Kalchatti trails

 

Recently, Nithya, one of my friends called me and told me her misadventure with the stone tava she got from Bellur. She stayed in a homestay there and saw her host using the stone tava to make Neer dosa. Excitedly she added one of this tava to her loot and took it to Mumbai. At home she promptly switched on the stove and kept the tava, only to see it crumbling in few seconds with a loud bang!

I was telling her how the same thing happened to me when I tried using a terracotta tava which I got from Rajasthan a long time back and somewhere in my head I thought of this kalchatti (stoneware vessel) my mom used to keep talking about. I remember her being very careful about it. It was the spoilt child of the family so much that mom wouldn’t even let anyone touch it! Even the maid wasn’t allowed to wash it.

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I was never really curious about it till I managed to get one myself. I have had this endless fascination towards villages, traditions, culture and of course cooking. Travelling also gave me the opportunity to explore and collect few things here and there. That is how my parents, my husband and I ended up roaming around the crowded streets of Kalpathy in Palakkad searching for the famous kalchatti.

To quickly give the story, Kalpathy is one of the largest settlements of migrated Brahmins from Tanjore in Tamilnadu. It is also preserved as a heritage village by the Kerala Goverment. What is interesting is that in this fairly large village there is a street named kalchatti theruvu (literally translated to stone-vessel street). It can only be imagined that once upon a time there were artisans selling these stoneware vessels on the streets of Kalpathy.

Fast forwarding to now, Kalpathy happens to be a slow sleepy town with a few shops selling typical Palakkad style goodies and fairly good number of home run mess which supplies food for the elderly Tam-brahms. The annual excitement in this village happens to be the Kalpathy Ratholsavam . People from the near by towns, states and a few from aboard flock here to witness the sight of the giant sized chariot pulled by people and pushed by an elephant. Like any village fair it also attracts a lot of vendors who want to make most of the crowd. Now, that’s what I was interested in! After a quick check of the chariot and a salute to the idol inside, we waded past the crowd to the shops that were inside the temple premises.

We walked past the stalls displaying plastic vessels, imitation jewellery and other attention seeking things and in a corner that can be easily overlooked in that crowd was this one guy selling stone ware vessels, pan and mortar pestle. Of course, mom took over from there; the checking, the asking questions and the bargaining was all done. The end result was that I became a proud owner of two kalchattis. 

Mom later gave me some stoneware cooking tip. I think she is also a bit too careful by nature and one doesn’t have to be so obsessed over a vessel. Yet I liked the way she gave a very dramatic personality to the kalchatti, telling me that I am supposed to coax it to cook. Beginning with pouring just plain water, then hot water, then slow boil the water in the stoneware vessel, in a span of few days, I am supposed to build a relationship with the vessel. To be true it sounded quite fascinating to my romantic head and I did exactly like I was told.

The day my in-laws arrived jet lagged after their US trip, I decided to inaugurate the kalchatti by making some rasam; the comfort food of any Tambrahm. I added the tamarind water, dal and tomato pieces in the kalchatti and let it slow boil while sprinkling all the necessary masala to give the rasam its flavour. Once done, I switched off the gas but found that the rasam was still bubbling, all thanks to the hot stoneware it was in. What was fascinating was that even though we had our lunch two hours after I had made the rasam, it was still hot.

While most of us are cutting it close with time and want ‘instant’ food, there are handful of others who cherish the old and find it rather hard to let go. I guess I am one of them. Of course being brought up in Mumbai my patience does run out when it comes to anything slow, yet I like to indulge in it once in a while, for nostalgia sake.

 

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Avarekalu saaru made in kalchatti 

Quicks tips on buying a kalchatti

  • The smallest size would cost around 150 to 200 if you buy it from a small town. Its double in exhibitions.
  • See to it that you fill something in the stoneware vessel before placing it on the flame. Heating an empty stoneware vessel would cause cracks.
  • The flame must always be low. Since it is stone the heating is equal and balanced even if it is a bit slow. It also stay hot for a longer period of time.
  • Any type of dal, sambar, gravy based curries and kootu can be made in the stoneware vessel. Best known South Indian dish to be cooked in kalchatti is of course mor kozhambu and vetta kozhambu.. (Drool happening!)

 

 

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Do you have a plant story?

I think everyone should have a plant story. Like you eat a fruit, save the seed, sow it and then eagerly look at it every morning to see if there is any life peeking out of the soil.

