Republic Day 2023: Exploring The Ancient Cooking Traditions

The 26th of January is Republic Day in India. Tri-color decorations, such as flags, badges, and sweets, are abundant in the markets. People celebrate this day with parades, patriotic music, and the raising of the flag at workplaces, organisations, and schools every year. This holiday is just like any other celebration; it's about sharing wonderful cuisine with loved ones and honouring our country. In fact, Republic Day is one of the few occasions when the entire family sits down for a hearty breakfast in the morning. What would be more appropriate would be to discuss the traditional culinary techniques employed by our ancestors prior to the pre independence era. Let us explore them. 

It is difficult for a family to eat together due to the quickly rising expectations and busy schedules of today. Fast meals or takeout are frequently served at dinner. Families rarely make meals entirely "from scratch" when they do have the time. Technology that we frequently take for granted, such microwaves and refrigerators, has had a significant impact on what and how we eat.  

Unlike today, when meals are scheduled around the family's schedule. This was not the case a century ago. In reality,  hundred years ago, the family scheduled its time around meals! The housewives  spent most of her time and energy in the early years cooking. Eating out was truly a rare pleasure, usually only possible when travelling, and there were no large grocery shops where families could go to buy food. The majority of the farm's produce was cultivated there. Diets were seasonal for people. In comparison to the fall and winter, they ate a lot more fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer. Families discovered techniques to preserve their food throughout those colder seasons. 

Drying, smoking, and salting were the three primary methods of curing (the process of preserving food) at this time. Each technique removed moisture from the food to keep it from deteriorating. By leaving fruits and vegetables out in the sun or placing them next to a heat source, they can be dried. Meat items can be kept fresh by smoking or salting. A salt cure required rubbing salt into the flesh, covering it entirely in salt, and storing it in a cool environment for at least 28 days. At this period, salt was continually being added. The meat was washed, then stored or packed and allowed to mature after it was no longer moist. Families would hang smoke-cured meat in rooms or structures with fire pits. The meat was continuously exposed to smoke for a month, which dried it out while enhancing flavour. Different flavours may result from using different types of firewood. 

The normal day started quite early on the farm. Women got up and started the fire, planning their food for the day. For a variety of reasons, families that could afford it had detached kitchens—kitchens in buildings apart from the home. Frequently, the kitchen was hot, smoky, and odorous. The hearth served as the hub of family life and domestic activity because the majority of families lacked the finances for a separate kitchen. Women cooked on the hearths of brick fireplaces in the absence of ovens and electricity. To prepare various kinds of food, they made use of various kinds of fires and flames. Roasting and toasting, for instance, required a manageable flame, whereas boiling and stewing needed a smaller flame. 

It took more than just lighting a fire to start a fire to prepare food. Mortars and pestles were used to grind spices like nutmeg and cinnamon as well as seasonings like salt and pepper. It was necessary to bring in milk from the family dairy cow and make cream and butter from it. Milk was normally left out for about an hour after being brought in. The milk and cream separated, with the cream rising to the top. Women whipped this cream in a butter churn until it solidified, first as whipped cream and then as butter! 

Every member of the family helped with lunch preparation and production. Boys and men spend the majority of their time outside. Field work, feeding larger cattle, and hunting were among the chores. Diets often contained game. Girls and women tended to labour in the kitchen and with smaller animals. 

It is obvious that there were a lot more processes involved in food preparation hundred years ago than there are today. Families typically ate three meals per day, much like they do now. However, the early years did not involve a substantial evening meal like the one we are accustomed to. It was actually a dinner that was eaten in the early afternoon. The evening meal known as "supper" was a smaller one. 

The effort and time required are two significant differences between how people eat today and in the past. Food and meals are essentially an afterthought in the schedule for modern families. A hundred years ago, the family's daily routine revolved around food and food preparation. Men and women would spend a lot of time preparing meals if it weren't for technological advancements that assist us store, preserve, and prepare food. Imagine spending the entire day in front of a fire instead of ordering pizza delivery!