you had the type that had to wait for the water to cool some before being submerged and you knew it, the bolus???? of processed cassava would go down very smoothly. If not the lumps were glaringly visible in the finished product.
A close brother to ensuring edible eba was getting the hang of making amala (processed yam flour). This process is an art that is priceless and which I earned through uncooked, lumpy and inedible trials. The one unfortunate person that persevered during these years of kitchen internship was my dad.
He endured some messes. Anyone he couldn’t was irredeemable.
One of the things that I could never do and happily did not was to end the life of a hapless domestic fowl. I was encouraged to hold it whilst the neck was stretched out while the sharp knife (sometimes I participated in sharpening it) made an end of it. Ironic really, because I preferred this form of flesh to any other.
Then the thing that still amazes me and which I’m not sure I will ever, ever get the hang of is my mum taking really hot pots off the cooker! I still don’t get it! The few instances I tried, my fingers got burned! How did she do it? I don’t know. Maybe, she’s burned off all the nerve endings on her fingers and so no signals go to the brain to register distress.
With the advent of pre-processed condiments right from the point of purchase (e.g. ugwu leaves can now be chopped by the enterprising seller, the chicken, duck or guinea-fowl can also be killed, plucked and diced up for a small fee), the entire cooking jaunt is somewhat faster now. Dare I say it also makes it easier too.
Despite all my misadventures in the kitchen I can truly say that those experiences are not something that I take lightly. I also modestly boast that the taste of my cooking is in the eating… Not that you should try it.