"Reminiscent of the lollies that Nana Hannah stored for her grandchildren in an old Moccona coffee jar, Mum’s spice cupboard was full of old Kraft peanut butter jars and Eta mayonnaise containers."
Unlike most other Australian Jews, Elana's parents were born and grew up in Bombay, and her grandparents came from Iraq, Burma and India. Her father’s family immigrated to Sydney, her mother’s to Los Angeles, both in the 1960s. They married in Sydney and raised their family there, alongside the father’s many brothers and sisters and members of their former Bombay community. Despite being Jewish, her upbringing was greatly influenced by the food, language and culture of India, and to a lesser extent, Iraq.
My Mother's Spice Cupboard is the story of what happened to a community which no longer exists, how its members built new lives in a different country, and what it was like to grow up as one of their children. It's also about how much things have changed over four generations in one family.
The author’s grandparents’ arranged marriage produced nine children; both her parents grew up within the confines of Bombay’s insular Baghdadi Jewish community whereas she grew up as a first generation Australian in Sydney. Her children’s lives are underpinned by the differing Jewish traditions of her family and her husband’s family.
The themes underlying the story are those of family and community versus individuality; choice versus obligation; and tradition versus modernity. And underlying the entire narrative is the importance of food and cooking, which goes beyond the mere provision of sustenance to express warmth, love and hospitality.
“This is a story of a diaspora community - in one sense, one so common in terms of the “wandering Jew” - but one that adds importantly to the mosaic as it beautifully relates the story of one specific community about whom… the general Australian Jewish community know so little. So it is an important book… [which] also needs to go into the official history of Australian Jewry… Yet whilst this book is a story about the past, it is actually a challenge to the future… To come up with – if you like – the new ‘spice cupboard’ that speaks to future generations.” – Dr Ron Weiser AM
"My Mother’s Spice Cupboard is very readable, and makes an important contribution to understanding the everyday life of the Baghdadi community in India.” - Professor Suzanne D Rutland, OAM, University of Sydney
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