Cleaning of grains
Packaging of food commodities
Storage of food commodities
Wheat in Chhota Bhangal (Kangra)
Drying of fruit and vegetables
Distilled country liquor
Traditional apple plucking
As Upper Himalayas manifest diverse agroclimatic conditions varying from subtropical, wet temperate to dry temperate, cold desert areas, the different types of agricultural crops grown, vary from cereals, pulses, oil seeds, sugar cane, root crops, vegetables to subtropical fruits viz. mango, aonla, citrus fruits, litchi, grapes, etc. temperate fruits like apple, pear, apricot, peach etc. and nut crops like walnut, almond etc. The methods of handling, packaging, storage and preparation of different products and their subsequent consumption also varies with the wide agro-climatic diversity in the region. Most food products currently available in the market are essentially improvements/refinements of indigenous technical knowledge of postharvest management of food crops. However, there are still a number of traditional postharvest skills, which can be commercially exploited. Some traditional foods/products help to cure ailments and have been used as home remedies, while others are environment friendly and do not cause any health hazards despite their continuous use. This is an effort to document available information on postharvest operations of storage, curing and drying.
Curing of Cereals
This is a common practice in the lower elevations of the state and has a scientific basis.
i) The maize plant along with the stalk is harvested and tied into small bundles called 'Pahra'. All bundles from different fields are collected at one place and stacked in an upright position. Upright stacking of maize bundles is called 'Thua' or 'Zhumb'. After a period of one and half month, the maize cobs are separated individually from the husk (Fig. 7.1a).
Fig. 7.1a Maize curing by stacking (Thua or Zhumb)
Stacking of maize in the Zhumb for 30-45 days, ensures ripening and it also facilitates the easy separation of cobs from the husk. Curing results from heat and moisture equilization in the grains in the Zhumb. It has also been observed that initially sweet grains, upon complete drying and curing, become tasteless which is attributable to the conversion of sugars to starch, a common phenomenon also observed in pea and maize grains.
ii) Harvested paddy is tied into small bundles. Each bundle is called Pooli or Poola. After drying under open condition for 3-4 days, all bundles are stacked at one place and allowed to remain there for few days. Each stack is called a Kundli (Fig. 7.1b).
iii) Similarly, millet grains called Mandal or Sonk are allowed to ripen partially by stacking them in a heap and covering the heap with tarpoline. This procedure is locally termed Garr Dena.
The preparation of small bundles Pahra, Pooli or Poola help in easy handling and quick drying. Stacking bundles in heaps possibly aids heat and moisture regulation thereby resulting in uniform ripening. The creation of moist heat also leads to curing which eases the process of threshing the grains.
Fig. 7.1b Sun drying of paddy in stack (Kundli)
Curing of Chilgoza (Pinus gerardiana)
In Kinnaur, chilgoza seeds are separated from the cones by collecting the harvested cones at one place and covering them with chilgoza pine needles, leaves and soil. After 15-20 days, the chilgoza cons are cut-open using a sharp edged axe (Behla), with a gentle strike the seeds are easily separated. The procedure of covering harvested cones with pine needles, leaves and soil possibly helps in maintaining desired temperature and humidity inside the heap, which results in the curing of cones.
i) Winnowing of grain and pulses is a common practice in every home in Himachal. It is performed using a container made of tin, called Stoop or Chhaj. The grains are placed in the Chhaj and slow winnowing leads to separation of dirt and husk from the grain. Almost all types of dry grain like wheat, maize, paddy, pulses etc. can be cleaned in this manner (Fig. 7.2).
Fig. 7.2 Winnowing of grains
ii) Bulk cleaning of grain is done using a container made up of bamboo sticks called Panaudi (Fig. 7.3). The dry grain, placed in the Panaudi, are allowed to fall from a height of about 4-5 ft in a thin vertical flow in the path of a cross wind. The lighter dirt particles and husk are blown away and the heavier grain is thus separated as it falls straight to the ground. The use of a fan (mechanical or electrical) greatly accelerates this process of cleaning. This method of cleaning is based on the differences in density of the materials to be separated. The use of modern air separators/cyclone separators for grain cleaning is based on this principle.
