THE SRILA PRABHUPADA Centennial year is a cause for great celebration and a chance for us to relish on many levels increased spiritual commitment. Our individual offerings and group projects are underway. We may be focusing on internal areas of our spiritual development, or heading up or joining activities from ISKCON'S twelve "lotus petals" of celebration. Either way, our devotional endeavors can lead us from a great year into an even greater future.
One way to make this a great centennial year is by discussing more about Srila Prabhupada. I plan to do that in this column. I'll recall more of Prabhupada's instructions in the form of recipes, cooking lessons, prasadam distribution, and exchanges in the kitchen. This should give you more insights into Srila Prabhupada the person. For me, writing more about Srila Prabhupada is an opportunity to remember him in greater detail, to uncover more of what is locked away in my memory. I hope my attempts, imperfect as they are, will enhance your appreciation of Prabhupada's purity and devotional qualities.
Once as I was offering Srila Prabhupada my obeisances, he said that to remember, we must first chant and hear. So to remember him, let us increase our chanting and hearing about him. Let us repeat stories over and over again for purification and inspiration, and pass them down for future generations to cherish.
Jams and Preserves
Jams and preserves are the next topic in the cooking class and the next subject in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. Prior to the incident that follows, I had seen no evidence that jams, jellies, or preserves have a tradition in the Indian kitchen.
The Ramana Reti Kitchen
ISKCON's Krsna-Balaram Temple in Vrndavana is located in an area known as Ramana Reti. In 1973, the construction of Srila Prabhupada's house in Ramana Reti, adjacent to the temple, was far from finished. In truth, he ate, slept, translated, and met with guests in the partially completed large main room. Several women, myself included, lived in what is now his dining room. His secretary's base camp was a small area now part of the main entrance, and his servant worked just off the main room in the small room that now houses museum artifacts. Aside from a brief stay in his quarters at the Radha-Damodara temple during the fall (Kartika) of 1972, when visiting Vrndavana Prabhupada stayed in his unfinished Ramana Reti house.
From the spring of 1972 through the fall of 1974, I was his unofficial Vrndavana cook. I took care of both the Radha-Damodara and Ramana Reti kitchens and did most of his cooking. The Ramana Reti kitchen was a makeshift affair in a room under construction bare brick walls, a concrete floor, and unfinished window frames with temporary bars to ward off monkeys. Two metal trunks held pots, utensils, and dry staples like dal, rice, and spices. Like many kitchens in Vrndavana, this one had no electricity or running water, but Srila Prabhupada seemed to like it, wandering in on many occasions to observe activities in progress.
I worked within an area of the rough floor I'd marked off with bricks mortared together with Yamuna River mud. Every morning, 72-year-old Anand Prabhu, one of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers and one of my all-time favorite cooking teachers, would walk nearly two miles to bring me two buckets of fresh, sweet well-water for cooking. I used two stoves a gas burner and a portable wood stove, called a chula, which was little more than a five-gallon galvanized bucket covered with a thick layer of smooth mud. I cooked the main meal in Srila Prabhupada's three-tiered brass steamer, on either stove. But the capatis were always griddle-baked and flame-toasted on the chula, over a mixture of four parts aromatic neem (margosa) coals and one part dried cow-dung patties.
Prabhupada Makes Jam
One morning before leaving Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupada called for me and asked about several pending matters. After instructing me about his lunch, he asked whether good guavas were available in Loi Bazaar, Vrndavana's largest vegetable market. I hesitatingly said perhaps, having sporadically seen them in recent days but not knowing if I could find good-quality fruit. I had been thinking that the produce of the last fortnight had been only mediocre, and I knew Srila Prabhupada was aware of it. He had often said that no matter how able the cook, good flavor requires ingredients that are seasonal, high quality, and really fresh.
The guavas I ultimately bought were neither good nor bad but some-where in the middle. They were yellow, moderately sweet and moderately fragrant, with hard skins and seeds.
It was late afternoon when Srila Prabhupada came into his kitchen, inspected the fruit, and decided to make it into jam. He squatted down on his haunches and asked for a knife and cutting board. After washing his hands, the fruit, the knife, and the cutting board, he cut each fruit into eight pieces. While cutting, he told me that this jam was a favorite from his childhood, a special treat. He had learned to make it from his mother, who would bring it on family outings or as a gift when they visited his maternal uncle. Now he wanted to have some for his travels. He loaded the cooker with guavas and asked me to light the gas stove.
A Lesson on Waste
Indian wooden matches have always seemed inferior to me. They snap easily, their igniting tip is thin, often flaring rather than lighting, and they are anything but water-resistant. After retrieving the matchbox from the trunk, I knelt down before the stove and struck a match. It fizzled. I struck a second one, and it snapped into three pieces. The third went futz, futz and went out. The fourth flared briefly and went out. The fifth Srila Prabhupada took out of my hand before I could strike it.
I recall his movement almost as if it were in slow motion. With ease he struck the match against the box, cupping his hands around the budding flame as if protecting it from Arctic winds. The flame leapt out on the first strike as he lowered it to light the stove. As I looked at him with puzzled awe, he spoke before I could open my mouth. A devotee, he said, should become expert, know how to use things properly, and avoid waste. As I looked at my small pile of unlit matches resting before the stove (I see them again as I write), I realized how far I had to go in these three areas. I am still working on them today.
As Prabhupada made the jam, I noted down the ingredients and procedures. The measurements in the recipe given here are my own, arrived at by testing and developing the recipe. Adjust the amounts as desired, but end up with a product that is a cross between jam and a spicy fruit butter thick, hot, and sweet.
This year, let us pray for ever deepening appreciation and glorification of Srila Prabhupada. Let us strive to increase our ability to relish him in new and fresh ways. Let us pray to understand more and more about the how, what, when, where, and why of Srila Prabhupada's mission.
And keep on cooking for Krsna …
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in care ofBack to Godhead.
Spicy Guava Jam
(Makes about 2 cups)
Lord Krishna's Cuisine has a recipe for Rich Guava Jam by Pallika Dasi, who also learned it from Srila Prabhupada. Give both recipes a try, perhaps on buttered, flame-toasted capatis, on any nimki-like cracker, or on thin slices of homemade multi-grain toast.
1 ¼ pounds just-ripe guavas
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
¼ teaspoon kalanji
2-3 dried red chilies, or as desired
8 whole cloves
one cinnamon stick
2 cups sugar
½ tablespoon lime juice
Cut the guavas into eighths and steam them in a steamer basket for about 45 minutes. Over low heat, dry-roast the coriander, cumin, cardamom, kalanji, chilies, and cinnamon stick until the cumin darkens a few shades. Crush the cinnamon stick with a mallet, then coarsely grind all the spices, either in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle.
Transfer the softened guavas to a saucepan and mash them to a puree (or pass them through a food mill). Place the saucepan over low heat and add the sugar and lime juice. Stirring, cook until the jam is thick, about 218-221 degrees F (103-105 degrees C) on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the powdered spices, and cool. Offer to Krsna.
Store the jam in well-sealed containers. Once opened, keep refrigerated. It will last for up to two weeks.