Maudiegirl Esther Kimball’s first husband, Campbell, died on the trip to Ceylon. His second, Kimball, succumbed to malaria. Then he married Cecilprins and became his tower of strength. This is how Carl Muller describes, for lack of a better word, the heroine of Maudiegirl And The Von Bloss Kitchen.
The book continues the story that the author began in the award-winning The Jam Fruit Tree, a story from the life of the burghers in Sri Lanka. If “heroine” was a slightly inappropriate description of Maudiegirl, then “story” is certainly not a description of the plot of this book. In short, the book presents a picture of life within the bourgeois community, an island within an island. Illustrates, but does not lead. Read it for an experience, not a trip.
Nominally Dutch, but Sinhalese-speaking, born in Asia but with European aspirations, the bourgeoisie are a fully integrated race apart. The names survive, Van Der Poorten, Caspars, etc., but the identity is just confusing. Whose is it not?
Most of the life of this bourgeois family revolves around food and sex, not always in that order. Livelihood and procreation take up most of the time, and recreation, usually in the form of sex, takes up the rest. Maudiegirl is the mainstay of the home, probably the community. She brings people together, solves problems, disposes of wisdom and occasional reprimands through her cooking. He has a recipe for every occasion. His meals can heal illness, solve problems, offer advice, and his culinary skills are recognized throughout the Von Bloss family, even in the community. The strange and complex mix of European, Asian, Dutch, English, Sri Lankan, Indian and American influences in the cuisine reflect the community they live in and their place in the world.
A woman who cannot conceive eats too much fish. I need something stronger. Stewed eel works wonders. I just wonder what. Dunnyboy exposes himself in public. Big Deal. It worries the sisters. Eat pork pie. Daughter needs baby. Needs hammering. Make plum pudding (only dried fruit, put butter in a pan, boil or steam for four hours). Problem solved.
Carl Muller’s style is concise, occasionally playful, often funny, always earthy, sometimes vaguely embarrassing. He sails metaphorically close to the winds and occasionally becomes obfuscated by including inexplicable and untranslated Sinhalese words and phrases. It makes no excuse for this, and invites the interested reader to find a Sinhalese speaker to help translate this world language and explain, thereby intensifying the experience and promoting communication between races and cultures. Therefore, there!
Maudiegirl And The Von Bloss Kitchen, this part novel, part cookbook, thus records everyday life, reflects life and opens a window to a perhaps unique culture that is not in any way special. There is no plot, no obvious sequence of events, just everyday life as it unfolds in predictable and unpredictable ways. It is also an excellent cookbook, recording the recipes of an expert cook. And what’s refreshing, whatever you cook and in whatever style, no one seems to dislike anything, eat the food, question its authenticity, count its calories, or even mention omega-3s. It is the food of a living culture.