Mahadev Desai once asked Gandhi: " Bapuji, did you have a cook before you joined the Phoenix Settlement?' Gandhi replied: " No, I got rid of hi earlier. We had a fine cook but he said that he said that he won't be able to cook without spices and condiments. Immediately I granted him leave and did not appoint a cook any more." This incident took place when Gandhi was nearly 35 years old.
He first tried his hand at cooking at the age of 18, when he
was in England. He was a strict vegetarian. Vegetarianism was then comparatively
a new cult in England. He was generally served with bread, butter and jam and
boiled vegetables without dressing. every thing tasted insipid to Gandhi who was
used to tasty spicy Indian dishes prepared by his mother.
After taking meals in vegetarian restaurants for some months,
he decided to live thriftily. He hired a room and stove and himself cooked his
breakfast and dinner. It took scarcely more than 20 minutes to cook his food and
cost about 2 annas a day. When Gandhi read Salt's Plea for Vegetarianism and
came and came in touch with the London Vegetarian Society, he made many changes
in his diet.
After his return to India as an enrolled barrister, he hired a
small flat in Bombay and engaged a brahmin cook. Gandhi did half the cooking and
taught the cook some English vegetarian dishes. He was rather fastidious about
orderliness and cleanliness, especially in the kitchen, and taught the cook
cleanliness, to wash cleanliness, to wash his clothes and to bathe regularly.
Hired cooks were never employed in his ashrams in South Africa
or India. Gandhi realised that it was sheer waste of time and energy to cook
various dishes for one meal. he was not prepares to eater to the differing
tastes of different members of the ashram . He prescribed a simple menu for all.
The meals were cooked in a common kitchen.
He simplified the highly complicated and difficult art of
cooking. In his ashram, rice with gruel, bread, raw salad, boiled vegetables
without spices, fruits and milk or curd were served. Sweets and milk
preparations were substituted by fresh gut and honey.
Just's return to Nature convinced him that one should not eat
to please the palate but just to keep the body fit. Gandhi began to make
experiments with diet which was a life time hobby with him. Some of the
experiments needed no cooking and some landed him in trouble. He was a
fruitarian for five years. for four months he lived on germinated seeds and
uncooked food and developed dysentery.
In the Phoenix Settlement he acted as the headmaster of the
school and the chief cook. In a banquet given to the Europeans by the South
African Indians, Gandhi took part in cooking serving.
When the first batch of satyagrahis from the Phoenix
Settlement were to leave the ashram, Gandhi served them a hearty meal. He made a
heap of chapatis, tomato chutney, rice, curry, a sweet dish of dates. While busy
with his hands, he gave detailed advice about the practice of satyagraha and the
way of life in jail. When there number of satyagrahis swelled to2500, Gandhi led
turned up waterish, the other day the rice remained half-cooked. They adored
their Gandhibhai so much that they gulped the food without a murmur. In South
African jail, he helped his colleagues in cooking.
Gandhi considered cooking as an essential part of education
and proudly started that almost all the youngsters on Tolstoy Farm knew cooking.
soon after his return India from South Africa, he infected the Santiniketan
students with this fad. They welcomed the idea of running a community kitchen
and cooking the food themselves by turn. Tagore doubted the workability of the
scheme but blessed the venture.
Gandhi was once shocked to see a student's hostel in Madras
where he found kitchens not only to serve different castes but to eater for the
delicate taste of different groups needing different types of condiments He was
equally disturbed in a Bengali host's house where he was served with numerous
preparations Thenceforth, he took a vow to take only five food ingredients a
day. He also broke the age -long bias to wards untouchability in Bihar and made
all the vakils who were helping him in the Champaran inquiry eat in one common
kitchen. He laid more stress on health-giving and hygienic cooking than on
seasoning of food for satisfaction of palate.
Some odd samples of Gandhi's menu were fresh neem leaf chutney
bitter as quinine, mixture of fresh nutritive oil-cake from an oil-press
adjoining the ashram and curd, sweet sherbat made of tamaind and gur, boiled and
mashed soya beans served without seasoning, salad made out of any fresh edible
green leaves a sort of pudding made from finely powdered baked chapattis,
porridge of coarsely ground wheat and wheaten coffee from baked whet powder.
He could prepare cake, rice, dal, vegetable soup, salads,
marmalade both of oranges and orange skins, bread without using yeast or baking
powder, good chapatis and fine khakras. He introduced loaf-making and biscuit
making in the ashram kitchen. A special type of oven was used in Sevagram for
cooking rice for hundreds of persons, for making bread and boiling vegetables at
a low cost.
One of his associates remarked:" Lately it was reported that
grass had plenty of vitamins. Fortunately the discovery was not made when Gandhi
was in the ashram , for then he would have decieded to wind up the kitchen and
ask us to graze on the lawn."
Once Gandhi asked us to graze residential school. He did not
like the kitchen arrangements and told teh teachers: " You will make your
institution ideal if besides giving them a literary education, you make finished
cooks and sweepers of them."