A Cookbook Diary: Har Jie (Part 1)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Auntie "Har Jie" (extreme left) teaching my friends how to make curry puffs
The upcoming cookbook will be the first book I have authored. I thought I should jot down some notes about the process involved and this may inspire those of you who hope to publish someday.

It was an interesting experience.  It has encouraged me to consider writing more, either for cooking or issues relating to my work as a pastor.

Since I already have a cooking blog, one should think that it should be easy enough to do a "screen to print" thing. And so I thought. The effort needed was far more intense than I anticipated.

Firstly, I made a decision to restrict the recipes to "Aunty Ruby's classics." This means that a whole swathe of recipes which I have worked on myself, including those using modern techniques like Sous Vide will not find their way into the book. My Mum never made Roast Pork (Siu Bak) or any of the Thai recipes. These recipes could not be included. I had to work on a few more of her recipes to meet the target needed. But I have practically cooked up every  written recipe that I could lay my hands on. So what else could I do? I do have palate memories but is it possible to work backwards from there?

I remembered that there was one passionate cook who cooked regularly with my Mum. We call her "Har Jie" because she was very close to her, who regarded her as her sister. She was practically Mum's "sous chef." I knew that Har Jie was very good at dishes like Mee Rebus, Penang Rojak, Chai Kueh and Curry Puffs. In fact, my Mum learned some of these recipes from her.

Har Jie's Pulut Inti
However, the last time I saw her was 8 years ago and we had lost contact. Miraculously, I managed to connect up with her and she visited me a few times during the intense period when we were finishing up some recipes and doing the photography work.

It was like Mum was back home again. She obviously knew her style of cooking and recipes very well. And we had many warm conversations as we reminisced about Mum.

I can recall eating Chai Kueh many years ago and how good it was. I never had one that good ever since. Har Jie was the one who taught my Mum  how to make it and it was fantastic that I could include this recipe in the cookbook. As it involves hand skills, it is one recipe which needs live cooking lesson for those who are new to this sort of recipe.

She also taught my Mum to make her famous Mee Rebus, inspired by a stall in Teluk Intan in Perak, West Malaysia. I have never come across a plate of Mee Rebus as good as her version. I also saw her method of making curry puffs, which  differs slightly from my Mum's. Just as delicious. But it goes to show that there are many ways to make it.

I have always loved my Mum's Steamed Yam Cake (Wu Tao Gao) and am glad that I have finally learned how to make her version through Har Jie. Her version of Tim Cheong (sweet sauce), employing the roux making method is also special. And that got into the cookbook as well. Likewise, my childhood favourite, Pulut Inti.

Har Jie cooks very fast and she reminded me of my Mum. Her techniques are also quite unique and she often reminds me in Cantonese, "You can never learn everything, even when you reach old age." True indeed.

With her around, I managed to add a few more recipes that were dear to my Mum, enriching what I think is already a very solid collection of her classic recipes.

My Mum was the great cook that she was, in part due to her many good friends that she cooked with ,as mutual learners. I am glad that some of her recipes are now included via Har Jie.

I will be writing more about the various aspects involved in preparing for this cookbook.

Stay tuned.

The cookbook launch dates will be announced soon.

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