People & lifestyle

Cook and serve – in Grandma’s kitchen

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Bell metal utensils known as Kanh in Assamese were commonly used for cooking and eating. Now used mainly for religious offerings and rituals.

I miss my grandma’s kitchen for its warmth, there was always a snack available – hot out off the fire or something marinated in salt kept to make pickle. Many sultry afternoons my sister, Reema and I with the aid of a maid, while the rest of the family napped , have eaten raw mangoes and pomelo coated with salt, chilies and mustard oil to our heart’s content.

It was a big treat to be allowed to help in the kitchen with the grinding, rolling or making of sweetmeats.We felt so grown up and of course enjoyed all the little titbits including the family gossip while we were there.

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Cooking on wood fire

The transition to modernization in India has been monumental and extremely rapid. One space that truly reflects this is in all our homes – the kitchen. The design of the space, the utensils and equipments used for cooking, serving and storing,  the chores related to cooking have all undergone a massive change.

Recently I visited a showroom in Bangalore that imports Italian signature kitchen, very contemporary, sleek and just like a piece of modern art – attractive with a large price tag . A kitchen designed for minimal cooking and lot of entertaining!

That’s what got me thinking about how in a short span of time, 30 years approx, I have moved from the warm smoked filled wood fire kitchen of my grandma’s to contemplating using an ultra chic modern kitchen.

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Curd hung on muslin cloth

Rice harvest in India

Winnowing of rice on a flat cane basket, a daily ritual

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A Woman Operates a Addoli. (Stationary Knife). The knife is stationary and the object to be spliced is moved producing a cut.

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A flat stone ( granite) mortar and pestle

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A hand meat grinder, that use to be attached to a shelf or table for support

The change really occurred when middle class Indian homes started using LPG cylinders instead of kerosene stoves. Safety issues and less cumbersome solutions must have been the reason for the shift that started in the 1980’s. Along the way brass and terracotta was replaced by stainless steel and plastic. The stone hand grinders gave way to electric ones. Kitchen maid now has a new definition.

Women started going out to work, the slow end of the joint family system, difficulty to get domestic help and smaller living spaces have all added to the transition in the social front. Meanwhile technology improved and the pressure cooker arrived to stay in Indian kitchens.

Till quite recently my grandmother use to cook the staple rice on a wood fire saying – “otherwise it won’t cook right and there won’t be any flavour in it.”

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Terracotta water vessel, keeps the water cool

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A metal spice box

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A brass coffee filter

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Small wooden pepper mill

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Brass kitchen spoons and ladles

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A cast iron Paniyaram maker

Most of the remnants of my grandma’s kitchen and those that I have inherited from a generous mother in law are used all around the house as objects of decor, plant holders and small storage units.

In my kitchen the only traditional utensils that are used for their true utility are a stone pestle,  a small wooden pepper mill from my grandfather’s bachelor days, a cast iron open pan and a cast iron Paniyaram ( a Tamil dish of steamed cakes) cooking pan ( both bought at a Sunday village market) , a well seasoned terracotta cooking pot with lid ( perfect for Saturday afternoon Biryani) and a few brass ladles.

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Cast iron pans, small fire stoves and large cooking spoons at a market stall similar to ones from which my grandma use to buy her kitchen utensils.

Tea Chai seller on the street, Varanasi Benares India

The old fashion kettle and method of making Chai

Image courtesy – http://www.google.co.in

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2 thoughts on “Cook and serve – in Grandma’s kitchen

  1. Shalabh Agarwal says:

    Julie, this is beautifully written. Takes one back to the old ways of cooking. Modernity has probably made the task of cooking a bit easier, but, we have had to majorly compromise on the flavors and the taste.
    Keep up the good work.

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