Assembly Line Papad-Making

Like many of my generation, I have grown up with large Britannia biscuit tins filled with papads, huge ceramic jars full of spicy pickles and big bins filled with grains and flour among other things. The masalas were all ground at home or at the neighbourhood chakki (flour-mill). The bins and jars have all but vanished due to our changing eating habits and paucity of space in city apartments, not to speak of the lack of terraces and yards to dry the spices and papads.

The annual papad making event coincided with our summer holidays and were usually family affairs. When there was a wedding or function, the entire neighbourhood pitched in to help. Such activities fostered so much community spirit in daily life, don’t you think?

For the children, it was like a carnival as we also formed the major ‘work-force, the main task being to guard the stuff from crows and other birds. But we didn’t mind it at all, as we got to eat the spicy batter/dough in return for our efforts! The dal vadis were the tastiest of the lot. I remember even father joining the papad making as he loved the dough made of urad dal. While rolling them out, he would surreptitiously pop some into his mouth and bribe us to keep quiet. As if mother didn’t know!

It was a labour intensive job. The urad dal flour was first kneaded with spices and then pounded with an iron crowbar on a slab of stone, till the dough became elastic. It would be like an assembly line with the papad passing through the hands of the least experienced through the more experienced, increasing a centimeter or so in diameter as it passed each hand. When it reached either mother or another experienced adult she would correct the shape and roll it out into the final papad. Those of us at the lower end of the ‘assembly line’ would chafe because we never got to make a full papad. In hindsight though, it was a very efficient and quick method of making papads on a large scale.

I remember two curious ingredients that went into the dough. I call them curious because one of them caused severe itching in the throat if eaten raw and the other was used as a purgative! The first one was a stick like herb called Hardjod (Pirandai in Tamil), which grows wild on fences and the second was castor oil which was used as a leavening agent.

Now why would our ancestors add such unlikely ingredients in papad? Urad dal has the tendency to aggravate joint problems and one of the many curative properties of hardjod is alleviating joint pains and aiding digestion. And castor oil, apart from clearing constipation, is also effective in treating inflammatory disorders like arthritis. Above all, it inhibits the growth of mould which can shorten the shelf life of papads. Now you know why homemade papads never got mould. Isn’t it amazing that our elders were wise enough to know about the curative powers of these ingredients?

And that brings to mind an incident relating to pirandai. One year during the papad making event, a small goat gobbled up the vegetable waste from our house which had some pirandai bits. Soon the herb did its work on its mouth and it began scratching its tongue on a rock nearby, bleating piteously. We watched anxiously lest something happened to it and the owner descended on us, but fortunately someone got the bright idea of giving it some water to drink. Soon it went on its way and we heaved a sigh of relief!

The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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