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Dreams of India – Then and Now

Jordan Wright
January 2010

I was nearly raised in a palace in the rugged highlands of Northern India.

A palace in India

When my model/artist/writer/socialite mother found herself smack-dab in the throes of a divorce in the swinging ‘60’s, she threw herself Eva Tanguay-style into New York’s social whirl attending the opera, ballet and nightly galas. Invitations by the handful would appear daily on heavy vanilla card stock from every hostess and charity committee in town. It was at one such soiree that she met a very distinguished man who began to ardently court her.

Narendra Singh Sarila at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, where he gave a presentation based on his book about the partition of India.

Enter the Maharajah Narendra Singh from the Princely State of Sarila, who had still retained his palace with its many lands and servants, though along with many other rulers when independence ended the days of The Raj, he had been stripped of a great deal of the usual privileges and status. I was fifteen, wildly impressionable and safely ensconced in an all-girls boarding school. On holidays I would often see the elegant maharajah when his trusty manservant would fill the kitchen with the alluring aromas of exotic curries in our East Side apartment. This was my first introduction to Indian cuisine aside from the occasional tandoori chicken my mother would whip up in her small clay pot when the cooking spirit moved her.

On my tiny bunk bed in a frigid dormitory in New England I dreamed of life in a palace. I conjured up halcyon days of jewels and robes, elephant hunts and lavish parties. What fodder for a young girl’s fecund imagination! As it happened he had a handsome son about my age. Now I had a vested interest.

In letters home I began my indelicate campaign of pleading and cajoling, hoping to sway my mother to marry him. Eventually the maharajah returned to India pressing my mother through the mails to accept his proposal. One day a massive tiger-skin rug, postmarked Sarila, arrived. I felt certain such an extravagant gift would seal the deaI, but my mother was far less moved, and alas, it was not to be after a prince showed up on our doorstep and trumped the dear maharajah. But that’s another story for another day.

It’s a curious thing how memories will come flooding back after so many years, triggered by a mere morsel, but this is what happened to me, in a most unlikely place, as I sampled the Indian cooking sauces produced by a small company named Stonehouse 27 Spice Company on the cement floor of a convention hall in Washington, DC where I occasioned to meet the owner of a fledgling company out of Germantown, Tennessee.

Sharon Fernandes creator of Stonehouse 27 Indian cooking sauces - photo by Jordan Wright

Sharon Fernandes descends from a family accustomed to bridging cultural divides. A trained engineer, she was born in what is now called Mumbai of a British father and Portuguese mother who worked as a caterer. Later she made her home in Dubai and Australia where she received her degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

A few years ago she had a slap-to-the-forehead moment. “My right brain and left brain finally hooked up,” she says of her epiphany and decision to start the company. “I created the line for my family. I wanted them to have the best.”

Her six beautiful sauces made using stone-ground spices reflect her combined heritage. In a recent phone call she told me that she grew up eating steak and potatoes. “A part of India is all Christian and we love our pork and beef,” she explained. “With that in mind, I made my line of sauces compatible with meats and seafood.”

Gourmet sauces from Stonehouse 27 Spice Co - photo by Jordan Wright

Working daily on-site from start to finish in the cooking process she explains, “Everything is done in a very staged approach – one step at a time. At first I tasted over a dozen types of onions before selecting the perfect one for its flavor and consistency. I now get all my onions from Oregon and we sauté them for two hours, allowing them to achieve just the right texture and deepest flavor, before the garlic is added. It all gets just the right amount of cooking as it would in a home or restaurant.”

Her mild Tamarind and Garlic sauce for shrimp and vegetarian dishes and a more delicate Cilantro and Coconut sauce for fish like tilapia, flounder and cod reflect the care she puts into the sauces. A hotter Cashews and Cream sauce, a medium heat Tomato and Chiles sauce and the more spicy Dates and Tamarind sauce are designed to go with meats like beef, lamb and pork. I like that the dishes take only minutes to prepare but taste as though you have been slaving away all day.

Sharon is very proud of the fact that only agave nectar and California dates are used for sweetening and no salt is added keeping sodium levels very low unlike other prepared curry sauces on the market. “People try to compensate for bad-tasting products by adding salt. So I don’t use any salt and there is only the naturally occurring sodium from the lemons, limes and tamarinds in the sauces.”

Stonehouse 27 Spice Company’s Indian Cooking Sauces are not yet available in our immediate area though plans are underway. In the meantime Sharon has kindly offered Whisk and Quill readers free shipping on three jars or more if purchased online. Use the code WhiskandQuill10 to get a dollar off too.

Chef Willis Underwood of McNulty's 7 Fruit Chutney - photo by Jordan Wright

To complement your curry, do try McNulty’s 7 Fruit Chutney, another recent discovery of mine. Fifty years ago North Carolina native Margot Walser started making this condiment during the holidays in her home kitchen from an 80-year-old family receipt. Chockfull of fresh-picked peaches, plums, golden raisins, honeydew, apples, grapes, pineapples and spiced with ginger it is hand-made in small batches as it has always been. Distinctive, flavorful and toothsome it has no preservatives or additives. Toss out the syrupy and gelatinous jelly-like chutneys. This is the gold standard. Find it in Dean & De Luca and some Whole Foods or online.

So here’s my plan…a Bollywood-inspired party. Just ring up your friends, slip in a DVD and whip up some curry in the comfort of your own home. Pretty soon you’ll be having dreams of India too.

For cooking ideas and to order the all-natural Indian sauces, go to:
www.stonehouse27.com

For the heavenly chutney:
www.mcnultyschutney.com

For questions or comments on this article email Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com or visit www.WhiskandQuill.com

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