Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Smell Of Wet Earth

There's nothing more heavenly than the fragrance of wet earth, especially when there is a sudden, heavy shower after a long, dry spell.  Indian languages have different names for this phenomenon, but the sensation of sniffing the fragrant mud-filled vapour mixed together with steam and moisture, is hard to describe.  It is as though the rain is washing out the heat and irritation from one's very core, leaving behind a cool feeling of well being.  Sometimes I get a whiff of the same kind of smell when I water the plants in my garden or as I pour water into an earthen pot for drinking in the summer.


Recently I was introduced to one more heady, unexpected encounter with wet earth.  Quite by chance I stopped at a small pottery stall at an exhibition last week.  The pots seemed well made and I picked up a small one, just out of curiosity.  The owner of the stall came over and haltingly told me that this pot was meant for setting curd.  Setting curd!  My aunt mentioned a year ago that curd sets best in ceramic or earthen pots and I had tried the ceramic ones, which didn't seem any different from the plastic dabbas that I use.  I have always been wary of trying earthen pots because they are often glazed and I don't know whether the pigments are toxic or not.  This one seemed unglazed and it just looked so perfect - it fit neatly into my hands and seemed to be cheerfully persuading me to take it home.  It was thick and sturdy, had a perfectly fitting lid and didn't cost much.  So, I succumbed.




The pot came home, was the subject of much talk with my maid (who approved greatly and enthusiastically cleaned it) and my husband (who agreed finally that we may as well live dangerously and experiment with this pot of unknown origin).  I filled the pot with lukewarm milk, added some curd starter and left it in a warm spot.  As I set about doing this, a wonderful, familiar fragrance floated up - the smell of wet earth.  It was a promising start and I hoped the curd would taste better than that set in synthetic surroundings.  The pot looked back, reassuringly, at me.  I placed it in a snug, cheerful spot and didn't bother it any more.  After many hours, I returned to find the outside of the pot covered with a thin film of moisture and the inside filled with  thick, creamy, delicious curd.  It was the kind of curd one generally finds in north Indian restaurants (where people claim the cooks add shredded blotting paper to the milk but all the customers still order it!) or the thick kind that is sweetened and sold in Kolkata as mishti dohi (but this was much lighter and unsweetened).  





The pot has been scraped thoroughly and cleaned out again for the next round.  It is so addictive that I'm thinking of buying another pot to begin a second round of curd making while we are still finishing the first batch.  The ultimate bonus for me, of course, is the smell of wet earth that rises and lingers around my kitchen when the clay pot is around.  The pot, of course, seems happy to have its own assigned place and role in our house.  It doesn't say much, but occasionally breaks into a little smile.


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