Prasadam - Ghee
BY: SUN STAFF
[Photo courtesy of Craig Lee]
Aug 15, 2010 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
In previous segments of the Prasadam series we have talked about a number of the most fundamental ingredients used in cooking for Lord Krsna, but the Mother of all ingredients is milk, and all its glorious byproducts. Today we'll begin an exploration of ghee, which is one of the final foodstuffs derived from processing milk. Cow's milk is said to possess the essential sap of all plants, and ghee is a most valued derivation of that nutritious stuff. The clear golden liquid known as ghee is the crown jewel of oils, and is one of Srimati Radharani's most favored ingredients.
The word ghee comes from the Sanskrit ghrta [ghrit], or "sprinkled". Aayurghritam means 'ghee is life', and this is reflected in the many sacred ways the stuff is used in devotional practice, from cooking to feeding the sacred fire, or performing abhisheka with panchamrta. Use of ghee as a substance to anoint the Deities is mentioned in Yajurveda, and the Rgveda has many references to butter and ghee.
Lord Prajapati, the primordial lord of the creatures and father of the seventh lila-avatar incarnation, Yajna, first created ghee by rubbing his hands together, churning butter and producing ghee that was poured onto the sacred fire to engender his progeny. One of the hymns in Rgveda is sung in praise of ghee:
This is the secret name of Butter:
"Tongue of the gods," "navel of immortality."
We will proclaim the name of Butter;
We will sustain it in this sacrifice by bowing low.
These waves of Butter flow like gazelles before the hunter...
Streams of Butter caress the burning wood.
Agni, the fire, loves them and is sa0tisfied.
Rgveda describes ghee/butter in relation to the purusha:
"It was Purusa, born in the beginning, which they sprinkled on the sacred grass as a sacrifice. With him the gods sacrificed the demi-gods and the seers.
From that sacrifice completely offered, the clotted butter was brought together. It made the beasts of the air, the forest and the village.
From that sacrifice completely offered, the mantras [Rgveda] and the songs [Samaveda] were born. The meters were born from it. The sacrificial formulae [Yajurveda] were born from it."
Not surprisingly, modern history tells a different story about the original creation of ghee, not taking into account the ancient Vedic history, which is Absolute. In addition, many early academic references to butter would be more accurately translated as ghee.
Modern historians point to an ancient trade manuscript, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which indicates that ghee was a trading commodity as early as the 1st century A.D. Of course, Sri Krsna was chasing after Mother Yasoda's butter (what to speak of the butter of neighboring households) during Hs Vrindavan lila pastimes. Krsna was gleefully eating butter, throwing it at Balarama, and feeding it to the monkeys, and Yasoda Ma was reducing the butter to golden ghee, making wondrous preparations to offer Krsna. Sadly, consumers of modern history are left with the dry tale that butter was first created accidentally, when milk was being transported in skin bags and got churned while traveling over rough terrain. Just see how glorious Krsna Conscious reality is compared to mundane notions.
Ghee is known by many other names around the world. In Hindi it is ghi; in Bengali and Urdu, ghi ; in Nepali it's ghyu; in Punjabi, ghyo; in Marathi and Konkani it's tup; in Kannada, tuppa; in Tamil and Malayalam it's ney; and in Telugu it's neyyi.
Pure ghee is made by simmering butter churned from the cream portion of cow's milk. The butter is cooked over a slow fire until the impurities rise to the top and the whey separates, dropping to the bottom. Sandwiched between these two layers is a depth of pure, golden liquid that is carefully separated out.
The quality of ghee is dependent on many things, first and foremost, the quality of life of the cow. Cows treated properly as the sacred Mother are invited to pasture on good quality grasses which produce the richest milk. The richest cream separated from the milk is churned into butter, and separated out from the concentrated butter fats are the liquids, known as buttermilk and skim milk. It takes about five gallons of whole milk to produce just two pounds of butter.
In India and many other countries, ghee is also produced from the milk of other animals, including buffalo, yaks, goats and sheep. Without questions, cow's milk is far superior to all of these. High quality cow milk ghee can be identified by its color, flavor, and aroma, among other qualities. Lower quality ghees are not a deep golden, but vary from shades of yellow to nearly white. Only pure cows milk ghee is bona fide for use in Deity worship or fire yajna.
Pure cow milk ghee is actually the most potent form of the milk, having been transformed by heat. In Ayurveda it is considered to be sweet in taste, cold in nature, with a sweet aftertaste (vipaka). Buffalo milk ghee is colder in nature, oilier and heavier than cow ghee, and eating it tends to make one lethargic. But as any Krsna Prasadam aficionado knows, high quality bhoga cooked in ghee, offered with love and devotion, results in foodstuffs that leave an amazingly light 'footprint'. Even the richest ghee-laden and ghee-fried foods can be eaten in great quantities, and do not ruin one's energy for the remainder of the day, or the next, as feast preparations cooked in lesser oils are likely to do.
Over the next two segments, we'll get into some of the technicalities and the fine art of ghee-making, cooking with ghee, and making flavored ghees. We'll talk about using ghee in preps, storing it, and its very healthful qualities. And of course, from Vaisnava literature we'll hear some of the nectarian descriptions of ghee, which are as golden as the oil itself.
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