Fig. 7.3 Panaudi for cleaning grains as well for separating husk from grain
Different types of containers are used for packaging food commodities.
In lower areas of Himachal/containers made of bamboo sticks called Ddalh are used in the fields for packing grain, maize cobs, potato, ginger, turmeric etc. and also for carrying the material from the field to the house.
For packing clean grain, pulses and flour etc. the Ddalh is internally lined with cow dung. The Ddalh has a capacity to hold 25-30 kg material. A Similar container, small in size, is called Tokroo.
In the higher regions of the state, such containers are called Kiltas, however, the shape of this container is different from that of the Ddalh and has a greater storage capacity Fig. 9.10; Chapter 9).
The Ddalh is carried on the head while Kilta is carried on the back and is also provided with two large ropes meant for securing it onto the shoulders much like a bagspack. Raw materials carried in kiltas includes fresh apples, pears, potatoes etc. and even farm yard manure (FYM). Kiltas are internally lined with gunny bags to provide a cushion so as to prevent injury to the fresh fruit.
For transportation of culled apples, and vegetables like peas, beans, capsicum, potatoes, ginger etc. to distant places gunny bags are used as the packing material.
Packaging of perishables/delicate crop, like tomatoes, is accomplished in bamboo boxes called Tokra, which are then covered with thin gunny bags on the top (Fig. 9.11; Chapter 9).
The shape of the container Ddalh, Kilta or Tokra provides easy carriage of material on human head or back. The structure is easy to clean and dries soon even after washing it with water. The wide spread use of such containers was probably due to easy availability of bamboo and wood in these areas.
In some parts of Shimla district and Bharmour area of Chamba district, wooden boxes made up of very thick wood were used to pack and transport apples. The weight of the empty wooden boxes ranges from 20 to 25 kg i.e. the empty weight was invariably more than that of apples, it carried in it. The box was made sturdy to enable its carriage on mule backs to distant distribution points/centres.
Packing of pickles
In lower parts of Himachal pickled mangoes, galgal, lime etc.) are packed in earthen pots. The earthen pots are sterilized using fumes generated from burning red chillies along with Asafoetida (Heeng) and a little mustard oil. The top of the container is covered with a lid made of wood.
The antimicrobial properties of fumes of red chillies, mustard oil and Asafoetida not only sterilize the containers and result in increasing shelf life of its contents but also has potential for preservation which serves as a replacement to inorganic chemicals. An excess use of inorganic chemicals may pose health problems.
Food grains like maize, wheat and paddy are stored in special structures made of bamboo called Peri or Peru (Fig. 7.4).
Fig. 7.4 'Peri' or 'Peru' for gram storage made of bamboo
Prior to use, these structures are plastered on the inside with a mixture of cow dung and clay. These containers are placed on the ground floor and grain is loaded into them from a hole made on the roof of the first floor called Baurh. To take out grains, as per need, a special opening is provided near the bottom of each Peri. Interestingly, these structures are invariably kept in a separate room called Overi and access to which is allowed only to very few persons.
The use of bamboo containers allows the free exchange of gases inside the grain and keeping containers on the ground floor ensures cool temperature for storage. Loading from top and unloading from bottom offers easy material handling. Keeping storage structures away from main living room protects grain from fire etc.
In some parts of Sirmour, Solan, Shimla and Kinnaur districts grain is stored in wooden structures known as Darauntha and are kept away from the main living rooms. Daraunthas made of deodar wood are preferred as this wood checks the entry of insects/larvae.
Wooden houses built away from living quarters check the entry of rodents etc. Windows with wire mesh, provide adequate ventilation. The size of the store house is proportional to the size of land holdings (Fig. 7.5a, b & c).
Fig. 7.5a Grain storage structure made of cedar wood (Darauntha)
Grain storage in earthen rooms: In some parts of Lahaul & Spiti, special earthen rooms are constructed for storing cereal crops immediately after harvest. Storage in such rooms also provides a cool temperature so essential for the storage of grain.
Fig. 7.5b Wooden structure for grain storage
Poor farmers in some parts of temperate Himalayas, have grain storage chambers made of bamboo. These are built out side in the safe vicinity of the farm house (Fig. 7.6).
