Thursday, March 03, 2011

Chupatti Letters.

Some time ago I spent a week considering the various forms of griddle cakes. There was one very important type that I missed – the Indian chapatti.

There is a marvellous story about chapattis being used for seditious purposes during the Indian Rebellion (the Sepoy Mutiny) of 1857.

On March 8, a Times correspondent in Bombay, wrote:

“A strange and to some observers a very disagreeable incident has occurred in the North-west. A few days since, a chowkeydar, or village policeman, of Cawnpore ran up to another in Futtteghur and gave him two chupatties. These are indigestible little unleavened cakes, the common food of the poorer classes. He ordered him to make ten more, and give two to each of the five nearest chowkeydars with the same order. He was obeyed, and in a few hours the whole country was in commotion with chowkeydars running about with these cakes. The wave swept province after province with a speed at which official orders never fly. The magistrates were powerless, and the chupatties at this moment are flying westward. Nobody has the least idea what it all means. Some officers fancy it is a ceremony intended to avert the cholera; others hint at treason – a view encouraged by the native officials; others talk of it as a trifle – a joke. For myself, I believe it to be the act of some wealthy fool in pursuance of a vow; but its significance is this: there are some 90,000 policemen in these provinces. If they should perchance imbibe dangerous ideas, how perfect is their organisation.”

The explanation that came to be - I don’t know if it is historical fact or fascinating myth – was that the flat cakes of unleavened bread were messages of rebellion, coated in dough and baked, to be broken open and read by the recipient, who then re-coated and baked them (or made new ones) and sent them on to the next community in an ever-widening circle of sedition. I hope the story is true. Perhaps one of you with some knowledge of Indian history can enlighten us?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a chapatti as ‘a cake of unleavened bread, generally made of coarse wheaten meal, flattened with the hand, and baked on a griddle. The usual form of native bread and the staple food of Upper India.’ The OED gives the first recorded use of the word in English as occurring in 1810 in the context ‘chow-patties, or bannocks.’ This seems a late occurrence to me. I suspect that some searching would discover an earlier use of the word, considering how long the English had already had a foot on the Indian subcontinent by this date.

For the recipe for the day, I give you two versions of chupatties from The Khaki Kook Book: a collection of a hundred cheap and practical recipes mostly from Hindustan, by Mary Kennedy Core, published c1917.

Take a pound of whole wheat and mix it with water until a soft dough is formed. Knead this well. Put a damp cloth over it, and let it stand an hour or so. Then knead again. Make out into balls, each ball about as big as a walnut. Then roll each ball into a flat cake about as big around as a saucer. Bake these cakes one at a time over a very thick iron griddle that has been well heated. Keep turning them over and over while they are baking. Fold them up in a napkin as they are baked and keep in a warm place. The inside pan of a double boiler is a good place for them. To be properly made these cakes should be patted into shape instead of rolled, and the Hindustani women always do it that way. These chupatties are eaten with bujeas and curries.

Chupatties (Americanized).

Make a dough from a pound of whole wheat flour, a half teaspoonful of baking powder, and a little salt. Knead well and let stand. When ready to bake them, divide into balls as big as a walnut. Roll each out, spread a little oil or crisco over it; fold up and roll again. Grease an iron griddle and bake, turning from side to side. These are not actually fried, but the crisco in them and the greased griddle prevents them from getting hard, as they are apt to do if made according to No. 68 [the previous recipe].

Quotation for the Day.

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love.
MFK Fisher


Angi said...

I've just discovered your blog through another. Oh, it is delightful! I love it and will be back when I can read more. I'd love for you to stop by my blogs for a visit, too. Happy Wednesday!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Angie
I do hope you come back. I will definitely stop by your blog!

Marcheline said...

What a great story - I also hope the "chew patties" (ha) contained messages... how exciting would that be?

And I agree with your chosen quote at the end there... wholeheartedly. Music, as well, is a great communion factor. Bonds people instantly regardless of language, homeland, or religion.

The Old Foodie said...

I really want to try to find out some more about the chuppaty messages ... when I get time ...

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