I learned and realized from an early age that the kitchen arena was my place. I didn’t take this seriously or saw the need to take it seriously until I started food blogging and started documenting food at age 16. My likeness to food was borne out of curiosity to understand why we eat, why we use certain methodologies and techniques when we cook. Also, how human existence banks solely on this for survival, nourishment of both our body and soul. Food I’ve always heard and said is life. However, for one to see food beyond just eating it takes a level of intentionality and deliberateness. There are many sides to us humans so I realized this about the ingredients we use to cook as they can be tweaked to whatever we so wish. The only barrier and not so much of a barrier in this day and age is culture and traditions.
The concept of farm-to-table has always been a time immemorial thing in our community. I describe it as a concept where you are in control of what goes into your mouth. I remember my mum and dad always gardening right in our backyard while growing up they still do. The vegetables and fruits grown flourished in their season. From experimenting with orange seeds, breadfruit, tomatoes, and pepper seeds there was nothing I didn’t see my parents experiment with. This was my first encounter and from here my curiosity started. Out of curiosity to understand how planting/gardening worked, I started my experiment by growing beans. This grew till the stage it started to bring forth beans pods. This is virtually the easiest to cultivate because within days it started bringing out sprouts. Was I surprised? Yes!.
I realized at that age that there was a need to cultivate what we ate or people cultivated what was being eaten. During Agricultural Science class I was always attentive. Mr. OluJames my teacher was an amazing human not too quick to dismiss curious students I changed from Economics at the time to take his course, Afterall, I had an option to either pick one. In Senior Secondary School we were given a task to plant maize I loved the idea of planting a seed and it starts to blossom, it was something I didn’t understand and still do not understand because the concept is still ridiculously awesome. Ruminating on this experience, I concluded that our ingredients in this case ‘seeds’ listen to us even when fertilizers are used they listen and amplify the type of fruits they produce.
This curiosity is what I felt on days when my dad plants the heads of tubers of yam which was deliberately cut and stored over time. After its planted,
it springs forth leaves which then leads to giving it some support after months. The leaves later dry up which signifies it is ready for harvest. It is the same curiosity I have when he plants just a stalk of cassava and then it brings forth leaves and grows into a tuber crop. I understand that there are botanical explanations for why things that are planted grow but I still wonder what makes the soil understand and also the level of communication that has gone between the seed and the soil within the timeframe it was planted. Now, what you might have not realized is that there was a motive to have initiated the planting in the first place no other reason than to cultivate, and feed people if this is done within the confines of your environment it simply depicts the farm to table concept.
I grew up, knew my left from my right. I could as well differentiate between what was spicy, sweet, sour, and salty. Culinarians have made this easy to distinguish one from another. Our ancestors even understood when a particular ingredient was enough or was too much. Their understanding of meal preparation still needs to be looked into. It must have taken a lot of intentionality for this to have happened for the exercise to have taken place it required some deliberate act and risk. I made my debut in the kitchen at age 5 by adding starch (meant for dad’s cloth) to a pot of stew. I didn’t know what I was doing at that age but now when I look back at that moment I still try to understand what was going through my innocent mind. My mum never measured and her meals came out the same way every time she cooked. Even when I started using her kitchen for my experiments (i.e food blogging) she always had this fuss of me measuring and being observant of everything that went into what was being made.
I get it that their generation didn’t see the need to measure but still they did measure. They used their eyes and other senses to measure and study food. That would have taken another level of deliberateness and being intentional they could differentiate from all these ingredients to balance meals being
prepared and effectively come out with the same result every time they did.
We must also agree that their flavour profile, level of taste, and the quest for delicious meals must have been great like how do you explain how they knew eba and egusi soup would pair well or how Ikokore eaten by the Ijebus could be eaten with cold eba also how the grated water yam used in its making can also be used to make ojojo. Beans is traditionally cooked it can be made into akara, and also soaked, peeled, and blended/grounded wrapped in leaves to make moin-moin, and also ekuru it can as well be made into something entirely new like gbegiri. Ondo people pride in pupuru and marugbo, Hausas pair miyan taushe or Kuka soup with tuwo shinkafa, Igbo people eat oha and ofe nsala soup. Edo and Urhobo people take pride in Banga soup and starch and eventually came to a final realization and conclusion that it will bang and taste good. Another thing we must realize is that these meals can’t stand alone without the inclusion of spices and herbs that go into their preparation these ingredients are indigenous and trust me there must have been a lot of trials and errors when this was being made. It makes me cherish the rationale being their thinking, taste, flavour profile, and the creation of these meals in general.
Logically and critically thinking how do our ingredients listen to us? Do they? they do from we being cautious of not overcooking vegetables to avoid them losing their nutrient or how we choose to roughly or finely blend/chop our onions and peppers or how fish and meat is salted, sundried, and smoked for preservation. Our ingredients understand and pay attention to us. It only takes an intentional and upright heart being to realize this and everyone who eats is a partaker of such.
For a fact, we have arrays of ingredients around the world, and their uses are quite enormous but the most commonly used ingredients are quite limited and these same ingredients are usually transformed into something entirely different. The nutrient acquired when eaten is something that remains constant in the ingredients we cook with.
Maize, for example, is used in making many food items it is used to make pap also custard, cornflakes, and grits/hominy. It is made into agidi Jollof a snack usually eaten by people from eastern Nigeria. It can as well be hulled, soaked, cooked, and paired with beans and pepper sauce in a dish called Egbo. The use of vital ingredients in making food has kept our kitchens alive the use of a certain ratio of pepper and tomatoes in making stew has made homemade stew what it has always been. The use of a rich stew base has made Jollof rice remain what we’ve foremost known. The use of bay leaf, Cameroon pepper, locust beans, ogiri, smoked fish, crayfish, and meat has created an equilibrium in our use of ingredients and hence challenged us to think wider than our immediate and current use of ingredients. The use of ingredients has made it possible to actualize our creativity, experiment, and explore food.