Sawdust in the hearth

How many of you have any clue to what a sawdust stove or eearchapodi aduppu is all about? I still remember the ones we used to have in our house at Calicut many a decade ago. I would be the first to help get that going in the morning, running to the kitchen, I would be chirping to the maid, let me do it, let me do it..

Balama used to work at the standard furniture company in
Kallayi (remember the new song from PMK and another old song with those words? Pathinaram ravudichadu manatho, kallayi kadavatho) a place where they had huge numbers of logs floating down from Nilambur and other places to be taken places. Once upon a time all the teak that went to Europe for ship and house building went via Kallai ( 2nd largest in the world)and there were many a sawmill beside the river shores. Standard furniture however was the only company that made plywood (posh in those days!) furniture. They used to give sacks of the sawdust to favored employees. The sawdust sacks found their way to our place in Chalappuram and to the cavernous kitchen.

The stove was like any other wood-burning stove, probably a bit taller and more cylindrical. We would put two ‘wooden ruler’ like objects, one from the front and one from the top, then stuff the sawdust in tightly and compact it. Once that was done, the stove was lit with a burning firewood shoved in through the front opening till the sawdust started to glow, the evenly burning stove producing hardly any smoke. It provided solid heat for hours and with a couple of stoves, all the days cooking was completed with ease. I used to sit near the stove and watch the glowing fire till it was time to eat breakfast and trudge to Ganapathi LP School, nearby….The kitchen walls were blackened with smoke and rays of light streamed down through a few glass tiles that were laid for that specific purpose, I used to peer at and through those light rays, watching the dancing dust particles, till I was jerked out of the reverie by Kochoppa’s strident demand that I get ready for school.

Some days, mostly weekends, I would complain about Idli being too repetitive for breakfast and Kochoppa would say the magic words, OK let us make Karandiappam. She would pour the Idli batter into a well (really well) oiled ‘karandi’ and I would be allowed to hold the karandi over the ‘eearchapodi aduppu’ till the appam was all brown, evenly cooked inside (tested with a theepatti kol) and moriyali - fied. Well, to this day I can savor the taste of that fine karandi appam, if only in my mind!!!

After the morning cooking was all done, a Kalchatti (you don’t get such vessels easily today, see them here) would be placed on the dying embers and it would slow cook an ‘olan’ for lunch…water, ash gourd, salt, chillies and whatever…another taste that remains in my mind.

Many years went by, Standard furniture closed down, Balama retired, we sold the house, left Calicut (though I came back later for college studies) moving to Palakkad and bade goodbye to those times. The kitchens I saw later had Kerosene stoves and later the ever popular gas stoves…that was the end of the ‘eearchapodi aduppu’…like many other things in life, affected by changing times and tastes…

That was until my uncle got the idea of starting a Gobar-gas plant at home in Pallavur. The idea was forward thinking, eco friendly and fashionably green, the concept was great, the execution was competent, but the results???Well, the cows gave the manure that went into the Gobar-gas tank, the methane gas that was produced was precious little (leaked away, perhaps or probably the cows dung did not ferment as it should have due to the specific grass in Pallavur? I don’t know) and the pressure not sufficient to travel the distance of the pipes to the kitchen. The stoves had gas on some days for an hour or so, but the calorific value/heat was little and the women at the fireplace, perennially unhappy. The promise of a bright clean kitchen with no wood burning stoves had made them all enthusiastic, my uncle who in return had hoped for culinary splendors from the kitchen, turned sour in countenance. Even the gas lamps that were installed in the kitchen to cater to the omnipresent Kerala ‘powercut’ glowed dim, even more irregularly than the power supply, eventually all at home lost interest in the gobar-gas plant, and though it still remains in the yard between the cowshed and the kitchen, is not used anymore.

I checked out Google about such stoves only to discover that Sawdust stoves (though not the built-in kitchen ones I talked about) are still found in places like Kabul-Afghanistan, Ghana Africa and used to be popular in Europe & America before the great wars. Building a sawdust stove on the other hand, seems to be a science project in some schools, these days.

This took my thoughts in another direction, if the first Indian Provisional Govt had taken roots in 1915, and
Pillai continued on as PM, what would have been the situation in Kabul today??

P.S – Mamukoya the actor (a favorite of mine) used to work as a measurer in a Kallayi timber mill, also I could not resist adding this, Koya has acted in a French movie!!

If you want to build a sawdust stove at home, here are the instructions, not recommended though – refer this

Picture of GGplant – courtesy Childhaven International CA


Vidyu said...

first off, how on earth do u come up with these topics??? :D U have no idea how much i enjoy reading ur 'ramblings' tho' I many not comment on everyone of them :D But this one was just amazing! The fact that u thought abt it!!! Yes, I have seen it and been part of holding the circular kols (plural for kol!!)while our dear Raman Nair filled the stove with the 'irchappodi'!!! and, u hv any idea how good the 'meen curry' cooked on that irchappodi stove can taste??? :) yummy! i'm craving for some ;) u lived in Chalappuram... :) nice to know that :)

humbl devil said...

quite a well researched piece...sir maddy...
though i never have seen irchappodi chulhas or eaten food cooked on them...i swear by the adappu which is still in use at my relative's houses in kerala...with the ola and veragu being the fuel...
and like vidyu said, food cooked on these adappus have a flavour of their it irachhi curry or sambhar...

Sreejith said...

i've never seen anyone, recalling the eerchapodi aduppu anywhwere!!Not even the naturopaths.!!!

No wonder why it caresses the tender spots of subtle nostalgia!!( Would use that term ,even if it sound rubbish to the modern man)

thank you...

I am another who lived once at Manakve,2 km from chalappuram


Maddy said...

Vidyu - Thanks a lot, reading your comment made me very happy of course. Yes, the past and the present in ones life are only linked by thoughts & musings.
Chalappuram - S Ambalakkat - that was my dad's ancestral house & where I spent my younger days..

Humble devil - It was quite common for a while in Calicut, though I have not heard of such stoves anywhere else...At Palakkad, we used firewood & ola as you mention...ola has this tendency of imparting that burnt smell to food, hence used only for starting up the fire..

Sreejith - thanks a ton - many more of those strange musings underway from this pen...

diyadear said...

hey mr maddy,
as always i relished reading ur post.. got reminded of the days spent at my grandparents' place.. there we had mankallams n kalchatti n all :) n hey hopr u know the song kallayi kadavthu kaatonnum vanilla... i think its a new song ;)

Maddy said...

hey diya - why the mr? yup that is the song I was trying to recollect from PMK (perumazhakalam)
hope you got the alphonsos finally. they hv reached NY and DC anyway..