Pieces of Extinct Culinary Tradition

Like everything else, there are many culinary traditions of my generation, which are extinct or on the verge of extinction.

I consider myself lucky to have spent first 8 years of my life in a joint family with my maternal grandmother. Our home was the ancestral one, which we call Tharavadu with its low ceiling and woodworks. It had a long history of being an abode to generations of the family and my grandmother’s bed-time stories were filled with narratives of the exploits of our great great grandfathers.

The tharavadu was demolished without any second thoughts to make way for a concrete bungalow which tried to be a modern substitute with its wood worked front doors and dome shaped roof.

It did nothing to negate the loss . But the greatest forfeiture would be our failure in preserving the glorious pieces of copper utensils and stone appliances which were windows to the history of that era. I do not know what happened to all of them and it is too late to go searching for them.

All I can do is brag about my turn in acquainting all those stone ancestors of our modern day mixer grinder. I used them for years and can proudly say that I used to be something close to an expert, managing them with practised grace.

Searching the web yielded pictures of those stone made gizmos, the most frequently used being, arakallu. Kerala cuisine is rich in dishes with coconut based gravy. Before the advent of mixer-grinder, this stone contraption was the one which faithfully ground the grated coconut to a fine paste, for all gravy needs.

I have learned how to use it, under the guidance of my mother and we had an arakallu, till I was 16 or 17 years old.That was when my father bought us our first mixer-grinder and the arakallu was discarded as a now useless piece of polished boulder. I didn’t think about its impending role as a historic keepsake then.

The best part of this nostalgic souvenir, follows the grinding of coconut chutney. Before cleaning the arakallu, mom would bring a handful of cooked brown rice which she would roll on the remaining chutney, thus scraping even the last morsel from the stone. If I close my eyes, I can taste that spicy, tangy, ball of rice which my mom would place in my mouth. You can have a whole plate of rice with just this red spicy coconut chutney.

Another contrivance was the ural, which is a taller version of the mortar and pestle. This was used for grinding all spices and condiments to powder form. Chilli powder, coriander powder, rice powder, chutney powder and all other sorts, were made in the ural, by the rhythmic up and down motion of the long wooden pestle, by strong and graceful female arms.

Dry coconut chutney powder was an inseparable part of our school lunch box. It was ground in this ural and kept in glass bottles which would stay fresh for weeks. This process too followed the practice of rolling rice balls in the remnants of the chutney powder which was savoured with relish.

The final implement in this list is the aattukallu which was used for making liquid batter for idlis and dosas. The grinding was done, with one hand rotating the stone pestle while the other pushed the batter towards the centre . The movements required both rhythm and expertise or you would end up grinding your finger tips along with the batter.

Here is the recipe for my favourite Dry Coconut Chutney Powder which I now make in dry grinding jar .

2 cup coconut, grated
7 dried red chillies
handful curry leaves
ball sized tamarind
asafoetida - 1 pinch
½ tsp salt
In a large kadai add grated coconut and roast on medium flame for 2-3 minutes.
Add 7 dried red chilli and handful curry leaves.
Continue to roast until the coconut turns dark golden brown.
Cool completely and transfer to the blender.
Add ball sized tamarind, pinch asafoetida and ½ tsp salt.
Blend to coarse powder.

This is now on the list of my nostalgic soul foods.

Categories: Recipes, Soul Food, Thoughts

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