mortar and pestle
Lilah D. Lindsey, 1933
This is a short log about three feet long, one end of which is cut down one foot in a cornucopia shape. The pestle is about two inches in size at one end and about six inches in diameter at the other end, using the small end to fit into the opening of the log.
“American Indian Corn Dishes,” 1958
The mortar and pestle were necessary in preparing practically every corn dish.
The wooden mortar was made from a log block about two feet long, cut from the trunk of a tree with a diameter of twelve to sixteen inches, post oak being preferable. The log block was set upright on one end forming the base; the other end was hollowed out to form a receptacle as much as eighteen inches deep. This was done by burning the top center of the log, and scraping out the charred wood until a cavity the desired depth was made. The fire was carefully started on top of the wood, and kept going by gentle fanning, or by blowing the breath through a piece of cane guided round and round to make a cavity even and symmetrical. The best mortar was hollowed down evenly and wide to about half the depth, then narrowed to the bottom of the receptacle, the wide opening with the narrow bottom serving to keep the grains from spilling over the top when the corn was pounded with the pestle.
The wooden pestle was cut from a five-foot section of small tree trunk, preferably hickory, about six inches in diameter. Some four-fifths of this length was shaved down to form a handle about two inches in diameter that could be easily grasped in the hands. Since boys and girls when they grew tall enough helped their mothers grind the corn, sometimes the wooden handle was shaved down for a short space about midway so small hands could grasp it for the work. The wood at the top of the handle was rounded and smoothed off somewhat but left at its original size to serve as a weight, this heavy end being held upright while the small end of the handle was used to pound and crush the grain.
Beulah Simms, 1970
These articles were standard equipment of the Creek Indian’s kitchen. There are those of us who still have fond memories of our long-skirted grandmother with hair neatly tied in black silk head scarf, pounding corn for the family meals under a nearby shade tree. This work was often done in the cool of the early morning or late afternoon. Enough corn for several meals was prepared at this time so the process would not have to be repeated for several days.
A mortar is fashioned from the trunk of a tree which has been cut into a piece about four feet long. The bark is peeled from the tree with a hatchet. A hole in the top of the tree trunk is bored out and hot coals are placed in the hole. It is then alternately burned out and chiseled out until it is hollowed out down to a depth of about a foot, leaving an outer rim of about four inches. The hollowed-out area is then smoothed out and all burned wood is removed.
In selecting the wood for the keco, a tree is selected which is rooted in rocky soil and has had to struggle to grow, therefore is crooked as a result; or one which has been twisted by the wind so that the grains of the wood do not run straight. A tree trunk with straight grains will split too easily when the hole is hewed out of the top of it.
The material to be pounded is placed in this portion and pounded with the pestle, or kecvpe.
The kecvpe is fashioned from a pole about two inches in diameter except for one end, which is at least twice the diameter for a length of about a foot. The purpose of this large end is to give the pole weight in pounding the material.
Bertha Tilkens, 2004
Corn used to be ground by using a hollowed-out log, called a keco, and a pounder made from a log with a long handle, called a kecvpe. The pounder’s top was heavier than the bottom, which fit into the hollow in the keco, in order to give it the weight to pound the corn into coarse or fine meal.
Today, some people grind the corn in blenders or food processors, though this results in a coarser meal.