Fig. 7.6 Traditional green storage chamber made of bamboo
The logic behind constructing these storage houses/rooms at some distance from the family units was to save the food grains from the hazards such as fire, which was a common feature in the early days, as the entire structure of living rooms was fabricated from wood.
Fig. 7.5c Inside-view
Use of neem leaves/turmeric/mustard oil in storage
The use of Neem as a pesticide is now well documented. Similarly Walnut, Bhera and Mint leaves also seem to possess certain antimicrobial or pesticidal properties, which help in grain storage. The antimicrobial substance in mustard is allyl isothidcyanate. The turmeric powder also appears to perform a similar function. Some of the uses to which these natural products are put are enlisted below:
Grain is mixed with leaves of Neem/Walnut/Bhera/Mint (Pudina) and then stored in bins.
For storing pulses, specially Urad, the grains are mixed with turmeric powder or smeared lightly with mustard oil and then sealed in air tight containers.
Storage of pulses after soaking in cow urine followed by drying is also practised in some parts of the Himachal.
However, the scientific basis for storing pulses after soaking them in cow urine is yet to be explained.
Storage of tuber crops
In the tribal belt as well as in some other parts of Himachal, at the on-set of winter, root crops like potato, ginger, turmeric, colocasia (arbi) etc. are stored in under ground pits and the top is covered with thatch and soil. These products are consumed up to the next summer.
Storage of cabbage heads, meant for seed crop in done, in under ground pits dug in the fields. This is a common practice in Kinnaur. Apart from other storage benefits, the crop is also protected from the hazards of snow.
In Mandi district, a thin layer of grass is spread at the base of the pit to serve as a cushion, prior to storage of the root crops, the top of the pit (up to 6") is covered with grass and soil and is raised slightly above ground level to prevent entry of rain water into the pit In some areas, the top of the pit is plastered with cow dung.
Storage of ginger in pits for seed crops is stall prevalent in Sirmour and some part of Solan and Bilaspur districts. The pits in these areas are known as Khatti (Fig. 7.7)
Fig 7.7 Storing of colocasia, ginger and zamikand in the underground pits ('Khatti').
These methods of storage provide cool conditions for storage of these commodities, ensuring freshness for prolonged use.
However, it has been observed recently that storage of ginger in pits (Khatties) leads to spoilage of almost the entire crop, which might be attributed to a build up of pathogenic inoculum due to long and continuous use of same pits for the same crops. Therefore, digging of new pits is recommended and lighting a fire inside the pit, prior to storage. This is done for creating hygienic conditions inside the pit.
Storage of fruit. crops
In Mandi district, ripe galgal fruit (Citrus pseudolimon) is stored in pits dug in the fields. At the base, a layer of ash is spread and then the fruits are placed in alternate layers of ash and fruit. The top of the pit is covered with ash and soil. Ash seems to possess antifungal properties, which help in checking spoilage. Storing in cool pits enhances the shelf life of this citrus fruit (Fig. 7.8).
Fig. 7. 8 Storing of citrus fruits in underground pits
Another method of storing citrus fruit is the use of a pitcher (earthen pot). The citrus fruit are placed in wide mouthed pitchers and then the pitcher is placed in an underground pit. The top is covered with about a 6" thick layer of soil. Using this technique, citrus fruit can be stored for 25-30 days without any spoilage. This practice is in vogue in the Nurpur (Kangra) area of the State (Fig. 7.9a).
Fig. 7.9a Pitcher for citrus storage
The apples are stored in the tribal areas of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur districts in the underground pits, prior to the onset of winter. Apples are packed into wooden boxes which are then placed in underground pits and the mouth of pits is covered with thatch and soil. In this way, the apples can be stored up to summer time without any appreciable loss in quality.
The method appears to be a modification of the pit storage procedure described earlier, since here the direct contact of fruit and soil in the pit is prevented. A pitcher or wooden box placed in a pit creates a cool store. The development of the zero energy cool chamber (ZECC) appears to have its genesis in this technology.
Banana fruit wrapped in grass/cloth is also ripened in soil pit and also enhances its storage period (Fig. 7.9b).
