For those longing for the authentic taste of food cooked in cast iron and earthen cookware over slow fires in traditional kitchens, there is good news. Two Cochin-based corporate consultants have set up a business to market this authentic traditional cookware.
The VillageFair started as an unplanned business venture last year when Radhika Menon responded to a post on Facebook. A friend of hers commented that a doctor in the US had come up with a cast iron fish to be put into every dish being cooked at home, to help prevent iron deficiency. Someone else responded with a comment as to how, in the old days, food used to be cooked in cast iron vessels and hence iron deficiency was not really a problem.
Radhika immediately posted pictures of the cast iron utensils she had at home and let her friends know that she still used them for cooking. An overwhelming response to this post, with queries about where to buy the pots and pans, led Radhika to think that marketing these products could make good business sense.
“With a little effort, my friend Priya was convinced to join hands with me. And before midnight, our Facebook page was ready…The VillageFair had taken birth,” says an excited Radhika.
Users of traditional cookware, particularly utensils from Kerala, find the process of seasoning these vessels before use extremely tedious and tiring. Thanks to the advent of steel and non-stick cookware, cooking has become a lot less time consuming because these utensils are light and easy to handle. Even elderly people, who grew up using traditional cookware, have forgotten how to season those vessels and find it easier to cook in teflon and steel.
“Radhika’s 65-year-old maid Lalitha knew how to season these pans in the traditional manner. So we roped her in immediately to handle this important step; within a week our first order of six pans for customers from Bangalore was ready. We hand delivered them the first time and this paved the way for our success story,” says Priya Deepak.
To season the cookware, the vessels, whether cast iron or earthen ware, are first washed well to remove any sediments stuck to them. Then, for around four days, the cooking surface is soaked in rice gruel. This helps remove all the unwanted metal and other substances on the surface and also helps close all the open pores. A generous amount of oil is then applied onto the surface. Once done, the pan has to be tested on the fire. The pans, especially the cast iron ones, are heated and cooled down a few times, till their surface becomes ‘non-sticky.’
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As more and more orders came in, Lalitha got her daughters-in-law and some other women involved in the venture too.
Priya and Radhika found that it was easy to procure earthen ware utensils from Ernakulam market itself. They have zeroed in on two good potters cooperatives to procure these utensils.
To get cast iron vessels they decided to visit a manufacturing unit in Shornur. Shornur is famous for the manufacture of cast iron products, where agricultural implements are the main products. Although the two women went there with the idea of buying only a handful of utensils, they ended up purchasing around 500 pots and pans worth Rs. 30,000. They now get a steady supply of cookware from this unit, which they supply to clients all over the country.
While orders have gone up by leaps and bounds, they now manage to courier their products anywhere in the country. They also have tie ups with two e-commerce platforms where their products are displayed.
The only physical retail outlet tie up they have is with Cannanore: A Lore from a Loom, in Inorbit mall, Whitefield, Bangalore, though more are on the cards.
“In this past one year, things have gone real well for us. We were also able to give 5% of every sale we made to the Mehac Foundation for medicines for the mentally ill. Funding a social cause is always comforting and mentally gratifying,” adds Priya.
For more information one can visit TheVillageFair Facebook page.
Photo Credits: Priya Deepak
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Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.