Squeezing the KARUVADAAM Ribbon POKKODAAM and Finger rolling of MURUKKU
One of the best mouthwatering oil fried stuff that goes with any drink or meal either as a side dish or can be treated even as a main course, if no other food is available. A wonder stuff to munch during train travels covering very long distances and while it rains outside. Every time it is made, it disappears in thin air even before the karuvadam pieces could see them by themselves! Forget cholesterol level for some time.
It is prepared to munch, take out as a bunch or it will be grabbed by both hands even by standing upside down sinking the head inside the drums in which it is kept. When the relatives who are celebrities (people in high posts living in Delhi and Bombay and Calcutta) visit our village houses once a year (mainly to grab these items in bulk) as if to pray at the so called ‘Kuladeivam temple’, the present day jargon that goes around with the priests who come to perform homams and rituals, apart from the great word ‘vaasthu’.
It is prepared in a very celebrating manner during the hot months of the year. My Periamma and mother were the front rankers to bear the entire ordeal in the preparation of this ‘hot’ stuff.
Do not think that it’s as easy as squeezing out the toothpaste on to the brush.
The preparation of the basic matter, the pasty tasty flour compound with so many ingredients is a time and fuel consuming affair and have to bear the heat that they absorb in their body.
The relentless tribulations that they used to undergo standing under the hot sun squeezing it out through the single hole mould and multi hole mould and die of desired cross section with a mandrel and a cylindrical device, more or less looking like a hypodermic syringe of a larger size, may be a tamash for someone but the perfection they show in standing, bending down is a very difficult exercise, the pain of which they forget in the happiness of making it and in others packing it in their bed rolls and boxes without any ‘hand or arithmetic’ so to say. Only with the right consistency the basic paste will come out from the syringe, otherwise it will bounce back as a rigid stuff inside the syringe.
Later I learnt this extrusion technique while studying metallurgy. That heat in the steel plant was something to earn for my stomach but nothing came tasty other than this extruded murukku dried under the solar heat and fried in oil.
Some will specify the type of ‘vadam that should get squeezed. Plain and smooth noodle size, bigger dia size and with star design and many more. With multi hole it must be straight and round layer type. Even they used to write letters after letters even one month before their arrival.
More than the extrusion process on the mat made of palm tree reeds, its protection from cunning crows is more important.
I and my elder brother used to take care of it on hourly based contract. Usually these processing will be during annual holidays so that we have sufficient time at our credit. This business of ‘driving the crow’ is on a false promise from our mothers that one handful of vadam will be served extra, but it will be often forgotten.
In this we too used to make contrivances like tying a black clothe at the end of a long pole or tying with a bunch of loose feathers we collect from our compound and waving or by keeping one or two umbrellas opened out and we enjoy in thinking that these will create a fear in crows, but often fail.
On the first day it will be a little hot and pasty and will not get caught in their long beaks, but especially from the second day as they get partially dried out and easy to pull out from the mat, we have to be more vigilant.
While making the first one is an outdoor activity right from extrusion till it dries up fully which will be a two day workout, both the latter ones are totally an indoor activity.
Many neighborhood mamies who are proficient in the practical art of finger rolling and spiraling will be invited and they will be provided with lunch and coffee and a calculated number of murukku will be given as parcel depending on the number of children they have. It is a pure reciprocal arrangement among them.
While spiraling is an indoor process under cool roof and fan, the frying is a hot process and our dear grand ma Chella Mami is the one who will sit near the fire and boiling oil with a charming and smiling face and (a truly nishkkaama karma) see that the murukku comes out with crisp golden brown color without twisting or bending or breaking. With two long billiard type cues she will collect the murukku like chicken teriyaki on stick!
After a very long spell of Raagam Thaanam Pallavi she will end it with a thukkada and Mangalam and that’s the pokkodaam part of it.
Why I mentioned a very long process is that in between making crisp murukku some semi boiled murukku will be prepared as a kosuru which generally does not go under the actual counting of the final product. In between, the final products also undergo some unwanted drop tests as if to measure its tenacity and resilience. These numbers also will disappear without a count.
The pokkodam part is done by direct squeezing into the boiling oil. It was her time pass and jiffy work.
Finger rolling extrusion is a much more difficult art in making murukku. The amount of flour paste that should be kept inside the palm and the first pull of flour to reach the finger tips and the speed and rate of roll and the quantity that should come out from the gentle squeeze of palm uniformly and the Archimedean spiral turns that it has to undergo are something that are beyond the polar equations and dynamic viscosity that we learn in analytical geometry and physics. It is the mother’s touch and the knowledge they had acquired over a period of many years to master this trick. A pure rule of thumb craft. It’s more than an art. This art has to be learnt, not my animation tricks in computer, but by sweat and pain and patience.
Today machines might have taken over and we are interested only to eat now rather than restoring that vanishing art.
One may ask “where is the time?” Can the computer stretch the day into 48 hours? Or the helpline F1 will pour out the murukku from the bottom of computer console?
This art I could feel when I was working in the Kautex German plastic extruders. The amount of flow of molten plastic into the parison and capturing it in the cold metal moulds and the injection of high pressure air to inflate the molten one into its shape as in mould, the quantity at its neck and bottom were all to be precisely adjusted to work in sync.
The artwork in making the murukku is indeed great. Human mind, brain and action and concentration, all in sync. They talk while making these murukku but hardly they go wrong and with due respects it is pardonable looking at the free and affectionate service they render. The wrong spiraling will be reset without loss, but in plastic it cannot.
By Sundareswaran Date: 10th Feb 2018.
What made me write this?
Today, at the age nearing 70, I was trying to help my wife in squeezing out this karavadam at the terrace. The pain and effort we took in spreading it carried me back to my childhood days.