The shelf life of fruit and vegetables is also enhanced by wrapping them in moist gunny bags through the cooling effect generated by evaporation.
Fig. 7.9b Patting banana in pit for ripening
Storage of gur/shakkar
In Hamirpur, Una, Bilaspur, parts of Kangra and Paonta Valley of Sirmour districts of the state, it is a common practice to store gur/shakkar/jaggery in large earthen pots commonly called Rushans. These Rushans axe supported by jute cords to ease under their handling. The top cover is made up of wood, though occasionally, earthen covers are also used.
Another container for packing Shakkar, is made up of large sized leaves of the Torr tree. Each leaf is held in place by using small bamboo sticks. Each container has a capacity to store about 30-40 kg gur/shakkar. Such containers are called Purih or Purah. Such containers, besides being economical, are also completely biodegradable. The exchange of air/gases, permitted in them, helps in the complete drying and best storage of the product.
Storage of pumpkin
To prevent decay of pumpkin crop and to store it for prolonged periods cow dung is pasted around the stalk of each pumpkin. It is believed that this practice prevents decay and enhances shelf life. However, the true antimicrobial properties of cow dung are yet to be discovered.
Drying of Food Crops
Open sun drying of cereals, pukes, oil seed crops and fruit/vegetables is an age old practice used for storage of food grains for long periods throughout Himachal. However, the actual methods of drying, show marginal differences in different regions of the state (Fig. 7.10a).
Fig. 7.10a Sun drying of cereal crops
Wheat matures in this area during the rainy season when drying of grain proves to be problematic. The wheat and maize cobs are dried using the indirect heat of the hearth (Chullah); fire. In these areas, residential houses consist of three storeys. The ground floor is meant for sheltering animals while the floor is the residential portion. Directly above the kitchen, there is a store house where freshly harvested wheat grains are stored. The heat from the Chullah below provides the required temperature to dry the wheat grains.
Maize cobs are also dried by keeping them on the rooftop where both kitchen heat and sun facilitate the drying process (Fig. 7.10b).
Fig. 7.10b Sun and kitchen heat drying of maize cobs on root-top
The development of the kiln dryer for drying hops in Lahaul Valley and other food crops seems to have its origin from these practices.
Drying of cereal/pulses/oil seeds
As mentioned earlier, cereals (wheat, paddy), pulses (gram, wad, masoor, etc.) and oil seeds (sarson, lentil etc.) are harvested when they are just ripe and then kept in the open sun in tile form of small bundles called Pooli or Poola for drying. On complete drying, the grain is separated by beating the small bundles against a stone. Due to complete drying, the seeds/grain are easily separated from the husk. However, in present times, threshers and shellers have replaced this practice for wheat and maize respectively. Since completely dry grain is prone to shattering, harvesting crops at the ripe stage, prevents this loss during handling and harvesting.
In the tribal areas and in some parts of Shim la, Sirmour, Kullu and Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh, fruits such as the apricot, wild apricot (chuli), apple and local grapes (in Kinnaur) etc. are dried under the open sun by spreading them out on the roof tops. After 10-15 days of continuous drying, the fruit is collected and packed into gunny bags for subsequent use. Except for the uneven slicing of apples with iron sickles (Drati or Drat) no pretreatment is administered to any crop. Dried apricot is a commercial product of Kinnaur.
Open sun drying of vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, turnip (stalk and leaves), mustard leaves is also practised in Kinnaur district and other adjoining areas. After making four incisions on the tomatoes (keeping the slices intact), slicing of turnip (stalks and leaves), cabbage and sarson leaves, these are placed in the open sun for drying. After 15-20 days of continuous drying, the dried products are collected and used during the lean season.
Drying of unripe mango slices
This is a common practice in the lower areas where in situ mango varieties are found in abundance. The mature but unripe mangoes are sliced and placed in bamboo baskets (changer or Chharolu) which are then kept in the open sun for drying. The dried product called Bukarian is stored in earthen pots and used as an acidulent.
