Newsletter : The Daily Grind
The Daily Grind
This newsletter looks at the humble mortar and pestle. This simple tool dates back thousands of years - in fact, archaeologists have recently unearthed one 20,000-year-old set from a dig site in Israel. If you're like me, you'll struggle to remember which is which -- the mortar is the bowl, often made of hard wood or stone. The pestle is the club-shaped object, the end of which is used for crushing and grinding cooking ingredients.
As this simple tool spread around the world, each culture shaped it in different ways and used it for everyday tasks essential to its people. For example, the Aztecs and Mayans in Central and South America fashioned the mortar (molcajete) and pestle (tejolote) from black lava stone. The coarse texture was ideal for grinding herbs, garlic and chilies. Many Native American nations carved mortars out of the bedrock on the ground and used the depressions to grind acorns and other nuts. African nations traditionally fashion large wooden mortars by burning out the center with hot coals. They use long wooden pestles (a meter long!) to pound and grind yam and flour. In India, brass mortar and pestles are used to create blends of spices for everyday dishes.
Some archaeologists have suggested that the mortar and pestle may have played a very important role in human history. By allowing humans to process rice and other grains into easily digestible meals, the mortar and pestle may have convinced ancient peoples to move away from traditional hunting lifestyles and take up agriculture. While we don't know this for sure, we can be certain that throughout history people have spent a large part of each day working with a pestle and mortar.
Nowadays, most of my friends have replaced the mortars and pestles in their kitchens with food processors. But I still keep my set so that I can make a fabulous dish - basil pesto. The simple reason is that pesto tastes so much better when the basil is crushed by a pestle - not cut by a food processor. Crushing seems to bring out the flavor of the basil. I'm including the recipe below in case you feel like making it at home. I promise you that pesto really is easy to make - and it tastes great when eaten with a plate of pasta.
And to finish this newsletter on the mortar and pestle, I'm leaving you with some examples of how to use the word 'grind' in everyday English.