Doing the dishes

Migrant women create cookbook in English language lessons

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A group of migrant women have shared their favourite dishes and their personal stories in a cookbook.

Twenty-five women now living in Manchester but originally from countries including Syria, Greece, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Poland and Tibet contributed recipes to Cook, Eat, Write, Share, which launched last week with an event at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

The group developed the book during an English language course run by the social enterprise Heart and Parcel, which helps learners practise their English through the medium of food.

Over a 10-week Lottery-funded programme, the women honed their recipes – some of which had never even been written down in their own language – and learned new skills in food styling and cooking demonstrations.

They also shared anecdotes and memories connected with the chosen dishes and wrote their personal stories.
Heart and Parcel later decided to work with independent creatives to self-publish a cookbook.


Set up in 2015 in response to cuts to English language teaching, Heart and Parcel’s classes are free and the team have run supper clubs and sold their learners’ produce on market stalls over the years.

Dumplings are at the heart of the project but the cookbook also includes a range of other recipes.

Co-founder Clare Courtney said: “This course came about because women who had attended our previous projects had identified a need to practise and develop their literacy skills.

“We looked at the ingredients in their dishes and they learned how to describe what things smell like and memories attached to the dishes. We tried to create a story for each recipe, which sit within the women’s own narratives.

“We invited women we had worked with in the past to come and demonstrate their recipes to the groups. Then we ran an open demonstration in Levenshulme where they all cooked their dishes on site and talked to members of the public who attended.

“The women got to practise their skills and local people could learn something of the different communities living in the area and what people are cooking behind closed doors. Some of these dishes are family recipes but others are taken from places like YouTube but have been given a personal twist.”

During the course, the group also learned how to style their food so it could be photographed by Big Issue North contributor Rebecca Lupton, who also took photos in some of their homes.

‘Open mind’

At the start it was not certain the end product would be a recipe book – Courtney orginally had some kind of learning resource in mind. But the group were keen to develop a cookbook and for any profits to go back into Heart and Parcel’s work.

Recipes were tested by volunteers at home, with changes made until they worked perfectly. Courtney also made a series of podcasts, featuring interviews with several contributors.

Hanane, a Moroccan who moved to Longsight in 2007 – after 17 years living with her family in Turin, Italy – said her fish parcels recipe in the book reminds her of her mother.

She said: “My mother taught me to cook when I was a child – and from there I developed a passion for food. My recipe comes from her but I have put my personal stamp on it because I add soy sauce.

“If you have an open mind you are able to accept differences in life and in food. I have learned about Italian culture and now English culture and this has influenced not only my personality but also my cooking.

“When I arrived in Manchester I didn’t speak very good English but Heart and Parcel is wonderful – it really helped me improve and meet people.

“Our cookbook is different from other recipe books because we are just normal women, not chefs, sharing our recipes and our life experiences. We are sharing love in this book.”

Photo: Hanane contributed a fish parcels recipe inspired by her mother but with her own twist (Rebecca Lupton)

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