The Malta Independent on Sunday
Recipe book matters
The Food and Cookery of Malta and Gozo
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.