Read about the wonderful daughter-mother-grandmother team that brought us a taste of a Sudanese Purim at a recent Wimshul Cooks workshop. Click on the links in the text to find the recipes. As well as making baklava and date stuffed biscuits in the session, we enjoyed a slice of Daisy’s grandmother’s busbusa which we ate whilst drinking fresh mint tea after the cookery session. And read more about Daisy’s history and culinary project at her website: Tales of Jewish Sudan with many beautiful historic photos of the community.
When I was asked by Liz to present at Wimshul cooks my first reaction was to panic. Cook? Cook what? Nearly every recipe that came out of Sudan involved some sort of meat. But then I remembered the sweets. The calorific, gooey goodness of fresh baklava, ka’ak ib agwa and all of the other delicious things we only eat rarely now because it’s 2017 not 1945 and we don’t cycle for miles every day. It was easy to settle on baklava and ka’ak ib agwa (date stuffed biscuits) for two very simple reasons. One, they’re delicious and my favourites to eat, and two, they are fun to make. I prepared the simple shortcrust dough for the biscuits and ground the nuts for the baklava at home to save time, and then we were ready to go. Except I was really nervous and I almost added sugar to the dates. That’s why I needed my mum there!
When Daisy told me that she was going to present a Purim cookery session for Wimshul Cooks I was really pleased for her and immediately offered to sous-chef, fetching and carrying. When she told me that she had planned a structure which involved me leading a group on making ka’ak ib agwa my first reaction was to panic (she’s not my daughter for nothing!) But then I remembered all those years of making these biscuits with my mother and realised that I was excited at the prospect of showing her delicious recipes to a whole host of new people.
I led the baklava table, digging deep to remember all the scraps of information my grandmother has ever given to answer the questions that were thrown at me. Sometimes I didn’t have an answer, aside from ‘because that’s how she does it’ and honestly, it was true! Sometimes you don’t ask why, you just trust that the crazily specific instructions are correct and when you deviate (as I am often tempted to do at home) things just don’t come out ‘right’. With both of us channelling my safta, nothing could go wrong!
I led the table making ka’ak ib agwa. I found my mother’s voice resonating in my head and
all her very specific instructions came flooding back. Many of these make no sense at all, and yet absolutely work, as I, like Daisy, have discovered to my cost over the years. One of these is that the dough has to be shaped into a ring in the bowl so that it can be sliced according to its grain. It rolls out smoother that way. Actually, Daisy and I had a disagreement before we left because she wanted to leave the dough in a ball; I told her that was verging on sacrilege!
At home, we make cigar shaped biscuits but most other families make balls. As it was Purim, we decided to have a go at making Hamentaschen shapes too. My mother likes things neat and as I demonstrated how to roll out the dough I had to patch it up. I instantly heard my mother’s voice and felt her carefully appraising my work even though she wasn’t there! Once we got started people started to let their imagination and artistic expression run free and we had all sorts of wonderfully modern shapes. I thought my mother would be outraged but when we showed her the photos she was tickled. She had a good giggle and declared with slight bemusement, ‘well, why not?’
For everything we’ve said about careful instructions the thing about this type of food is that it’s made for the family – and it’s made with love. These are our recipes because this is how the families of the women in my family liked them. They are meant to be tweaked to taste. If your family hates almonds, try walnuts instead. If they love cinnamon, then add a bit more. If they prefer rose water to orange blossom, then use that and if they like things crispy then cook them for longer! Traditionally ka’ak ib agwa are served sprinkled with icing sugar, a tradition that’s been dropped in our household because as a child I’d brush it all off and make a very big mess everywhere. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy both the making and the eating of the dishes.
When we went to see her the next day we showed my mother the pictures from the event. She was delighted, but tutted that Daisy should have brushed her hair. She also answered one particular question we got on the night, ‘Why didn’t you bring your mother?’ for us, with a series of her own leading questions that went something like this:
Did you put butter in the dates?
Did you fold the filo leaves alternately?
Did you use only almonds?
Did you put icing sugar on the biscuits?
Did you put blossom water in the almonds? What about the syrup?
How did you make the dough?
Did you give them butter for their hands?
Did you add cinnamon to the almonds?
Did the syrup come thin or thick?
Did you show them how to roll the dough?
Did you tell them it has to be cold syrup on the hot baklava?
But did they enjoy it???
[Wimshul Cooks Editor: YES we did! Thank you, Safta]
Daisy and Gila will be running a similar workshop at Gefiltefest in June. If you would like to book a workshop or demonstration, please email Daisy at firstname.lastname@example.org.