Apricot-drying on the trees
In the high altitude dry areas e.g. Malling, Nako, Pooh, etc. in Kinnaur district, apricots are not harvested fresh but allowed to dry on the tree itself. Due to very low relative humidity, the apricots dry rather well on the tree. The dried product is of excellent quality, not obtained even after adopting modem techniques of drying (e.g. checking, sulphuring and mechanical dehydration). The apricots dried on the trees are approximately two to three times more expensive than sun dried apricots.
The prevalence of low temperature and dry weather conditions help first in the accumulation of sugar in the fruits and then in the subsequent drying of the fruit to develop a rich colour and sweetness in the product. This is one example of low temperature drying under natural conditions.
Drying of cucumber and Pumpkin seeds
The drying of cucumber seeds, using ash is practised in Mandi district of the state. In this method, seeds are mixed with wood ash and then placed on a plate, (Thali) in the open sun. The procedure (Fig. 7.11) is considered to aid fast drying of seeds since wood ash probably absorbs excess water from the seeds and prevents them from sticking together. The segregation of each seed leads to increase the surface area which results in faster drying.
Fig. 7.11 Sun drying of pumpkin seed
Drying and preservation of meat
In some parts of Shimla, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Chamba districts, meat is dried for use during winters, by hanging strips of meat on stings tied across the room. Due to heavy snow, and the low temperature spoilage of the product is prevented. At low temperature and very low humidity, the meat dries very well and is hence preserved better for longer period.
In some places, salt is also sprinkled on the carcass prior to drying, which also assists in preservation.
In Nako and Malling areas of Kinnaur district, the meat is hung in the kitchen. The smoke from the hearth (Chullah) serves to smoke the meat, and hence preserves it.
In some parts of Mandi, Kullu and Chamba areas, meat is preserved by smearing it with a mixture of mustard oil and turmeric powder.
Low temperature checks the growth of micro-organisms. Reduction in water activity by drying and use of salt helps in preservation. Smoking is one of the oldest method of food preservation. Both mustard oil and turmeric powder are known to possess antimicrobial properties, and thus help in preserving meat.
Dried ginger (Sonth)
In Shillai and Renuka areas of Sirmour district, ginger is also sun dried. Fresh ginger upon soaking in water is rubbed against a gunny bag or placed in bamboo baskets to remove the peel. The coarsely peeled ginger is then dipped in lime solution followed by warmth for faster and better fermentation.
Preparation of alcoholic beverages by distillation is common throughout the tribal belt of Himachal Pradesh. Government excise department too permits this practice, allowing each family to keep up to 24 bottles in this possession at any given time thereby acknowledging the socio-culture fabric of the region.
The liquid is prepared from fruits like local grapes (coloured and seeded), apricot, wild apricot (chuli), pear, apple, wild almond (bemi), etc. In higher reaches of Kinnaur, however, millet is the main ingredient. Country liquor is a strong alcoholic drink obtained after distillation of fermented musk.
Fruits like apple or pear are cut into coarse pieces, grapes, chuli and apricots are either hand washed or washed by feet and then placed into large tanks (concrete or wooden). In the agricultural lean period, dried fruits like apple slices, grapes and chuli are also used for this purpose. Generally wooden drums are preferred for fermentation as they maintain suitable temperatures. To obtain higher alcohol output, occasionally molasses are also added to the fermenting musk. Drums are then tightly sealed with wooden or heavy stone lids (Weather permitting, the fermentation continues for 15-20 days). The completion of fermentation is judged using different parameters like alcoholic or acetuous odour, small vapours appearing on the inside of the lid or non-sticky nature of the pulp, when pressed between the forefinger and the thumb. All these characteristics are indicative of complete fermentation.
In some places the fermenting vat or bottle is placed in a cow dung pit (Mahlash). Generation of heat during decomposition of cow dung in the pit provides required warmth for faster and better fermentation.
The fermented musk is then distilled to obtain the liquor by different methods.
The fermented liquid is boiled in a vessel called as Baltoi. At the base of which a temporary stand is made under place a Container to collect distilled liquor. Upon heating, the fermented liquid boils, and its vapours are cooled by striking the top of the container (holding cold water), the condensed vapours drop into the container, meant for collecting the liquor (Fig. 7.12). Cold water is repeatedly replaced until the process is completed.
