Posted on: August 25, 2021 Posted by: Ammini Ramachandran Comments: 0

August 25, 2021

Cooking on Wood Burning Stove

© British Library Board Tam D- 1178-0030

Ramachandran Rau, the author of Hindu Pakasatra, considered cooking a sacred art as well as science, and his cookbook is more than a collection of recipes.

Although written in the Tamil language, the book is not entirely on the cuisine of Tamil Nadu. As the title suggests, it include recipes from all four south Indian states – Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu combined as Dravida, and Maharashtra, a part of western India.

The lengthy first chapter includes fifteen sections on the principles of human body, how food affects the body, various food crops and how they are processed, and detailed descriptions of kitchen, stoves, fuels used, water to be used for cooking and drinking, cookware, methods of cooking clues for cooks, weights and measures and codes of conduct. Following there are twenty-four chapters feature a wide variety of recipes.

Camēli Kuṣkā (Jasmine scented rice)

The first chapter in Hindu Pakasastra titled Annam (rice) begins with cooking plain boiled rice (the staple food of South India) in six different ways. Next comes flavored rice – four varieties of kushka (rice with ghee and flavorings), twelve varieties of pongal (rice cooked with dal and spices), twenty recipes for chithrannam (rice flavored with spices and lemon or tamarind or sesame or coconut or pomegranate or mango, or tender eggplant or fenugreek and so on). Today’s popular kuska recipes have several ingredients, very similar to biriyani. But very rarely we see a simple recipe for kuska in most south Indian cookbooks or restaurant menus. There are several recipes with very few ingredients in this book. Here is a simple, but a bit time consuming Kuska recipe where rice is scented with only fragrant jasmine flowers.

Jasmine flowers – ¼ padi
Good water – 1 padi
Little rice – ½ padi

After good quality jasmine flowers have blossomed, remove the green stems, and separate them into 4 bunches and wrap each bunch in thin cotton cloth and tie it. Boil ½ padi water in a vessel. When the water is boiling, tie the mouth of a cylindrical vessel with cloth and keep one cloth-wrapped flower bunch on the cloth covering the cylindrical vessel. Pour two large serving spoons (karaṇṭi) of boiling water slowly on the top of the cloth-wrapped flower bunch, while turning over the cloth-wrapped flower bunch. After removing the first cloth-wrapped flower bunch, then repeat it with the remaining three. After all flower bunches are processed like this, keep the flavored water closed.

Wash rice thoroughly and remove the water. Boil ½ padi water in a vessel with capacity of 2 padis. After it reaches boiling point, pour the rice into that water, mix it well, and close it. When the rice is half-cooked, pour the flavorful water prepared above into the rice and mix it well. Then fold a clean and white cloth thrice and cover the rice vessel’s mouth with it and keep another vessel or plate on top so that steam does not escape. After 2 or 3 minutes, remove the vessel from the stove and keep on top of non-smoking embers in the wood burning stove for some time and then serve.

Roti with crushed wheat and split almond and pistachio

Here is an unusual recipe for a roti made with wheat and nuts sweetened with rock candy and flavored with kasturi and saffron cooked over wooden embers.

Crushed wheat – ½ padi
ghee – ¼ padi
split almond 7.5 palam
pistachio 7.5 palam
rock-candy ½ vīcai
Kastūri -4 seeds of crab’s eye (1 seed of crab’s eye = ½ of mañcāṭi – coral wood seed)
saffron – 8 seeds of crab’s eye
rose-water – 1/16 padi

Break almonds and pistachios. remove the skin and mix with rock candy and make a powder. Then mix with crushed wheat and ghee, beat, and knead firmly and make the dough.

Dissolve kasturi and saffron in rose-water and mix that liquid with the wheat and nut dough and knead well and make lime-sized balls. Then flatten them like vada and put them on a non-greasy plate and cover with another plate. Heat with wooden embers on top of the top plate and below the lower plate until one can smell the cooked flavor. Then serve. You can also heat the plate on stove-top.

Roṭi called Tacami

This is a Maharashtrian recipe. People in Bombay, Pune, and Nasik prepare it during vrata days (Hindu religious observances) and to take along during travel.

