In the olden days, cooking would take up practically the whole day since everything had to be prepared from scratch. The masalas had to be ground manually on a grinding stone and the food cooked over firewood.
The grinding stone was an indispensable appendage in every home in the olden days. It was used on a regular basis to grind the masalas or curry stuff required for the daily cooking, The grinding stone consisted of a flat granite stone about two feet in length and one foot breadth. The wet or dry ingredients were placed on this stone and another stone about 10 inches in length that was shaped like a roller or cylinder was used to grind the masalas in an up and down direction. This grinding stone was known as “Ammi Kal” in Tamil.
The top of the grinding stone had to be rough and coarse so that the masalas could be ground easily to a smooth texture. However, due to continuous grinding, the grinding stone would become smooth, and it would take longer to grind the ingredients to the required consistency. This was when the ‘Grinding Stone Tapper’ was called in to tap the grinding stone to make it rough again.
The grinding stone tapper would use a small chisel and hammer to first make small pits in a star design in the centre of the grinding stone and then continue tapping the stone with his chisel and hammer around this design till the whole surface of the grinding stone was covered with small pits very close together. He repeated the same procedure with the top stone as well. The Grinding Stone Man had his own peculiar way of calling out ‘Ammi Kalu. Ammi Kalu’ to let people know that he was coming around.
Some houses had yet another type of grinding stone which was used to grind wet masalas and batter for Idlis and Dosas, or rice pancakes. This grinding stone was shaped like a small barrel with a hole in the centre. The dry masalas or the soaked rice and dhal with a little water, was put into this hole and was ground to a smooth batter with another cylindrical shaped stone in a rotary movement. When these grinding stones became smooth, the Ammi Kallu man would tap this stone as well to make it coarse again.
This type of grinding stone was known as ‘Rubbu Kal’ in Tamil which meant ‘to rotate’.
Using this type of grinding stone was actually a sort of exercise and it ensured a daily work out for the grinder as the hands and upper body of the person doing the grinding was fully exercised!
This old concept of the ‘Rubbu Kal’ is used in the modern day electric grinders.
Every house also had its own pestle and mortar of undressed granite which was used for pounding small quantities of dry spices. The action of pounding the spices and making them into a smooth powder was quite therapeutic and exciting at the same time.
Man has come a long way from the Stone Age. But its so amazing to think that we have come to adapt and innovate the most primitive of man’s tools for survival and use them to make our lives easier today amongst modern inventions and technology.