by Kaveri Ponnapa
We make a simmered broth that is a staple of the Coorg kitchen known simply by the quaint name of 'Jug Soup'. For a long time, when I was young, I thought the name came from the weathered white ceramic jug, its surface crackled with use and age, from which the soup was usually poured out at the dining table. It was much later that I understood that it used to be made by leaving meat-on-bones, spices and flavourings sealed with dough in a glazed stoneware crockpot, a barani, which was then placed in a vessel of water, and left simmering overnight on the embers of the kitchen fire. The next day it was strained, re-heated, lightly and deliciously seasoned with a dash of ghee, delicate pink shallots, curry leaves and a choice of seasonings all known for their excellent health benefits. The bones, cooked soft, often stuffed with delectable marrow, were usually a treat for any children hanging around the kitchen.
Jug soup is a general pick-me-up for anyone feeling a little under the weather. Of course, pressure cookers have taken over the role of the crockpot, but the essence remains the same. It is also a particularly tasty, satisfying, and important part of the menu for brand new mothers: nutrient rich, nourishing and easy to digest. For all the simplicity of the ingredients that go into it, an enticing aroma steals all around the house when the vessel containing this broth is un-lidded, redolent with the scents of onions, pepper and a certain luxurious quality that can only be described as onctueuse, drawing you involuntarily towards the kitchen. I always associate eating this with the monsoons in Coorg -dark, damp, cold and persistently wet -sadly, a season that seems to have gone forever; and of drinking quenching mugs full when my children were newborns. I love this soup, with its soothing flavours and aroma, its translucent surface covered with a thin film of gold so important to replenish your reserves. It managed to set right all the troubles in the world -or at least, most of them.
Some years ago, I found a beautiful old glazed stoneware jar in an antique store. It said 'Soup Jar' and it was stamped 'British Made'. Curious, and an enthusiastic antique hunter, I could not resist buying it. I spent days trying to trace the story of this jar. Since the broth we make in Coorg has a well-established lineage and is made in parts of Kerala too, I wondered if there was a connection between the old jar I had bought and the soup with which we are so familiar. Was there a soup that went by the same name in Britain? Was it a different soup made in a similar way? A little reading and research revealed that 'Jug' referred to a British cooking technique. It was often referred to a jug, sealed and placed in another vessel of simmering water, essentially a double boiler, and the contents slow-cooked over several hours. This sounded remarkably like our Jug Soup. But here the similarity ended. The typical dish cooked this way was jugged hare; and Colonel Kenny-Herbert, who wrote extensively on cooking for the British in India in the 19th century, makes a mention of jugged chops. But nowhere, so far, have I been able to find a reference to 'Jug Soup' in British colonial cookery. So, was this fascinating old jar and others like it manufactured in Britain just for the Indian market? Since it is a foreign word, did we just substitute the more familiar barani, the multi-purpose crockpot used for storage, preserving and pickling in India with the English name 'jug', since this particular broth is also referred to as nalla mollu kanni, distinguishing it from another thin broth made differently, without meat and bones? Could the name have crept into Coorg and Kerala kitchens as the colonial influence increased in the 19th century? There are no certain answers yet, but between spoonfuls of freshly made jug soup, I have plenty of time to think over this one.
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa
Photo Credits: A.G.P Sathyaprakash
Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.
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