Wheat flower ½ padi
ghee 1½ palam
Milk for making the dough

Mix flour and ghee well with hand and add enough milk to make firm and hard balls. Beat and knead the mix and make lime-sized balls. Use rolling board and roller and make roṭis of ½ grain of paddy thickness. Hear a skillet and cook the roti on both sides.

Rasam with unrefined cane-sugar and tamarind

Hindu Pakasastra contains recipes for twenty eight varieties of rasam. This is a very simple rasam made with tamarind, jaggery, curry leaves and seasoned with asafoetida and garnished with mustard seeds, chili pepper fried in ghee.

Good water 2 padi
tamarind – 1¼ palam
Salt – 5/8 palam
unrefined cane-sugar – ½ palam
Curry leaves – 1 palam
Ghee – 1 palam
chili pepper ½ palam
mustard seed – ¼ palam
Asafoetida – 2 seeds of crab’s eye (1 seed of crab’s eye = ½ of mañcāṭi – coral wood seed)

Dissolve the tamarind in the water in a tin-coated vessel and remove the seeds and threads from it. Stir in salt and unrefined cane sugar and bring it a boil on stove top. Heat the curry leaves on wood embers in the wood burning stove and add to the boiling tamarind water above. Let the water steam away a little.

In a pan heat the ghee and fry the mustard seeds chili pepper and add this to the tamarind water. Dissolve asafoetida in ½ palam of water and mix the clear liquid portion into the water above and serve.


Erupuli was an integral part of a Kerala menu in old days. According to the temple granhavaris (documents) erupuli was one of the curries served at the oottupura (dining halls in temples in Kerala where food was offered free) of certain temples during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Green plantains 6 palm
Yam (suran) 7 palm
Turmeric powder 1 ¼ palam
Sour buttermilk 1/16 padi
Salt 6 palam
Black pepper ½ palam
Red pepper ¼ palam
Turmeric powder ¼ palam
Sour butter milk 6 padi
Curry leaves 1 palam
Coconuts 2
Cumin seeds ¼ palam

Cut the plantain and yam into cubes and add 1/16 padi sour buttermilk and ¼ palam turmeric. Rub the vegetable pieces with fingers and wash them. Transfer the washed vegetables to a pot and add salt and turmeric. Grind the black and red peppers together add to the pot. Stir in the sour buttermilk and curry leaves. Cook on medium heat until the liquid in the pot has reduced 5 padi in quantity. Grind the grated coconut along with cumin seeds into a smooth puree and stir into the pot. Let it come to a boil. Remove from the stove.

Gooseberry Paayasam

Indian Gooseberry known as Amalaki in Sanskrit, is a marble sized fruit. The leafy amlaka tree produces pale green berries with a naturally sour taste that can be eaten raw or cooked. Its juice is rich in natural antioxidants. It is greenish-yellow in color and has innumerable health benefits. The importance of gooseberry is described in Ayurvedic texts dating back to thousands of years. Even today, Ayurvedic practitioners use this wonder berry in preparing various ayurvedic medications to treat and heal plenty of health ailments without any unwanted or harmful effects. Gooseberry is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C. The unique thing about this fruit is that the ascorbic acid found is nearly indestructible even by burning or drying it. Here is a recipe for a dessert prepared with this healthy berry.
Water 1 padi
Rice bran ¼ padi
Gooseberries 6 palam
Milk 1½ padi
Jaggery 7 ½ palam
Cashew nuts 1 palam
Cardamom ¼ palam
Mace 1/8 palam
Nutmeg 1/8 palam
Raisins ½ palam
Saffron 1/16 palam
Ghee for frying nuts and raisins

Boil water and stir in the rice bran and gooseberries. Cook for ½ hour and drain and wash the gooseberries. Take out the seeds from the berries. Boil the milk and then add gooseberries and jaggery and cook. After the berries have cooked well stir in cardamom, mace, nutmeg and saffron mixed with a tablespoon of milk. Heat ghee and fry cashews and raisins and stir into the payasam.

Approximate conversion rate of liquid and grain measurements used in these recipes

One palam = approximately 35 grams

One padi = one naazi which equals approximately 1 3/4 cups


Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994

Rau, T.K. Ramachandra, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra, and Dravida Hindu Pakasastra (third Edition). Guardian Press 1912

I sincerely appreciate the help of Dr. S. Palaniappan and my sister Girija Narayanan in translating the Tamil text to English.

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