Grandfathers and planters’ chairs, bread and jam

 One very small child  – about two years old, hanging on for dear life to the sides of a planters’ chair – for those of you who have forgotten what this is – it’s like an easy chair with extended arms for the ” planter” to put his drink on of an evening! – and trying desperately to look over but not quite making it… what she could see, though, was the goodies being made for her and all the other little kids in the grandfather’s (the occupant of said chair – a teetotaler btw!) lap for evening tea.
Soft, white bread, brilliantly red jam and white butter made from that day’s milk – kiddies heaven! That is my very first memory because my grandfather died that year and i have no more memories of him. Why i am sure it’s a memory is because of the remembrance of perspective – i couldn’t see over the side!
A grandfather to be proud of – who earned a medal for gallantry in the Indo – Afghan conflict of 1931- i never even knew about this war till i came across the medal in my dad’s papers. A man of such integrity  – please bear with me – i just have to tell you this story. Grandfather – Chenji Padmanabha Rao – was posted in Rangoon during the 1930s. 3 kids – two daughters and my dad. One day the kids were playing, they found a 4-anna coin in a sandpit. Come home in great excitement – after all, 4 annas those days was riches to a child – and showed it to the dad. He told them to go around the colony asking if anyone had lost it. 4 hours pass and back traipse the kids – no one has lost it, so now, anna (that’s what they called the father), can we keep it? No, says the man, if you haven’t earned it, it never can belong to you so go put it in the temple ‘hundi’!! What a lesson in honesty – my eldest aunt – Bajjama – kid no.1 of the 3, related this story to me some 65 years later…
Thus began my love affair with bread – soft and white back then, multigrain or wholewheat now…the smell of bread baking drives everyone crazy!
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups plain flour
1 sachet – 7gm yeast
1 tbsp – milk powder
2 tbsp – sunflower oil or if you insist on sinning, butter!
Salt – 3/4 tsp
Sugar – 2 tsp
Water – about 1.5 cups
In half a cup of warm water (from the above 1.5 cups), prove yeast. For newbies, this means sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. A scummy, pale coffee yucky looking thing will form 😉 – yay, our yeast is proved – i.e, it is alive and kicking! If this doesn’t happen, throw out and go to the shops to get fresh yeast. Add the sugar, salt, milk powder and oil and mix. Add the flours and mix till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water a little by little and knead well till you get a soft dough. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead it till it cries mummy – at least ten minutes. The longer you knead, the better the bread. Cover and let it double in size – should take about an hour but in Madras, it gets done in half the time! Knock it back and shape into the kind of loaf / rolls you want. Don’t knead at this stage. Let it rest for another 15 to 20 minutes till it doubles again. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven at 190 C for about 1/2 hour till golden brown on top and it sounds hollow (like how you are beginning to feel  by now!). Switch off and let cool or if you are TOO hollow, eat!
Someone had taught my mother how to make tomato jam – boiling and straining out pulp and seeds etc. but my mother decided that since skin and seeds won”t kill us – let’s leave them in – and thus was born the simplest, yummiest tomato jam ever.
Tomato jam: – Boil together 6 ripe tomatoes , 10-12 spoons of sugar and 4 cloves till jammy!!! Dat’s it. folks!