As a kid I never had one. Oh wait, the school project doesn’t really count because we all mostly use a pulse that sprouts faster and once the teacher has checked the project no one really knows what to do with all those tiny seedlings.

But my dad had one and my grandma had many plant stories.

Dad told me that when he was young and living in Palakkad, someone got him a mango. Not just any mango but the very famous Malgova mango.  But dad got just one. He simply loved it and wanted to hold on to it. So what did he do? Like any other kid he sowed the seed in his backyard and took care of it. He watered it every day and watched it grow. It grew taller and taller just like him and soon started to bear fruit. In the intervening years, the house has changed many owners but the mango tree still stands there as a loving childhood memory of my dad. And when he saw the tree years later, it was almost like meeting an old friend for him. As if he had to greet the tree, my dad took a stone and aimed for a fruit.

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Do we have any plant stories to tell the future generation?

I remember when I moved to Bangalore and how the first thing I got introduced to was a Brahmakamal plant climbing all over the house. Oh! there were so many stories about it. Right from who gifted the plant, to how many people have taken a leaf from it, to how many flowers bloomed last year. There was 15 years worth of memories. It was like a member of the family. So much that even the slightest mention of pruning the plant was met with a defensive remark on how it is not disturbing anyone.

And then on the other side we see people just thoughtlessly cutting a whole tree to create an extra room in their house or to widen the roads. I wonder if we have stopped connecting to the stationary life around us? Can the youngsters relate to trees with a little bit of emotion or will it just be textbook information of ‘save trees’ and ‘global warming’? Even more heartbreaking is my grandmother leasing out her mango tree because she can’t find anyone to climb the tree and pluck mangoes anymore. The simple joy of plucking a fruit, sometimes seasoning it with salt and eating it even if it’s raw and sour with such excitement has almost lost its charm.

When I moved to Bangalore, it had already changed too much for the liking of true Bangaloreans. The weather was not the same, the traffic was bad, too many apartments, … but what I found unchanged or may be less changed was the openness to gardening; not just the love for plants but the eagerness to grow it too. Go to Siddapura and point at a plant and the guy will come up with its botanical name! Local political parties and the BBMP give away free dustbins for segregation, hold local composting workshops all of which create awareness. There are these Organic Terrace Gardening (OTG) groups in almost all parts of the city where a bunch of enthusiastic home gardeners meet and exchange seeds, plants and information. So many of them include their children in gardening even if it is teaching them how to pull out weeds.

There is hope then that all is not lost. There is hope that we will learn to appreciate the little things in life even if our goals are big. There is a hope that when the future generations realise that Pokemon is not real and the world doesn’t begin and end on their phone screens, they will have something real to connect to; something that builds memories and creates stories.

All for the love of Pesto…

When you love pesto all you can think of is growing the sweet basil in your garden.

That’s what I did. Got myself some Italian basil seeds (another name for sweet basil) and sowed them in a planter.

How adorable the seedlings look!
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But they are also a bit touchy and one has to be very careful I realised. With enough sunlight and water they grow well but as one can understand the events in a plant’s life are rather slow. And for an eager basil loving gardener it can be tough. I think this was the main reason why I lost couple of seedlings and had to redo the whole process again.

What I found best is to plant the seeds in a seed tray or small planter. Give atleast a weeks time for it to sprout (depending on the nature of the seed). At times it can test your patience. Once you see the seedlings be careful how you water it. Preferably use a gentle spray.  Once it has more than two inches in height you can transfer it to a big planter. Post that they dont need any specific care. If you have grown the holy basil (Tulsi) at home, this won’t be any different from that. Once you see the flowers, let it dry and save the seeds to either plant another basil or give it away to a pesto lover like me !

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**If anyone living in Bangalore is looking for Italian basil seeds, I do have a few to give away. You can get in touch with me at enthucutletintown@gmail.com

 

What does a lemon flower-bud look like?

Have you ever wondered what does a lemon flower bud look like?

It had been months since I saw any activity with my lemon plant. It was green and alive. It seemed like it was in deep contemplation on whether to sprout a leaf of not.

And then one fine day, I find these three white dots on a branch. My first instinct was

“A pest it is!”

Thankfully I wasn’t stupidly curious to disturb it. I looked closely and decided to give it time. And few days later I realised it was growing.

It was not a pest, it was the flower!I

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That’s what it looked like.