Persian art in the British Library, or food in my stomach?

Page from 'Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shahi' (date unknown, 1495-1505?) Deccan Plateau, India

The above is a page from Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shahi (The Book of Recipes): In the image on the left, the family gathers, and on the left a woman of the family is milking the cows. The text contains recipes for both Kheer, or a milk heavy rice pudding, and Kheema or savoury mincemeat. The book advises that in order to get the sweetest milk for puddings, a healthy cow should be selected and fed on sugar cane for weeks before beginning to milk her… tells me that the recipe for Kheer is the following:

1/4th cup long grain rice (washed and drained)
4-5 cups milk
2-3 cardamom seeds (crushed)
2 tbsp almonds (blanched silvered)
A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in a little hot milk
1 tbsp skinned pistachio nuts (chopped)
1 tbsp raisins (optional)
2-3 tbsp sugar or as desired

(Put the rice, milk and cardamom in a pan, bring to boil and simmer gently until the rice is soft and the grains are starting to break up. Add almonds, pistachio, saffron and raisins and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove the rice kheer from heat and serve either warm or chilled.)

And where do I, the one who will cook, and eat what I cook, come in?

The image is not so different, perhaps, from a cookbook I would buy tomorrow, or even a recipe I would print out from the internet: it would have a picture in the upper left hand corner, or maybe it would take up half the page, and the text would come after.  I would probably find suggestions for techniques and ingredient substitutions which would help me refine my recipe, like the sugar cane hint. But it feels different, even so. And why? Even when I come home, without a cookbook, and turn instead to my great grandmother’s recipe box,  which has been added to by nearly every paternal relative, and finally by me (although I have rewritten my notecards several times), I feel as though I have lost something between it and Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shahi’. But what, exactly?

Not beauty, because there is as much happiness to be found in thumbing through the pieces of card-stock, and handwritten, typewriter punched, or computer printed paper; those chocolate streaks around the hot fudge recipe are as rewarding as these colors, and this beautiful language I do not, might not ever, understand. Maybe it is the cow? 3/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, or feed your cow sugar cane? But I have killed a chicken and found it difficult to concentrate afterward, so it cannot be a messy, honest farm life I am craving…

According to The British Library, which holds this book, “Ghiyas-ud-din Khalji, the Sultan of Mandu, who ruled from 1469-1500, was a sybarite who cut himself off from the cares of state to amuse himself with food, drink, and innumerable women. By this period, North India had a fairly unified painting style from the combination of two sources, Hindu-Jaina and Persian. The convention was to depict Indians in full profile and non-Indians with three-quarter profile. Nimmatnamah, or Book of Recipes (written in Persian), appears to have been filled with delicacies and aphrodisiacs for Ghiyas-ud-din’s benefit, but completed in the reign of his son Nasir-ud-din Shah…”

I wonder why it was not completed in time? And whether it was kept by Nadir-ud-din Shah, or by the Palace cook?

About mollygriffin

I am a student at Bennington College in Vermont.
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