Ancient Indian Cookery, Part 6


Woman grinding wheat at chakki

Oct 11, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — A study of ancient texts on Vedic cookery and foodstuffs, in Sanskrit and Kannada.

Wheat is one of the oldest crops cultivated in India. Historical records show that it was introduced in India at least four thousand years ago, most likely from the East Mediterranean region of the Middle, as well as from West Asia. Mostly a northern crop, wheat is grown today primarily in the Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, as well as in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Although there are no prehistoric records of wheat growing in India, there are images of deities seen holding stalks heavy with grain-heads, sometimes associated with goddess Annapurna. But Lord Surya is the deity most closely associated with wheat. As one of the nava dhanyas, wheat is tied to Surya because growing it requires a proper infusion of sun. At Makara Sankaranti, a festival dedicated to the Sun God, people in all parts of India thank Surya for a good grain harvest.

Winnowing grains

In ancient times, each household had a chakki used to mill the wheat, and the idea of having it milled outside was unheard of. Today, of course, there are commercial wheat grinding shops everywhere, and the process is entirely mechanised.

In Pakadarpanam, the first chapter of Supa Sastra, King Mangarasa III's Vedic cookbook, wheat is the primary ingredient of study.

The following preparation employs a bread-making technique that is used in several of Mangarasa's recipes: using flour to form an outer shell in order to bake the bread preparation sealed inside it. While the translation of Mangarasa's instructions don't say to add water to the flour in making this baking vessel, almost certainly that's what's intended. (In fact, the Supa Sastra often leaves out what are assumed to be obvious details… at least, back in the 16th Century.) Even today, people in many parts of the world smear foods in a flour slurry before baking it, to protect a preparation from the hot coals.

Woman threshing wheat in Punjab

Whitened Bread on the Tongue

Mix fine wheat granules with water and salt. Let the mixture sit for some time to make it soft. Next, boil [buffalo] milk down to ¼ its volume to thicken it. Mix the softened wheat granules into the boiled milk and keep it for some time.

Tie a clean cloth onto a vessel with boiling water. Put a lump of the milk-soaked wheat mixture onto the cloth, close (cover) it, and allow the steam to cook it. Once cooked, press the mixture into a ball. Coat the ball with a paste of butter, cream and fresh curd and let it sit for some time.

Next, make two cups out of a paste made from flour and water. Enclose the bread ball that has been partially cooked and coated with the paste, sealing it inside the flour cup. Bake it on burning coals until all sides turn black. Break it open, remove the inner ball, smear with fresh ghee and sugar, and serve warm.


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