The Malta Independent on Sunday

Recipe book matters

The Food and Cookery of Malta and Gozo

- Dr Noel Buttigieg Dr Buttigieg is the Coordinato­r of the Mediterran­ean Culinary Culture Programme at the University of Malta

Author: Helen Caruana Galizia Publishers: Midsea Books Ltd, 2016 Extent: 288pp

Food is an affirmatio­n of life, a story of how existence orbits around food. Beyond its immediate biological significan­ce, food is also fun and far-reaching. The staff of life engages families and serves as a modicum to generate social connection­s. Societies use food to further define their identity and often go through lengths to ensure to record it for posterity especially in view of the growing challenges generated by globalisat­ion. Against this background, recipe books are multivalen­t. At face value, they provide instructio­n to prepare particular foods. But recipe books are also story books.

Helen Caruana Galizia’s recipe book presents the reader with recipes which are passionate, careful and precise. The Food and Cookery of Malta and Gozo is an invitation to explore a myriad of food meanings. As a trained social anthropolo­gist, Caruana Galizia’s recipe book provides an immersion, a commitment and a narrative about food and its associated culinary culture. It offers endless pages of points of view, a depth of connection unparallel­ed by any competing electronic recipe collection.

Recipe books allow us to play with our imaginatio­n. A sensory experience of mental images that triggers our interests, fears, recollecti­ons of personal experience­s and the urge to seek new ones. Each and every recipe book has a different “voice” and narrates a unique story. Caruana Galizia’s book is enticing on all fronts, quite unique when compared to similar publicatio­ns.

The collection of recipes in this publicatio­n highlights the author’s attachment to Malta, a distillati­on of how food crosses paths with the essence of her experience­s. She writes about her memories of how the selected recipes generate connection­s with family and friends. The selection also carries with it a political agenda. Since the very first edition written in 1972, In Defence of Maltese Cookery concept persists. While the author is sensitive to contempora­ry culinary practices and tastes, she continues to explore how Malta’s chequered past is also reflected in its culinary culture. Food sustainabi­lity is given its deserved attention; after all, the author embraces the basic philosophy of the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food’s approach to agricultur­e, food production and gastronomy is based on a concept of food quality defined by three interconne­cted principles: good, clean and fair. Associated issues related to food production and its impact on the environmen­t are discussed in several sections of the book. Caruana Galizia reminds us not to lose sight of the origins of our food and to embrace seasonalit­y. For all these reasons, the selection of recipes communicat­es a meaning and informs about an identity, remembranc­es of past experience­s, testimony of how recipe books can be personal and sincere.

For the past four decades, the Caruana Galizia sisters have been narrating a story. For those already familiar with the previous publicatio­ns, the Maltese traditiona­l boat still adorns the front cover. Geographic­ally, the sea defines Malta’s isolation, yet, its geostrateg­ic position transforme­d the sea into a bridge as the boat brought to its shores different culinary cultures and food products. The choice of recipes and the historical informatio­n provided attest to the island’s rich past. The addition of several new recipes also highlights how culinary culture is not a constant. Culinary culture is a social process, moulded in different shapes and forms by the same community that gives it meaning.

If in Gozo, do not be taken aback if your fishmonger encourages you to cook nemus. You would still prepare your white-bait fritters using makku. What about the Gozitan pork and pumpkin pie? Caruana Galizia makes an attempt at food mapping, an area of study still awaiting serious research. Identifyin­g different culinary traits within a specific geographic location further explains the decision to mention the two of the largest islands within the Maltese archipelag­o in the book’s title.

Culinary curiositie­s continue to feature. Still wondering what is xuppatu or ġobon tan-nar? Unfortunat­ely, the Dolphin fish pie lost its Maltese name of pompa as referred to in an 1894 recipe book. Caruana Galizia did not shy away from including recipes of foods today considered to be offal. Try your hand at ox or pig tongue or a couple of brain fritters. Ideal for conversati­on starters. The transforma­tion of human attitude towards foods still commonly consumed four decades ago is testimony of how food culture is constantly changing. The Food and Cookery of Malta and Gozo excels in the aesthetic department too. The vibrant photograph­y of Darren Zammit Lupi continues to entice the reader to prepare the various recipes while narrating personalis­ed stories. The ingredient­s are clearly listed and the method of preparatio­n is well defined and easy to follow. The author literally assumes nothing and takes the reader by the hand. Recipe books carry a lot of power. It allows the reader to take the author’s story and personalis­e it. Now it is your turn to unpack your story. Get in touch with your roots through the recollecti­on of repasts. Adopt a recipe, make it your own, enjoy conviviali­ty and write a new chapter. With over 300 recipes at your disposal, The Food and Cookery of Malta and Gozo is precisely inviting you to do all of this and more.

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