The weather has been gloomy, the sun has ghosted us and the wind seems to be mad about something because it has been howling something fierce for days now. This morning as I look out of my sorry excuse for a window into yet another gloomy day, all I want is my mother’s Ji Mmiri Oku.
I learnt the act of cooking with love from my mother. Somehow every meal she ever made for us was always with love and a cheerful disposition, and she always put extra care into whatever she was cooking. Ji mmiri oku is a delicacy because we didn’t eat it often and the way my mum liked to make it was an absolute labor of love because it involved so many steps and tiny bits and pieces that made it unique and unlike any other version I have ever tried.
On Saturday Mornings, my mum would ask everyone what they wanted for breakfast and just make a random selection from anyone’s request, but on rainy days we all agreed on one thing and one thing only, ji mmiri oku. This meal had many meanings, it is a popular dish from my tribe and it is often made for women who have just given birth because it is chuck full of healing herbs and spices, it can also be for someone who is convalescing because it is warm and soothing but it also is an absolutely perfect rainy day meal.
My mum would select the best tuber of yam in the pantry, and the biggest dried fish and stock fish, only the best ingredients for her ji mmiri oku. The whole house would smell of scent leaves and peppers and it was glorious. After cooking it, she’d serve the yam separately, cooked to tender perfection and tossed in a mixture of palmoil and salt, and then the heavenly broth filled with fish and herbs and everything good served in a deep bowl with big wooden ladles for slurping. Ah! I can almost taste it.
This wasn’t a meal we ate with chatter, for some reason we always ate it quietly. The only sounds were the gentle patter of rain on the roof, the clink of forks against plates and wooden ladles against bowls, occasional slurps and a lot of throat clearing because one thing ji mmiri oku will do is clear your sinuses clean and clear.
I don’t know if it was the yam or the soup or all the love my mum put into this meal, afterwards none of us could move. We’d all just sit around in a food induced coma and sleep off or just sit around until we’re okay to get up and clear the dishes, but we were always happy and warm and content.
Home sickness is a constant feeling for me and the looming holidays don’t make it easier. I might try to make myself some ji mmiri oku and though I cannot make it as good as my mum does, I will call her as I cook it and maybe her smile and her voice will infuse some much needed magic into my own recipe.
“I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make but it carries a certain taste of memory.” –Mitch Albom