Cooking by osmosis

What Mel did - Cooking by osmosis
Image credit: Melinda Fargo

You add a bit of this, then a smidgen of that and, if it needs a little something extra, add some of this.

Growing up in the West Indian community, the kitchen was the go-to place for laughter, companionship and gossip. Anyone also interested in learning to cook just had to sit, look, smell and taste.

As kids, we learnt to cook almost by osmosis. You simply watched your mother, grandmother or other elder seasoning food, cooking food and turning out delicious creations not found in any mainstream cookery book. Therefore, the question “May I have the recipe for that?” was somewhat redundant. There was no recipe. You just added stuff (or not) until the thing tasted ‘right.’

Although I did once try to prise out exact measurements in ounces from one of the doyennes of the kitchen. The instructions given were: “Well, I don’t know, child. You add a bit of this, then a smidgen of that and, if it needs a little something extra, add some of this. Not too much mind – or too little.” See what I mean?

Years on, my four children vary wildly on the cooking scales from can’t, won’t, recipe follower, to good improvisational cook. And, no, I don’t think it’s a coincidence my last child is the one who can cook off the cuff. Maybe by the time I got to him I was just tired of talking and instructed him as my mother did to just watch, smell, taste and learn.

Now that I am grown, there is no greater comfort to me than visiting my mother over a weekend. From fried fish and onions on Friday to chicken, rice & peas and macaroni cheese on Sunday. (Not the English Mac & Cheese – the West Indian kind doesn’t move.)

Certainly if love has a smell, it continues to be the one wafting out from my mother’s kitchen.


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    • Wonder if some lemon, sage and onion tossed in a frying pan with your non-meat of choice might go some way to evoking those memories again? I roast cinnamon when I want to re-live baking days in my mother’s house.

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