“Tinning” is a word I only learned recently, but it has been a large part of my South Indian household through the generations. Mornings came with the smell of fragrant spices in the air, sizzling sounds from the tawa and the subtle scraping against the bottom of the rasavaali. Scalding hot Kulambu would be brought out to serve the hungry mouths that lay in wait, either drooling or wailing. Amidst all this ruckus, the women would retreat to the kitchen, waiting for the second batch of tea that noisily brewed over the stove in its designated vessel. Despite the hustle and bustle that comes with feeding a large family, conversations about Tinning would flow freely around the cramped, smoky space—some in agreement, while the others voted to bring in the craftsman at a later date.
Tinning was always fun to watch. My mother remembers how the older women of the household would sit outside in the verandah, ensuring that the craftsman did nothing short of an excellent job. The craftsman would dig a small pit and light his coal. The billowing smoke at the end of the process was an entertaining sight, signaling that he was nearly finished with his task. It was indeed a show that befitted the kings, for if children can find amusement in it, why wouldn’t the royals? We would often have a front-row seat, far from the flames, but close enough to see the tin strip rub against the brass vessel, leaving a streak of silver, much like the expensive paint-markers these days.
The art, however, is not easily seen these days. Gone are the days that the craftsman would come home to line our vessels, and gone are the sounds of children’s ooh’s and aahs at seeing the bright flames and hot, tempered metal. My goal is to reintroduce these artforms from the days of yore through our beautiful collection of eiyam-lined/ tin-lined vessels.
What is Tinning, And Why Should We Tin Our Vessels?
In terms of brass and copper vessels, Tinning refers to a process of thinly coating the inner surface of vessels with tin to prevent oxidation, leaching, and corrosion when used for cooking or storage.
Acidic foods tend to corrode the inner layer of brass and copper vessels, allowing the food to spoil and no longer taste good. The tin lining protects the vessels and keeps the food fit for consumption even when acidic ingredients are used. Brass and copper are notorious for curdling milk, ruining the taste of food and even being subject to corrosion. To make them suitable for cooking, many households over the country prefer to have their vessels tinned and safe for use.
Tinning must be done every 6 to 8 months to ensure that oxidized residues don’t lead to food poisoning.
To see the foods suitable for cooking in brass, bronze, and copper, click here.
How Tinning Is Done
With the increased use of stainless steel and aluminum as cooking vessels, the art of Tinning has almost died out. There are very few generational tin craftsmen who continue to line brass and bronze, and some resort to Tinning on pushcarts.
- The brass or copper utensil is thoroughly cleaned using caustic soda/lye.
- The craftsman proceeds to dig a pit in the ground and fill it with coals to create a temporary blast furnace.
- The brass/ copper vessel is heated over burning coals for two to three minutes, transferred to the temporary furnace, and is heated till it has a faint, pink glow.
- As the vessel heats, Ammonium Chloride powder is applied to it to act as a flux.
- A strip of tin is then applied, and as it rapidly melts, a swab of cotton/cotton cloth is used to rigorously rub the molten metal all over the vessel’s insides to ensure an even coat.
- Once this is done, the vessel is rapidly cooled by submerging it into the water, rendering it ready for use.
So there you go, what seems to be a simple, yet effective procedure was once a crucial procedure in households all over the country.
To purchase tinned vessels of yore, click here!