Friday, February 25, 2011

Burnt milk: Stink or flavor?

I burnt something the other day in the kitchen. My family was away in Kolkata, and I was working at my computer, all by myself. I was engrossed in my work when I smelled something smoky and pungent. I realized I had put on the gas stove a pan of milk and forgotten all about it.

I ran to the kitchen. By that time, much of the milk had overflowed, bathing the burner. I regretted my mistake and filled with the burden of cleaning up the mess. After I stood there for a moment, though, I smelled something more pleasant than the bitterness of a silly error. I smelled something smoky, but nostalgic, reminiscent of my mother's fondness for something -- the flavor of half-burned and caramelized milk.

As I took off the pan of milk from the stove, I inhaled deeply. I smelled "kheer," or evaporated, half-caramelized milk. I could eat the remaining milk in the pan with roti.

Putting my regret behind me, I recalled my mother's liking for burnt milk. She had always admitted with embarrassment her weakness for the flavor, a singular fondness for half-burnt milk that she would scrape with a serving spoon to eat.

She now lives in Kolkata, about 2,000 miles from my home in Mumbai; she is now sick and old in an equally old house in the heart of an older city. I remembered her. And I remembered something -- my own fondness for a sweet, a dessert that is almost the same as burnt milk. I remembered "pora pithe" -- a sweet famous in the state of Orissa. That is similar to creme brulee, too!

I love it. I have begun loving burnt milk! What about you, dear reader?