It’s not even 5 pm yet and the sun will set soon. The days are shorter, colder, whiter (yes!) and beautiful. Every evening the H stomps his way home, all tall and cold and trailing snow on the carpet. And it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s snow. Christmas is nearing and this time of year reminds me of Eliyamma aunty. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve feasted on her plum cakes. This is a tradition beloved in Kerala, the Christmas plum cake. Rich and crumbly crust, baked a beautiful brown, studded with raisins and nuts and candied peel, these cakes do not contain plum at all but are known by no other name. We’d wait, all of us, for aunty to finish her marathon baking sessions for a taste of the best homemade cake I’ve had.
Last year, she passed her recipe to me when I asked. Mom woke me up so early that morning, and I went groggy, book in hand, to a warm house bustling with activity. There it was in the centre, a big urli, Sanu anna was stirring it gently, mixing the flour. Aunty was calling out instruction after instruction, Pappa walking back and forth, checking, correcting. Julia, Joanna watching TV, as yet unaware of the lovely tradition they were passively witness to, Sibi aunty smiling indulgently at Sanu, making jokes. I sat there for around two hours, watching the lovely alchemy of flour and egg and sugar turning into fragrant cake. The recipe I wrote down then is my most scratched, corrected one. Everyone offered me suggestions and corrections and tips to bake it the ‘perfect’ way. They shared generously, happily.
This is a generosity all women I know share. Sharing this wisdom earned over years of experience, their own and others’. They pass it on, and I am lucky to know many women who have. My mother taught me everything I know about caring, be it for a person or a home or myself. My aunt taught me what the ‘unconditional’ in unconditional love means. Another aunt taught me by example just how undefeated it is possible to be. Raman aunty taught me music and so much more.
I don’t know if it’s because I am newly married and away from home, but their lessons trigger memories quite often. There are very few days, if at all, where I am not reminded of something my mother says or does, which in turn likely was something her mother used to say. A particular turn of phrase, even a turn of wrist while flipping a dosa in the kitchen. It might be as simple as me being homesick at certain times, but I am sure it is more than that. Every woman is shaped most by the older women in her life. They leave bits and pieces of themselves in her. She collects and stores these carefully, watching them grow and age with her. Their legacy never really goes away, even if it’s source might be forgotten eventually.
Next week, I will begin my own annual tradition at home and use the recipe Eliyamma aunty shared with me.