Most folk probably associate the WI (Women’s Institute) with old fashioned ideas on baking and crafts; with the key participants being ladies of a certain age, certain strident views, wearing certain types of tweed and sensible shoes, and a frightening ‘bark’ to their voice if you challenge traditional concepts. In some cases that is true – you only have to open the WI magazine to see all the leaflets about ageing, baths you can walk in to, supports for varicose veins, useful chairs that electronically push you out of the seat, coach holidays around certain parts of the globe in the company of folk who are interested in things that most of us would love to have the time to be interested in! It does drive me slightly mad I have to say. And I do know that it even gets to some folk who are much older than I am – for some, attitude to life should not be defined by the time we’ve spent on the planet! And I am not against learning from and getting to know those who are older than me, and I have made some wonderful friends and learnt much that is wisdom from them, but one would wonder what the future holds for the WI if you just restricted yourself to reading the magazine and attending some of the local meetings. Just because a charity had a value in years gone by, doesn’t mean to say that it still does.
However, the cookery school at Denman College is completely focused on modernity – latest thinking about nutrition, techniques, equipment. With vibrant energetic tutors (age doesn’t even come into it when the energy levels are high!), superb kitchen facilities, and courses that make each participant develop their skills at their own pace and in their own way, and on a range of courses that span all types of food, cooking and technical approaches. As regular readers know, I love Denman’s cookery courses and I try to go as often as I can afford to.
Recently I visited again to learn about cooking Indian vegetarian food. It was really excellent and, in keeping with my promise that each month I would push my own skills forward a little, I certainly achieved that.
Frightened of cooking with oil? All that splish sploshing and high temperatures? Not a problem for me any more.
Nervous about mixing your spices? All sorted. Little by little until you reach the flavour you like.
Not sure which curry dishes come from where? Easy. A geographical and cultural tour through the regions of India with associated food habits and specialities increased my knowledge.
Rice always lumpy and clumpy? Just remember that you have to be kind to rice! Treat it kindly and it will behave kindly back.
Not sure about how to make those lovely puris and baggias? I am now. And they are remarkably simple to make. (OK this picture doesn’t quite do the potential perfection justice!)
What does modern Indian cooking use these days in terms of sustainable flours and spices? Can you use wholemeal flours and less salt? We were brought into the 21st century of Indian cookery.
Ability to replicate everything I learnt when I returned home? Yes indeed! I even cleared out my old spices (tasted like dust really) and replenished them with fresh spices that I can grind as and when I need them.
So – even if the visible signs of the WI put you off because you think it is just for old people, ignore them. Avoid the WI magazine or at least get rid of the leaflets inside – some of the articles are great if you get to that stage. If your local WI is not to your taste, attend another one. And most importantly of all, go to Denman and learn to cook something you’ve not cooked before. Learn about ingredients or to handle equipment you’ve never used before. Learn where the future lies for nutrition, the cost of food, how to feed people with what is available, what we can learn from other cultures about food and attitudes towards it. For, in my view, that’s where the 21st Century WI really makes an impact.
Just like the colours in this dish…