Thursday, November 12, 2015

Similarities of gold panning in California and rice cleaning in south India, 40 years ago!

I enjoyed a visit to a gold mine in Placerville, a small town in California. As I saw the gold panning equipment, I realized how similar it was to the way my grandmother cleaned rice used to make idlis.

I am meandering off point for a bit, so please bear with me.

For those who don't know, Idli is a south Indian rice dish, eaten for breakfast or even evenings when one returns home hungry from school or work. It's made by grinding and fermenting soaked rice and soaked urud dhal.
As  rice was expensive, whole rice was not used for grinding; broken rice called 'nucchu' was used to make idlis and dosas. 1n 1970s many Bangaloreans would buy rice from the government depots at subsidized rates and not buy the more expensively priced rice from shops owned by private businessmen. The rice from the government 'ration-shops' was usually terrible and full of tiny pebbles, mud and God-knows-what.
 My grandma would first sieve the rice to separate the whole from broken rice or nucchu. The whole rice was cleaned manually at first; the rice was spread on a newspaper or on the clean floor, a handful at a time, spread out and we would peer at it searching for pebbles and other things. The whole rice was then used for cooking and eaten with sambar or rasam.
The nucchakki was used to make idlis and dosas. The nucchakki had a greater amount of tiny pebbles, sand almost. It was time-consuming to clean this bit by bit. So my grandmother, like  her peers, would clean it with water, on the day she needed to use it. This nucchakki was put in a large vessel with water and tilted to pour into another vessel. The cleaning out of the sand and pebbles depended chiefly on the way  the water and rice was poured out. The vessel is  held tilted to pour and instead of pouring straight down, it is moved side to side which makes the water and rice travel sidewards and forwards. This makes the rice move to the front and  the denser items such as pebbles and sand stay at the back. i.e. bottom of the vessel. This is done several times . Each time, some rice and all water comes into the other vessel and the cleaned rice is put in another vessel and the water is reused to clean the remaining rice, until most of the rice has been cleaned i.e. has been sloshed out of the vessel and only sand & pebbles remain in it.
When I saw the gold panning items in the Folsom museum I realized how similar it was to the rice cleaning of my childhood days! I did not see the gold panning being actually done at the mine or museum but saw the insruments used.

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