The Marathi cookbook
For someone who likes to cook, reading and buying cookbooks follows naturally. When it comes to Maharashtrian cooking, if you randomly survey some Marathi people and ask them to name one cookbook they know or use, I can predict the result quite accurately, if I say so. The answer has to be 'Ruchira'.
'Ruchira' is a Maharashtrian cookbook, written in Marathi by Kamalabai Ogle, and published in 1970, when she was sixty years old. According to the cover of the book, a record was established when more than 150000 copies of the book were sold within 20 years of its publication, unparalled by any other non-fiction book. As far as I know this is the oldest known documentation of Marathi recipes, but would definitely like to know if there is anything available that dates earlier.
Here is a link to a very nice old article that talks about the book and its author. In it, she is quoted about the encouragement she received from her husband, who wrote the recipes as she narrated them to him, so I am not sure whether she was able to write or not. Given that, it is easy to forgive the lack of quantities and precision in some of her recipes, which is a complaint I heard from someone about the book. In fact, most women I know from those days never prioritized quantities. They believed in 'this much' of this and that. However, many recipes actually have fairly accurate measurements, if only in terms of spoons and katoris and some archaic terms like 'ser'.
Honestly, I wasn't exactly thrilled with 'Ruchira' when it was probably the only cookbook or food resource I had to refer to. At that time, I did not possess the tools to make a ginger-garlic paste, or any other kind of paste, most ingredients in the book were hard to find, and I did not even know what some of the ingredients meant. Those were the dark ages - pre-search engines and even pre-browsers. It was all my fault, then, I realize.
While this is a book that is supposed to guide the novice cook, I warmed up to it only after I had honed my basic cooking skills. Over time, I came to rely on it to stir up something that took me closer to my roots, or to look up something old-fashioned. I have used Volumes 1 and 2 extensively now, making notes about what I should or should not do, what worked, and what quantities would be best for recipes where there are none.
The English translation
The same article I linked above mentions that the book was translated into English, and ever since I read that, I was in search of the English language book for several reasons. When I finally got a copy though, it was a bit of a letdown. The great thing about it is that it makes many common Marathi recipes accessible to those who do not read Marathi, and is overall well written. However, the English version has only around 100 recipes, which is a small fraction of the two original volumes. So while I would recommend it those interested in trying out Maharashtrian cooking, I would also add a note of caution of how it barely scratches the surface.
Since I will eventually write about dishes that were based on recipes from the original Ruchira, I felt it was only appropriate that I write about these books before I embark on those posts.
Baakar bhaji (lal bhopLyAchi bhAjI)
Sweet coconut rice (nAraLI bhAt)
Popped Rice Chiwda (lAhyAnchA chiwDA)