ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Measuring Kitchen Time: Technology, Precision, Management


Gupta Saumya - JDM College, University of Delhi, History, New Delhi, India


24 – Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia


 Cooking transforms raw material into edible forms using labour, technology, ingredients and time. Duration of cooking is as crucial a factor as measures prescribed for each recipe in shaping the taste of a particular dish. Like the shifting spaces of the kitchen, modernity is also about a movement towards the precise measurement of time, manifested today by microwaves marking time to the second. Until the mid-20th century, cooking was a leisurely and time-consuming process, where the maintenance of kitchen fires required regular attention. This kind of temporality is reflected in the Hindi cookbooks from that time. They rarely denoted exactitude; accuracy of heat was measured by the flame’s leap or smouldering of embers, and even the touch of bare hands. This bodily calibration of time and temperature provides a window into a world of quotidian culinary rhythms, now lost to a world where domestic cooking is almost being out-homed.

Women were always advised to maximise their time, only to spend it on pre-and-post-cooking activities such as drying grains, grinding spices, and pickling. Modern gadgetry quickened domestic cooking, leading to a lament about the loss of traditional, healthy diets. As women entered the formal workforce, multi-tasking became a norm, placing increased demands on their time. This paper will explore diverse temporalities, techniques, measures and tricks of domestic cookery available in the domestic manuals and cookbooks from early 20th century India.