Fig. 7.12 Distillation of fermented musk for preparing country liquor ('Ghanti')
In this manner, recovery is comparatively low since some vapours also fall back into the boiling liquid. Moreover, there is no provision for complete separation of its methyl alcohol content.
In some places, this method has been further improved as under:
Herein, an empty ghee tin (canister 15 kg capacity) is made slightly rounded, and at its base, is placed a temporary stand on which a pot is placed for collecting the condensed vapours. The pot is attached to a rubber pipe to receive the liquor in bottles/plastic cans (Fig. 7.12). This has a higher efficiency and it also allows the separation of the initial drops of the liquor which contain high levels of methanol.
As a further improvement in the distillation process, the fermented musk is placed in a metallic pitcher which is covered with a (stone) slate with a hole at its centre for the passing out vapours. The slate is used ostensibly to avoid the overflow of the material as it boils. Another metallic pan with a hole is kept on the slate and is attached to a side pipe where condensed alcoholic vapours are collected. To cool the vapours, this container is housed in a bigger metal pan which is cooled by continuously running tap water. Two rubber pipes viz. inlet and outlet aid the circulation of cold water and the release of warm water. The pan is maintained in a tilted position, so that the inlet of the pipe is located higher than the outlet pipe. The bottom of the utensil is cooled, thus the alcoholic vapours condense on its lower surface. The condensed material runs out through the side pipe of the lower utensil from where it is collected into bottles or plastic cans (Fig. 7.13). Approximately, 12-14 bottles of alcohols are collected from 40 kg of fermented musk. However, by using 5-6 kg of molasses/gur in this musk, the yield increases to 18-19 bottles. Fuel wood is used for heating. All joints are secured using barley, phafra or wheat paste. In some places even dung paste is used for securing joints.
Fig. 7.13 'Ghanti' liquor distillation system provide with rubber pipe
The simplest method involves a rubber pipe being inserted through a hole in the slate lid, to collect the vapours. The vapours are cooled by maintaining a continuous flow of cold water from the tap. The condensed alcoholic vapours are received in the bottle (Fig. 7.14).
Fig. 7.14 Traditional method of country liquor distillation
Improved method of distilling country liquor
In some areas of Himachal the above stated methods have been further improved by replacing the water trough by rubber pipe, to collect vapours from the boiling fermented liquor. In this method an empty ghee tin i.e. 15 kg capacity canister, is used for boiling the fermented liquid by heating it on fire. On the top opening of the canister, a rubber pipe is inserted to receive the alcoholic vapours, the pipe is paired through a water trough to condense the vapours. The alcoholic product is then collected in glass bottles or plastic cans.
In order to increase the alcohol yield Gur is sometimes added. In the agricultural lean period, dried grapes, apple and chuli etc. are used for preparing the fermented musk (Fig 7.15).
Fig 7.15 Traditional continuous distillation method of country liquor
The product prepared from grapes is called Angoori. Chhang is prepared using Millets and Ghanti is prepared from any other source. During initial distillation, first 1-2 bottles of liquor are called Moon and contain the maximum amount of alcohol while last distillate contains comparatively lower amounts of alcohol and is called Rashi. Costwise, Angoori is the costliest, followed by Moori and least expensive is Rashi often only Rs. 10-20 per bottle (700 ml).
Due to extreme winters, the consumption of country liquor (ghanti) is extensive in the entire cold dessert regions for medicinal purposes. Besides social use the product is also used during rituals and religious occasions.
It is done by climbing an apple tree with putting by a small basket made, which is put around the neck of gunny bag cloth. This prevents the damage of fruits. Plucked apples, from the gunny bags are transferred to a bigger basket (Kilta) which is also provided with a rough cloth cushion. In this way, apples are carried to the store room for grading (Fig. 7.16).
Fig. 7.16 Traditional apple plucking
A big special vessel made of brass is used for preparing steam cooked cake of maize or barley. This vessel is called Chalta in which at the bottom of the vessel water and rice straw is placed. Above this round cover, made from maize or barley flour is placed and cooked in steam (Fig. 7.17).
Fig 7 17 Vessel for steam cooking of cakes (Chalta)