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Back to the stone age |

Back to the stone age

The taste of pappu pulusu (lentils cooked in tamarind juice) that antique collector Y Krishnamurthy’s mother used to make in a ratichippa (stone cooking pot) still lingers on his tongue. In fact, even today, Sunday lunch at his household is incomplete without traditional Andhra dishes prepared in a stone pot that has been in the family for over three generations. “Food cooked in such vessels is enriched with the minerals of the respective stone or metal. This is why many families in the old days used to eat in silver plates,” says Hyderabad-based Murthy, recalling how rice was earlier cooked in brass vessels.


As people grow more aware of the dangers of modern cookware — nickel and chromium leeching from stainless steel pots, BPA in plastics leaking into foods — traditional materials like copper, iron, stone and clay are making a comeback into Indian kitchens. And addressing this growing demand are a range of brands specialicing in heirloom cookware. Like Bengaluru-based Namu Kini’s two-month-old online store, happyhealthyme.com, which has a range of cast iron and khansa (bronze) kitchenware. “There’s a lot that revolves around food in Indian culture, and these metals have a story to tell. Not only do they make your meal look beautiful, they have an Ayurvedic, therapeutic advantage,” says Kini, who switched from non-stick to metal a few years ago, in her effort to get healthy. However, she advises people to check a vessel’s authenticity. “Many online shopping sites sell cast iron kitchenware with Teflon coating, and many aren’t aware of that,” says Kini, whose range, sourced from Tamil Nadu, is in the ₹600 to ₹3,000 range.

Meanwhile. Murthy, who actively blogs on ykantiques.com, shares that he gets numerous e-mails from people who are wary of the carcinogenic properties of plastic and Teflon-coated utensils, and want to set up a traditional kitchen. While he admits that maintaining them might be time-consuming (articles abound on how to season and store such cookware), over time the benefits show.

If you are looking at revisiting these forgotten materials and wondering what and where to pick them up from, this list of stores and brands should help.

Set in stone

The Craft Council of India (CCI) launched a line of handcrafted kalchattis — made with maavu kal (soft stone) — last month, which are increasingly being picked up by the health conscious. “Earlier, there was little demand and diminishing numbers of skilled artisans.


 

With the popularity of lighter, easier to manufacture cooking utensils like steel and aluminium, the traditional kalchatti got left behind,” says Geeta Ram, Chairperson, CCI, explaining why their efforts to revive the cookware a couple of decades ago did not work. “But today, with everything organic and handmade taking centre stage, these have become popular again. People are tired of factory-produced things and are looking for handmade, exclusive products that have a logical, scientific advantage,” she adds.

Pros: With zero chemicals, these pots are easy to use. They need a single curing process before use. The oven-proof range includes pots, kuzhiappam chetti, dosa kal and salad bowls.

Available at: Kamala store (Egmore), from ₹100 – ₹800. Details: 28191457

Metal advantage

The latest edition to Yaksha, Dhanyam Organic Superstore’s range of artisanal earthenware, is the eeya chombu (tin pot). Hammered into shape from tin sheets by artisans in Kumbakonam, these handmade utensils were used to prepare rasam in traditional South Indian households.


 

Madhusoodhanan K, Director, explains how, over the years, due to the adulteration of tin with lead, many stopped using it. “We have tested it in labs and would like people to start using them again. The eeya chombu is an heirloom vessel; the one we use at home was given to me by my mother, and has been in the family for over 70 years,” he says.

He adds that their pre-cured cast iron cookware are fast moving, too, and wooden chopping boards (made from mango and pencil wood) and cooking ladles (neem) are also making a comeback.

Pros: Known to increase haemoglobin, tin enhances flavour and cooks food evenly. Cast iron increases the food’s iron content

Con: Tin has a low melting point, so you need to use it carefully.

Available at: All Dhanyam outlets and on dhanyam.in, between the ₹300 and ₹5,000 range.

Think bronze



 

Priya Deepak, co-founder of Bengaluru-based The Village Fair, sources and sells metal and earthenware from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. With a range that includes bronze uralis, oven-proof cast iron pans, stone kalchettis, and microwavable clay pots, their aim is to bring back the utensils used by our grandmothers. “In the olden days, payasam was always made in a bronze urali as it retains flavour and is non-toxic. And if you cook in an iron vessel, you are less prone to becoming anaemic,” says Deepak, who believe stone is best used for curries.

Indian celebrity chef Vikas Khanna’s kitchen is lined with copper utensils, 100-year-old spice boxes, and even an iron kadhai from his grandmother’s wedding. “Ancient India had mastered the art of alloys, and I am happy to see combinations of brass, copper, tin, iron, and carbon making their way back into our kitchens. They represent not just heritage, but scientific research, arts and design and unique shapes,” says the Michelin starred chef whose latest book My First Kitchen, a beginner’s guide to cooking and setting up the kitchen.

Vikas, who has made over 69 trips to India for the culinary museum he is setting up in Manipal, says he’s found the most interesting utensils from Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Puducherry, Goa, and Andhra. “Actually my list is endless! The North East and Kolkata have the most sophisticated tribal works. There’s so much to explore.”

Pros: Preserves micro nutrients and prevents acidity.

Available at: The online store, thevillagefair.in, in the ₹650 to ₹2,800 range.

Copper calling


 

There are many scientifically-proven health benefits of copper, but the pure metal turns acidic if wet — one of the reasons why Pune-based Studio Coppre creates serveware, like platters, tumblers, flasks and mugs. Speaking about how storing water in copper pots kills bacteria, co-founder Sudakshina Banerjee says, “Copper helps maintain healthy skin, and even affects the brain and heart. It also helps heal wounds faster.” Working to revive heritage metal crafts since 2014, the social venture works with artisan clusters in Maharashtra, Konkan and Karnataka. Their certified, lead-free kansa range is popular, too. A mix of tin and copper, kansa does not tarnish with time, and tin is known to improve brain activity. They also have collections in brass and silver.

Describing the making process, Banerjee says the products go through anywhere between 30 to 50 steps (with cutting, sanding, heating, cooling, washing and buffing being just the basics). “Each plate-sized platter needs about 2,500 strokes of the hammer, and this requires years of skilled work,” she shares.

Pros: Improves immunity and aids digestion.

Available at: The coppre.in, from ₹1,000 to ₹8,000.

Rooted in earth


 

Rekha Ramu, convenor at Farmer and Co., sources an array of earthenware pans, water filters, cookers and soup bowls from artisans across the State. And she swears by their health benefits: nutrient-rich, chemical-free and naturally filtered. “Earthenware calls for slow cooking, and all Indian grains are meant to be cooked this way. It helps retain their nutritive value,” says Ramu, who uses heirloom cast iron pans, and stone and copper pots at home. Wary of plasticware and non-stick utensils, she explains how Teflon coating gradually enters the food being cooked in the vessel, making it carcinogenic.

Pros: Neutralises food’s pH balance and adds nutrients.

Available at: Most organic stores, including Dhanyam. Costs between ₹30 and ₹350.

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