Sunday, August 27, 2006

Kurma Is Coming To New Vrindavan!

Kurma is coming to the Festival Of Inspiration in New Vrindavan next May. This is good news, as he is a famous cook, not just inside ISKCON but also all over the cooking world. Cooking is important because all whatever whatever aside, most devotees were originally attracted by prasadam, and will admit it in confidence. I am an avid fan of Kurma's blog.

New Vrindavan used to have the best prasadam. Today it is fashionable to treat Kirtanananda as a bad person, but the truth is not so convenient. Despite his flaws, he had some good qualities, one of which was his cooking and teaching cooking through surrogates. Srila Prabhupada taught Kirtananada (he called him Kitchanananda) and Kirtanananda taught the devotees how to cook. Unfortunately, all the great cooks have moved out of the temple and no younger devotees have been inspired to learn. That chain is now broken. Advaita told me he was cooking for the Sunday feast recently, making samosas Srila Prabhupada style, and not a single person knew what he was doing. They tried to tell him he was doing it wrong.

In the old days, there were so many good cooks around, but many preps had one cook who could do it best. Radhanath was sandesh, Garga Rsi was rasgullas, Dharmakala was cheesecake, Ambarish was sweet rice, Pracetas was ice cream, Lajjavati was kanti, Kutila was malpuras, Candra Mauli was black walnut burfi, etc. They would spend years cooking the same prep until they perfected it, and if you wanted to learn that prep, you would go to them. Sudhanu and Advaita were famous for being able to cook large-scale feasts with the quality of a Deity offering. Cooks would also learn in other temples and then bring their knowledge and share it.

My own meager contribution was the infamous oat water, so much maligned in the imagining. It was actually quite tasty and nutritious IF prepared CORRECTLY. It suffered from poor branding. Creamed Oats Nectar would have been a better name. Kirtanananda made it first, and then taught me how to do a small batch, then I taught Sudhanu and he introduced it in scale to the main kitchen.

I would put it up before mangala arotik, and then let it simmer until after the morning program. Those were the days of the "shotgun program". Tulasi and guru pujas were immediately after mangala, followed by SB class, all done in 1 1/2 hours. Lightly salted, with plumped raisins (added later in the cooking), ginger, and one tablespoon of ghee per gallon. It would become a drinkable liquid, the oats essentially dissolved. Longer cooking of grains converts starch to sugar, so it was sweetish without adding sugar. It digested easily, as opposed to globs of sticky oatmeal, and was very satisfying. Of course, like anything, oat water can be prepared poorly and be just awful, especially if it gets cold. The basic concept was adding more water and cooking it longer than recommended.


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