She would have been 62 years today; my Mum and today, I choose to reflect on her memories with joy rather than sadness.
Today also being Easter, I remember clearly my Mum’s kitchen activities, not just during the festive period but when she has to do major food preparations. Like most women in her generation, my Mum had a large kitchen, not only in size but in operations, sometimes catering to about 15 people or more on a daily basis.
“A luo m ofu uzo olu”, she would usually exclaim after a hard days work in the kitchen or maybe when she’s done some major clean up in the house.
My Mum paid great attention to the ingredients that went into her food, making sure they were sourced from the best, she paid even greater attention to the cooking process. When she’s in the kitchen, her theatrics could be major, especially on those days she would be cooking three different pots of soup at once; “Uzo ofe ito”. A pot of Egusi soup on one gas burner, a pot of Bitter leaf soup on the other burner and then we would be lined up somewhere slicing Okro for the upcoming Okro soup, my Mum was an “uchu!”; a term referring to someone working really hard at something.
Vegetables were hallowed things in my Mum’s kitchen. We were made to wash the Ugu or Spinach countless times just to make sure that there was not a tiny bit of the tiniest grain logged in somewhere.
“Gbanye mmili, gbanye mmili” she would say with every sense of seriousness instructing you to add enough water to the veggies. “tinye e nnu”; would follow, a reminder that you should add salt. And if she perceived you weren’t washing them hard enough, she would intervene, saying “chee ka m bia”, and take over the washing, shaking the leaves with her two hands in the water with the instructions to observe her “na ene m anya”.
It was clear to us that having sand in the soup was a taboo. I grew up imagining what it would be like to have the dreaded “sand in the soup” experience. Any movement in the kitchen at key points when my Mum cooked her numerous delicacies would probably be met with hushed exclamations of “Aja!”, Sand! as though mentioning it loudly might actually introduce the sand into the soup. If someone was pounding in the mortar and another person walked past; she would caution against sand “Aja! Aja!”
If cut vegetables or other prepared foodstuff queued up for addition to the soup, were placed on the work surface and you probably opened an overhead cupboard; my Mum would go like; “Hey! Aja oooo!!!” Till date, I inwardly duck when I open my overhead kitchen cupboard if there’s cut foodstuff on my work surface with thoughts of “Aja!” on my mind.
Then the process of washing dried fish; you had to first soak them in brine to extract the first layer of dirt/sand, then wash them delicately with a soft sponge to extract the remaining and then rinse them as many times as it would take to get all the sand out.
What do we now say to the washing of offals? The cow intestine also known as afo anu or roundabout, the rough part of the meat which we called “towel anu” but known as shaki in Lagos. Truth is, I rarely eat roundabout meat outside home and I can’t remember the last time I cooked with it either. You see, my Mum would sit down and strip that meat of every interior fat and dirt irrespective of the quantity she cooked, leaving it very clean and that’s the taste I’m used to, sometimes in ordering outside food, that care is not taken because it’s a time consuming process.
It is said that repetition is the law of deep and lasting impression and that’s how my Mum taught us to make some complicated Igbo soups in addition to the observation process. She would chant the steps over and over again so that it would sink in your mind and if you were at a loss on the next step to take, just repeat the chant. For Bitter leaf soup, she would go;
“I tinye ede, ede ghee, i tinye mmanu, mmanu suo, i tinye ogili, ogili ghee, i kwako nyi e ife nni”.
“Put the cocoyam, when it’s done, add the palm oil, when it boils, add the locust bean, when it’s done, then add the spices.”
While we loved to cook with Mum in the kitchen (did i really?) It was always great when my Aunties visited because they simply hung out in the kitchen with her and took over whatever it was we were doing in a very casual but firm manner and who are we to say no to such marvelous help?
The passing on of a Mum is something you never really get used to, some of my friends lost their Mother’s recently and I can just imagine the many memories flooding there hearts on a daily. We are grateful for the hope of the resurrection that Easter brings and we look forward to the rapture morning when the dead in Christ will rise up first and we’ll all ascend to meet the Lord.
Keep resting Fashion Mazi o, till we meet again.
In Ever Loving Memory of Lady Benedette Ugwunwa Ezeanya (4th April 1959-29th June 2019)