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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Pestle & mortar

Jacqui talks about making peanut butter using pestle & mortar

Jacqui's pestle & mortar

Jacqui Gitau, portrait by Fran Monks

“This is a regular mortar, and it’s just for pounding. Now I use it for pounding spices. Originally, among my people it was for making peanut butter. You’ve got your nuts, you roast them, and then you pound them. As a kid, it was the job I both loved and hated. I loved it because the peanut butter was nice but it was the job where you mum would say, just sit there and mash it until the oil comes to the top! So you pound, pound and then you get your peanut butter to come out of that. 

We used the peanut butter for bread but also as a sauce which we put in stews. We did eat meat but rarely, so a lot of our stews would have peanut butter or natural yogurt for protein. So, now I hear people are looking for alternatives to meat, and I just think, you need to remember what we traditionally ate, we did not rely on eating meat every day for our protein. So if you make peanut butter sauce in your mushrooms, that’s so nice, you don’t need any meat stew. 

You can have peanut butter in some green vegetables, like pumpkin leaves - we cook those as vegetables. It’s fantastic! When I see people in the allotments growing their pumpkins, I’m like, can I have your leaves please? Those leaves, once you shred them and you cook them nicely in onions and everything, and you put in peanut butter, that’s just the best!”

Words by Jacqui Gitau

Wooden pestle & mortar

Micheline Pandanzyla, holding a wooden mortar and fufu stick. Portrait by Fran Monks

This is for mashing tomatoes, chillis or potatoes, yams. You can mash it, that’s what we used to do. For cassava we use a big one. A small one, it’s for tomatoes, chilli. [We call it] liboka, in my language. And this is motúté.

This one we used to cook fufu. It’s made with maize meal, cassava flour, semolina." 

Micheline uses a special stick to cook the fufu.

“It has my name on it because they sent it to me from Congo. The person had a lot of things for people so they put my name on it to know it was for me.”

Words by Micheline Pandanzyla

Micheline talks about using different kinds of mortars

Kiran's pestle & mortar, cast iron (L) and stone (R)

Kiran Bhandari, potrait by Fran Monks

“In India, you can get a stone or an iron pestle & mortar. People would use a bigger size for making green chutney, and then a smaller, iron one for grinding the spices. We used to grind everything in the pestle and mortar. 

Cooking is my passion, my mum has been teaching me since I was seven-eight years old. Her first tip was, whenever you cook, cook with love and affection, and this way your dish will be tasty and unique. So as a child, I used to love using this pestle and mortar, and it’s my most memorable moment, with my mum, in the kitchen.

We used to use pestle & mortar every day, because in India people would make chutney every day, fresh. Those days, there didn’t use to be fridges so you didn’t use to store anything; you make it every day, finish it, and make it again next day.”

Words by Kiran Bhandari

Kiran talks about her pestle & mortar

Pestle & mortar