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I imagine my paternal grandmother’s kitchen to be very utilitarian, with just a few shelves holding spices and some utensils. A counter-high mud stove with two large openings. A robust fire peeking through, cooking the many meals served in her multigenerational home. On the floor, two cast iron stoves ready to take over cooking duties during the afternoon shift.

Today I am the proud owner of one of the cast iron stoves called the ‘Kummati Aduppu’. My mother tells me it is at least 70 years old if not more. She remembers cooking on it as a young bride at her in law’s house. I spotted this stove among the things that were set aside by my parents as they were preparing to sell their home. I did not have the privilege of meeting my grandparents so this will be a cherished connection to them and my past. I imagine my grandmother waking up from her afternoon nap, heading to the kitchen and sitting on the floor in front of the stove. One leg stretched out and the other folded, stoking and fanning the charcoal embers, while preparing the afternoon’s coffee, tea and tiffin.

Back in the day, strict rules governing food preparation dictated separate stoves for morning and evening cooking. The fixed mud stove which was fuelled by firewood was the one in which the [Prasadam] offerings for the deities during the morning puja [prayers] were prepared. The lady of the house had to follow strict guidelines of cleanliness in order to prepare the offerings and the day’s lunch for the family. After lunch, the stove was cleaned and smeared with a thin cowdung paste to disinfect it, which sounds rather contradictory but widely accepted as effective. The stove was then usually retired for the day and revisited the next morning. On occasion, if a large dinner was to be prepared, the mud stove was used and the firewood was started again. The process of starting the firewood and cleaning up followed by the anointing with cowdung paste after every session necessitated a smaller second stove for lighter cooking. The free standing Kummati Aduppu  was much more user friendly and just right for the afternoon’s simpler fare. In some homes this second stove was housed in a room adjoining the main kitchen and all the afternoon’s activities centered around this room.

The stove was loaded with charcoal over a grate on the top and ignited with burning paper from the bottom. A hand held fan made of palm leaves was used to fan the flames to light the charcoal. Someimes a long hollow cylindrical metal rod called “ommakuzhal’ was also used to blow air onto the charcoal to help ignite it. The cooking vessel or pan was set directly over the embers. The slow and steady heat from the charcoal was sufficient enough to cook for and feed the large households of that time. The grate helped with air circulation that kept the charcoal supplied with oxygen and simultaneously allowed the spent ash to fall through. From time to time the charcoal had to be stoked and fanned. Sometimes chunks of dried coconut husk were added as an additional source of fuel.  One or two of these stoves were enough to take care of the simpler needs of the families of that time.

At the end of the day the ash from the stove was collected and used as a scourer to wash pots and pans. The left over charcoal was washed [so my mother remembers] and dried to be used again. Every night the Kummati Aduppu was scrubbed clean and put away till the next afternoon. Every night kolam, little designs made with rice flour, were hand drawn on the big mud stove, so that a clean stove with auspicious symbols greeted the person coming in to the kitchen the following morning. And so it went till both stoves faded into history. Now one of them is getting a new lease of life….

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

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