In the small village of Thandankoundanpalayam, in Tamil Nadu, the locally available pale grey soapstone cookware, the kalchatti, is crafted in shapes that suit the traditional food preparations of the region. The soapstone, known for its hot and cold insulative properties, remains the ideal choice for storing the staple diet of buttermilk, yogurt and milk in the hot months of the year. Additionally, the kalchatti is considered the best cookware for the fiery local curries spiced with tamarind and lime that need a slow long cook to release flavors.
Almost every family in the village is involved in the craft. Hand-carved out of blocks of soapstone and shaped on a lathe, the craftspeople use basic cutting, smoothing and carving tools for the shaping. The finished kalchatti is seasoned with starch water over a stretch of 6-10 days. This process reduces the surface porosity and makes the cookware ready for use. Differently sized kalchattis form mortars and pestles for grinding lentils, grains and spices, storage containers to food moulds, cooking utensils, serving dishes, and pans for the local bread (dosa) are crafted. The craftspeople also carve wick lamps and other decorative items. Once a common sight in every South Indian kitchen, these long lasting vessels are now being replaced by non-stick cookware.