The recent visit from my in-laws reminded me afresh about the community spirit fostered by family cooking.
My mother-in-law graciously taught me how to make ogbono stew, which you can see in the lovely picture I took here. The yellowish stew is the ogbono, and the white substance that resembles mashed potatoes is eba.
(Funny story: I had no idea what the English equivalent of ogbono was, but when I typed it into the blog post a Wikipedia entry came up for irvingia and lo and behold, there is ogbono! Wonders will never cease.)
The adventurous way of eating this is to scoop up a little of the eba with your fingers, dip it in the ogbono stew and then pop it in your mouth.
However, what the picture doesn’t show you is how the soup “draws.” Think of stringy mozzarella cheese, then imagine that every time you pick up the stew, it leaves a long string of stewy goodness wherever you pull.
This makes mealtimes rather challenging for people (like me) who haven’t grown up eating this kind of food.
But what really struck me this time around wasn’t the actual eating of the meal. It was preparing it – going through all the steps of preparing the fish, picking apart the skin and bones, then soaking it in water, boiling up the stew, adding the seasoning, etc.
Can you believe it took us more than two hours to prepare one meal? I was stunned to see all the preparation that went into this.
This is not your two-minute Macaroni & Cheese, folks, or even your packaged frozen dinner. But my mother-in-law acted like this was the most normal thing in the world.
And of course, there were no measurements to any of the ingredients she was cooking. (I’ve mentioned this observation before in a previous post.)
She just showed me, talking aloud, involving me in the steps, and then expected me to remember it all for next time. Just one showing, apparently, is enough.
Luckily I came prepared this time, armed with my little notebook and scribbling furious notes wherever we went. She was so tickled by this. “Look at you!” she laughed. “Now you won’t forget, eh? Mm-hmm!”
And during the waiting time as the stew boiled on the stove, she just leaned against the kitchen counter … and talked. My husband chimed in, my sister-in-law chimed in, and I chimed in whenever we wanted.
We talked about life back in Africa, my mother-in-law’s job, my sister-in-law’s college plans, family memories …
“Remember the time you broke your daddy’s windshield on his new car? Uh-uh!”
“Remember when you were playing soccer, and your friend knocked over the tree we had just planted…”
“Remember when your sister climbed to the top of the stairs when nobody was looking, when she was 1 year old…?”
I tell you, some of the best and meatiest conversations I’ve ever had, both with my childhood family and my “marriage” one, take place in the kitchen. There is just no substitute for it!
This week I tried out the ogbono recipe for dinner, just for the two of us. The same gorgeous smell was there, and my husband has opened the windows and turned on the fans to get it out of the house (I will admit it’s a little overwhelming).
My stomach growled, just the way it did when the rest of the family was here.
But I missed the community aspect of cooking. For more of my time in the kitchen it was just me, the cooking pot and the stove.