Growing up I would be told romantic stories of winter approaching in my father’s childhood home in Jaunpur, North India – slow cooking would be placed upon their log fire as smoke would bellow above the open night sky in their courtyard and one sweet treat that would be most anticipated, which would have all eight siblings, expectantly awaiting the first cold breeze of a North Indian winter.
My father spent his early childhood in one of those haveli Luknowi homes, where life revolved around a central courtyard, every meal, gathering, meeting or event took place within those four quarters. My father remembers only certain food memories, as this is one of them, when my Dadi would make banana cardamom gulgulay, warm, spiced doughnuts that celebrated the change of season. Sadly I have never visited this home even though it still houses some of my distant family. Since my father’s immediate family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 leaving so much of what they loved to start a new life, my Dadi (paternal grandmother) always shied away from entertaining conversations about their old home, maybe partly because it is an emotional journey, and partly because she wished to focus on the here and now.
My Dadi was a rather compelling lady – Slim, tall, graceful, and even after eight children, she remained very much a woman who liked her little indulgences. You’d always see her armed with her trusted silver ‘panddan‘ (a silver box with the South Asian mouth freshener of leaves, aniseed and cardamom etc) – always indulging in an evening cigarette as well, always eloquently narrating stories of family dinners and meals, and which is why, what I loved about her was he ability to talk about food. Her passion for it never left her, and it was heartbreaking in her last days, when she could cook no more, feed her loved ones no more and most of all not eat herself. But my best memories of her as those when she told stories of how she fed my father, as the eldest, he was the most treasured. Gulgulay are simple round doughnuts, still found on the corners of streets in Pakistan, their deep fried attraction the most comforting during winter. Traditionally flavoured with banana (as my Dadi’s), cardamom aniseed and sweetened with gur (sugar cane molasses – also called jaggery). I know for certain that my aunts would help her make these on winter mornings, so I got my little girl involved this time, nothing like passing your heritage though food, and her passion for it comes just as naturally.
My greatest regret is that I never took so many recipes from her directly, and I don’t believe that anyone got her gulgualy recipe, but I make this from a sensory recollection, from the stories told, the memories relived. I flavour them with a very Scottish autumnal berry, the bramble (blackberry for those who don’t know) – these that I have grown to adore (as has my daughter), as I think it reminds me most of my Dadi. It’s stunning elegance, it’s tough picking, it’s long, patient endurance during the summer months. It speaks to me of her passion, commitment to family and most of all, her love for flavour and home.
Bramble, Aniseed and Pistachio Gulgulay
Makes about 15 small round gulgulay – Preparation: 20 mins / Cooking time: 10 minutes
50 g plain flour
1/4 tsp each of freshly ground green aniseed and cardamom seeds
1 tsp baking soda
10-20 g demerara sugar
7-8 big fat brambles (blackberries), crushed with a fork into a rough pulp
2 tbsp crushed pistachios
1-2 tbsp whole milk
Vegetable oil for frying
Icing sugar to decorate
Finely crushed pistachio to decorate
- Begin by sifting the flour, add the baking soda, spices and mix.
- Add the sugar in the crushed brambles and then pour over the flour mixture on top. Stir until it comes together into a thick batter.
- Add the pistachios and if you feel it is too thick (doesn’t look like a regular doughnut batter) add a tiny bit of milk. Leave to rest for about 10 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, when hot, turn the heat to very low.
- When the batter starts to bubble when stirred (about 10 min) using 2 teaspoons drop about 3-4 small spoonfuls into the hot oil and fry one either side for about a minute each.
- Dust with icing sugar and finely crushed pistachios and serve hot, they don’t last long!