A House Called Askival (15 August 2018)
It’s a pleasure to welcome Merryn Glover to the blog with a guest post. A House Called Askival is available to purchase, author links are below.
The World in My Kitchen
by Merryn Glover
How many cookbooks would include Cowboy Pineapple Cookies, Tibetan Momos, Liver Croquettes and Guava Cheese? How many would feature contributors from over a dozen different countries and as many cuisines? And how many would have been updated and re-published at least five times, plagiarised and stolen by two publishers and ultimately find their way into homes across the world? Not many, I suspect, but I know of one.
It all began in the 1920s in a hill-station in north India called Landour where a group of mainly missionary women met once a week for a Reading Club. As well as swapping books and gossip, they shared recipes and household tips and in 1930, gathered all of these together into The Landour Community Centre Cookbook. It was a window into their lives, reflecting their nostalgia for home and their ingenuity in feeding their families at 7000ft up with limited equipment and unfamiliar ingredients. It included substitutions for things like shortening, a glossary of Indian food terms and instructions on where to buy the likes of arrowroot and saltpetre. Some ingredients were bought in the bazaar, but most were delivered by door-to-door salesmen called wallas who came on foot with milk, eggs, vegetables, bread and household supplies. There were no fridges at the time, so food was stored in screened cupboards set into an outside wall and all cooking was done over charcoal burning stoves with a tin box on top serving as oven. The book was also a resource for the local cooks employed in these households, as they all knew Indian cookery but were keen to learn the foreign dishes.
The book proved so popular it was republished in 1938 and 1946 and then completely updated and revised in 1964. By then even more countries were represented, including several Indian recipes as ex-pats became interested in mastering the local khana. It was therefore re-named The Landour Book of International Recipes, and went on to become a firm favourite, frequently re-published and possibly one of the most widely-travelled cook books in the world, turning up everywhere from Melbourne to Mongolia.
It became a part of my life during my school days in Landour in the late 70s and 80s where I learned to make Peanut Butter Fudge and had a Wacky Crazy Cake for my 13th birthday. As most of the recipes give the name of the contributor, the book serves as a testament to generations of that cross-cultural community who have shared their food and their lives. I fell in love with the richness of the names – Kittu Riddle, Mabel Khan, Grandmother Ottan, Hajra Mayadas – and delighted in the occasional personal note, such as First Prize in the Honolulu Advertizer Annual Recipe Contest (for a recipe called Accidental Chicken.) The cookbook is still on my kitchen shelf today, dog-eared and oil-splattered, and I still sometimes make Wacky Crazy Cake for my kids’ birthdays.
(Recipe courtesy of Larry Smith and David Bunce who, we’re told, Each won Blue Ribbons in the 1954 Hobby Show.) So captivating is this book, that it has featured in several novels including Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting and Stephen Alter’s Renuka. And having decided to set my own novel in Landour – part of the bigger hill-station of Mussoorie – I also couldn’t resist. In A House Called Askival, the cookbook is a thread that weaves together three generations of an American missionary family with their Muslim cook and his son. Almost like a lesser Scripture, it sustains them across seventy years of political and personal turmoil as India and the two families are torn apart and must struggle towards reconciliation. By coming together through the cookbook, creating, learning, making and eating the dishes, the characters’ divisions are revealed, their hunger acknowledged and their lives changed.
About the Book
James Connor is a man who, burdened with guilt following a tragic event in his youth, has dedicated his life to serving India. Ruth Connor is his estranged daughter who, as a teenager, always knew she came second to her parents’ missionary vocation and rebelled, with equally tragic consequences.
After 24 years away, Ruth finally returns to Askival, the family home in Mussoorie, a remote hill station in the Northern State of Uttarakhand, to tend to her dying father. There she must face the past and confront her own burden of guilt if she is to cross the chasm that has grown between them.
In this extraordinary and assured debut, Merryn Glover draws on her own upbringing as a child of missionary parents in Uttarakhand to create this sensitive, complex, moving and epic journey through the sights, sounds and often violent history of India from Partition to the present day.
About the Author
Merryn Glover was born in a former palace in Kathmandu and brought up in Nepal, India and Pakistan before going to university in Australia to train in education. Her writing has won awards and been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Also a playwright, her fiction and drama have been broadcast on Radio Scotland and Radio 4. A House Called Askival is her first novel. Having returned to live and work in Nepal for four years, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland, where she is nearly finished her second book.