Country Foods’ YouTube sensation Karre Mastanamma was 105 years old when she made her first video.
According to her great-grandson Karre Laxman, who started Country Foods to highlight India’s traditional cuisine, his granny didn’t realize at first that she had become a star.
It became obvious only after one of her videos went viral.
“Watermelon Chicken By My Granny” racked up over 12 million views, and ultimately propelled Laxman’s channel to over 1.2 million subscribers.
Once she realized what they had achieved, granny Mastanamma began to feel proud.
“Nobody cooks like me in my family,” she said in one video featuring her life story. “I look beautiful in camera.”
The beloved granny chef with the infectious, innocent spirit, was beautiful inside and out.
When she passed on December 3rd, news of her death sent the granny viral for a second time.
The countless online messages people shared about what Mastanamma's life meant to them are a testament to the inherent value of cooks everywhere who pour their souls into their art, and who feed those they love.
I wanted to mark this granny's death on Buttered Veg because she is a true inspiration to me.
As I learned more about her, I began to feel that we are extremely fortunate that Laxman was able to record this special woman's life just two years before it ended, and share it with the world.
Mastanamma’s Village Cooking Style
Mastanamma’s life makes for a striking subject, as I myself discovered just over a year ago when I watched one of her videos for the first time.
Granny lives in the village of Gudivada, in Guntar District of Andhra Pradesh, which is in South India, the land of rice. Rice is ever-present, as are banana leafs, which serve as plates and steamers.
The Country Foods' granny nearly always sits beside a paddy (rice) field. She always cooks on an open fire.
Her vegetables are prepared in a leisurely, yet focused manner, before the fire is lit, and cooking starts.
There are always people around her; typically young men and boys, with a single woman helping her cook.
When the food is ready, Mastanamma doles it out to each person, either onto a banana leaf, or directly into their mouths.
The young boys she feeds look like baby birds. Her “blessings” in the form of mouthfuls of food clearly bring her great joy.
“She loves to feed everyone,” Laxman writes in his videos, and “she loved cooking in paddy fields.”
Most of us never get that close to our food to see our goose tied to a tree with a rope minutes before it’s eaten.
Nor do we have the pleasure of roasting eggplant in the embers of a spent fire. We don't consider cooking food inside a green coconut either, which, by the way, offers up a good drink before it becomes a cooking vessel.
Country Foods Is Not About Recipes
There are no recipes on Country Foods. It’s not about that.
Instead, the viewer is witness to something more meaningful than an ingredient list. It is culture. This is how the Indian granny lives.
The Country Foods' granny insists on cooking outdoors because she enjoys it, and it is what she knows. It doesn’t matter that even most Indians have moved on to indoor cooking on gas burners. She hasn’t.
For example, I’ve heard of the traditional method in India of cooking eggplant on embers, but I could never see how its done until I watched Mastanamma’s video.
Let’s talk more about eggplant. Laxman, the great-grandson, said in many interviews with other media that Brinjal Fry is his favorite dish. Brinjal is the word commonly used in India for eggplant.
Brinjal Fry, By The Country Foods' Granny
Watch the video above and escape into Mastanamma’s world, where cooking, and connecting with the elements, are all that matters.
The Country Foods' Granny has such a delicate touch as she uses her bare fingers to slice ingredients as tiny as green chilies on a traditional knife that stands vertical and massive in front of her.
Each time she pushes a vegetable onto the knife, your heart sinks as it appears too easy to slice a finger.
It makes me think that everyone always asks how best to peel ginger? A spoon or a carrot peeler are both common solutions in the West.
Not for Mastanamma. Ginger is peeled with the fingernails. I noticed after watching some other videos that raw tomatoes are also peeled by hand.
Food preparation takes on new meaning as each item is painstakingly worked; our attention to granny’s detail is only heightened by the tightly framed film style.
Suddenly, a fire is lit between two stacks of flat rocks that will momentarily hold the cooking pot where ginger, onions, and green chilies will mingle with plenty of coriander and other spices to make the brinjal filling.
I mention this fire because I have been trying for a long time to understand how food is cooked on open fires.
If you’ve never tried it, you don’t know how it works; however open fire cooking connects us to nature, and it's all the rage in certain circles today.
Next, a giant mortar and pestle made of stone is used to pound the cooked preparation into a uniform paste.
Watching in admiration, I thought to myself that I would have processed this in a jiffy in my mini chopper.
Indian brinjals are oval and about the size of a medium orange. Granny slices them in quarters, leaving the stem well in tact, and stuffs the quarters with filling.
The cooking pot is returned to the fire, and loads of oil is added, along with onion, curry leaves, and finally the prepared brinjal.
It is a slow and shallow fry. The artistry of the white flaky salt, golden turmeric, and fire engine red chili powder, stands out against the shiny, purply-black wrinkled skins.
Finally, the dish is done, and as granny’s family of admirers dig into the brinjal, one takes a bite and it opens up into a flower.
I found myself observing the preciousness of each jewel as each person enjoyed theirs.
The Life And Death Of Karre Mastanamma
Mastanamma’s story has been reported in Indian media, and even on the Country Foods' channel itself.
She was born in a small hut, and married at 11 years old. Unfortunately, her wedded life was short-lived. The Country Foods' granny was 22, with five children, when her husband died.
She survived as a day laborer in agricultural fields, sometimes hauling sacks of rice as heavy as 100 kilograms, according to Mastanamma.
She lost four of her children to a cholera outbreak, and she has no photos due to loss in a fire.
One can only imagine what her final act YouTube stardom must have meant to her. It meant plenty to those who got to know her.
“What a blessing it would have been to eat from her hands,” said Minaza B, in a comment on YouTube after her passing.
Irish Varsha Iyyadurai, also in a comment, had a suggestion for YouTube: “Please allow this channel to stay up forever. There are so many things from here I want to try cooking and when I want to eat some delicious food, I want to be able to make food the way she made it. These videos are ways to make food that many people don't know anymore. To all tech geniuses out there, please find a way to make these videos stay alive and available to people no matter how many hundreds or thousand of years pass. Thank You.”
And mstuckey311 said: “No matter what country you're from, your race, religion, etc. No one loves you like your granny and they always make sure your belly is full. She was a granny to us all. Rest peacefully.”
Mastanamma said (and it’s quoted in a case study published by YouTube), that “there is no better food than the food you make yourself. Everyone should learn to cook because it’s healthier and brings people together.”
How is it possible that simple cooking can be elevated to such an experience for the viewer?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.