Old world aroma from Ranchi’s green hills (With Images) (IANS Book Review)

July 14th, 2011 - 12:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Book: “Secrets From My Kitchen: Tikratoli”; Author: Nilika Lall; Publisher: Image India; Pages: 128; Price: Rs.650

Cocooned in the Chhotanagpur plateau among the flowering jacarandas and lush canopies of pines near Ranchi in Jharkhand is a gabled colonial cottage with a painted roof. The last rays of the sun wash the quaint cottage with a mute golden glow like a landscape canvas.

It is the elegant home of Nilika Lall, the erstwhile princess of Kapurthala who has married into Tikratoli, a farming estate. The British style colonial farm is also one of the most delightful home stays and niche eateries in the region with a kitchen to die for.

Lall’s pantry is a vault of culinary treasures which owes its vastness and refinement to the family of former Raja Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala who was known in his fraternity for the munificence of table and epicurean visions that graced it.

Lall, his perceptive little granddaughter, took to the art of cooking and over the years honed the former raja’s kitchen secrets into a fine gastronomic lineage combining the traditional ‘thali’ (platter) with continental delicacies like crumbed lamb chops, lemon meringue pie and molded vegetable salad with ham cornets.

Lall, who came to Tikratoli 43 years ago after her first husband passed away of war wounds, has been managing the elegant farming estate for the last three decades. She runs an apiary and dairy, grows exotic fruits, flowers and lemon grass. She supplies honey and diary produce to the local markets.

The latest addition to her list of products is rose water extracted from her Damascene roses.

In her autobiography, “Secrets from My Kitchen”, Lall bares her culinary soul, sharing family recipes from her kitchen for foodies with a taste for the culinary class. Each recipe is served with a story - anecdotes of its creation, popularity across the tables of the discerning and her life.

“The book is a dream come true,” Lall told IANS.

“Tikratoli is where I came 43 years ago with three children after Surinder (her first husband) passed away from war wounds,” she writes in her memoirs.

Soon after, Lall fell in love with Shaildharee Lall, better known as Shoy, a name given to him by his English grandmother.

“Ours was a love through letters,” she recalls. She married Shoy in 1967.

Shoy, who was struck with consumption in 1954 and lost a lung and a half in Switzerland, found a home in the balmy slopes of Chhotanagpur.

“Shoy’s father bought him a canvas (land) and he painted the dream of his life on it -Tikratoli. It took 10 years to complete. Being short of funds, he employed local artisans who had to be taught every bit of masonry as he desired plus making and baking bricks which took months to dry,” Lall writes in her book.

Tikratoli - when it emerged - carried a touch of Bavaria, a Swiss chalet, and memories of a love and life that Shoy left behind in Switzerland. Shoy passed away in 1975, a shade too soon, even before Tikratoli could be daubed with its last coat of paint.

Shoy was a better cook than Nilika, she admits.

The nights Shoy cooked, “the stuffed ‘bhetki’ (a sweet water fish) would be in the oven, being basted with butter; it would be preceded with a cheese souffle and the children wanted lemon meringue pie”, Lall remembers.

The kitchen that Shoy put together with love carried Lall through in the years after his demise, when she dug into her family kitty to revive old forgotten menus and garnish them with contemporary herbs to suit the changing times.

The result was fare as eclectic and exotic as mutton consomme — a dish of mutton cooked with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, pepper corn, egg shells and sherry. The dish can be replicated with chicken too.

“In the old days, the scum used to be removed with a chicken feather. It was a soup of our growing up days,” she says.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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