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025: Pregnancy and post natal foods (Book Review)

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

The six weeks of postnatal confinement (roughly 40 days) are held sacred in many cultures across the world. Both the new mother and the new baby are physically and emotionally fragile, and traditional food becomes the medicine through which they are sheltered and fortified. In most marwari homes, the new mother is called ‘jacha’, and she along with her child the ‘bacha’ are, if lucky and blessed, tended to with utmost care and protection.

I wish I had access to the book “Traditional Recipes for Pregnancy and Motherhood” (2018) by nutritionists Sonal Chowdhary and Supriya Arun during my two births in 2016 and 2018. These two incredible women have accomplished the difficult task of collecting and documenting more than 80 recipes from across India specifically geared towards pregnant women and lactating mothers.

I was extremely lucky that my mother could still tap into traditional food knowledge both through her own experiences as well as her extensive WhatsApp network of friends and relatives. As soon as she found out that I was pregnant, she contacted her college classmates and noted down recipes and concoctions from different communities. She even got one of her friends to get the postnatal specific ingredients from the more than 100 year old famed Shankar Gandhee shop in her hometown Indore.

The first four days after birth, my mother would make some hot ajwain (carom) tea by heating ajwain in ghee, and then adding jaggery, dried ginger powder, and a pinch of turmeric. This hot magical concoction helped reduce the post-natal bloating, and was a way to transfer her love directly to my insides. Her kitchen at once became a dispensary and a cauldron of hereditary potions. Over the next six weeks I was treated to the soothing goond ki raab, the densely filling and irresistible goond ke ladoo, and the crunchy, nutty and nutritious harira into which my mother sneaked in the bitter kamar kas powder, literally a powder to strengthen the back.

For pregnant women and new mothers who may not have access to channels of time honoured food practices and recipes, this book is a treasure trove. Thank you to Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal for introducing me to this book.

Mumbai based nutritional consultants Chowdhary and Arun have structured their book “Traditional Recipes for Pregnancy and Motherhood” into three broad sections.

The first section highlights six Indian superfoods for pregnancy and lactation. These include the bitter fenugreek (methi seeds), the versatile garlic, the currently fashionable moringa (drumstick leaves), and a marwari favourite gond (edible gum). Two ingredients that I had never heard of - shatavari (the root of a thorny undershrub asparagus racemosus) which is a blessing for female hormones, as well as the nutrient dense Turkey berry (solanum torvum/sundakkai in Tamil) roundup this first section.

The second main part of the book contains traditional recipes for rasams, soups, halwas, ladoos and digestive churans from across India, each accompanied with breathtaking photography by Supriya Arun and Rohitash Sharma. The book includes dishes from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bengal, Odisha, the North Eastern States, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, interspersed with short personal narratives from nine new mothers. These recipes are just the tip of the ice-berg, and this book definitely deserves a subsequent edition.

I was particularly intrigued with the recipes that used betel nut leaves, and the enigmatic long pepper (pipramul doodh and kandathippili rasam), as well as a halwa made with the flower shells of tender coconuts - ‘thengin pookkula lehyam’ from Kerala.

Given the plethora of names associated with a single ingredient across India, I loved that the authors listed the ingredients in both English and the particular regional language from where the recipe originated. For instance black pepper is listed as ‘kari menasu’ under the Kannadiga jeera neeru recipe, as ‘milagu’ in the ingredients for the Tamil kandathippili rasam (long pepper soup) and as ‘kaali mirch’ on the Rajasthani laud ladoo page. This clever move shows that the authors have thought through the reader experience and I applaud their sensitivity.

The last section of the book lists 19 quick no fuss recipes for snacks and light meals inspired in part by the traditional tenets of ayurveda. These recipes are aimed at time-strapped mothers who can incorporate convenient yet nutrient rich foods into their daily cooking. I cannot wait to try out the ladoo and halwa recipes from this book although I am no longer pregnant or breastfeeding!

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