Childhood Memories of life, food and its related rituals
in the 1950s


Childhood Memories of life, food and its related rituals in the 1950s
By Ali Razavi

Kashan has a hot and dry climate with an average annual rain fall of 50mm. Its summers are hot and dry and its winters relatively cold and dry. It is surrounded by mountains to the south and west and a desert hugs the rest.

It includes around 200 villages and hamlets within a radius of about 40km. Kashan and its fields are placed between the mountain and the desert. Two plentiful springs and two seasonal rivers which become two streams for most of the year comprised the primary sources of water for the city since the beginning and for long after. With the passage of time a number of ‘Qanats’ and more recently a few deep wells were added to these.

There is a dearth of farm land and any does exists is of sand in the mountains and of clay in lower altitudes. There are orchards in both regions and because of the substantial temperature difference between the two each has its own produce: pomegranate, fig, tobacco, vegetables, herbs, cumin, watermelon and melon are grown in the fields and almond, walnut, sesame, Persian mulberry and scented rose are the produce of the mountains.

There were substantial residences in different parts of the city each with its own grounds, garden and water supply from the seven ‘Qanats’ in the city. The residential parts of the house were generally built north to south and as such profited from the best of sunshine in the winter and the least  heat in the summer. The household would move to the sunny side of the house in mid autumn and to the shady part in mid spring. The section facing the sun enjoyed its heat from dawn till dusk and the shady side escaped the sun for most of the day apart from noon. The kitchen, toilette, storeroom, and bathroom (not many houses benefitted from private bathrooms) were located outside the residential parts, between the winter and summer quarters and against the walls surrounding the residence. Both sides of the house had its own roofed terrace which helped reduce the intensity of the sun and the nuisance of the rain. The summer residence often had a basement where the family would take refuge for a few hours in the middle of the day.

In the middle of the garden was the pool, (a shallow, usually rectangular basin which served as the main reservoir for domestic use and its size ensured religious compliance) and around it a number of flowerbeds populated with flowering plants, pomegranate and fig trees and vines. Suburban houses, further away from the city centre and the bazaar, benefitted from larger plots and much bigger gardens with mulberry, poplar, plum, apricot and to a lesser extent quince and jojoba trees.

Garden Pool

Wealthy families with business in the city and farms and livestock in the villages had their annual requirement of wheat, barley, pulses, oil and dried fruit and nuts sent from the village. Others less fortunate bought theirs from the bazaar or local shops.

The city had many public baths used by all. They were open to men in the morning, at night and on Fridays. Women had the use of the baths the rest of the time. Showers of the Western kind were gradually installed in the more recent years.
Water reservoirs for public use provided clean water for drinking and cooking. These vast and deep tanks held about 1000 cubic meters of water and were filled once a year. Allowing for the sediments to subside over a few days, the water was available for use by all for the rest of the year. Water carriers, ‘Saqqas’, carried the volume needed for each household from the reservoir using a sheepskin.

These typically held 40 litres of water. Being a ‘Saqqa’ was a full time job but with the installation of water mains network towards the end of the decade, ‘Saqqas’ gradually disappeared.

‘Seypaks’ or public laundry basins, were dug along the underground canals of ‘Qanats’ but gradually lost their raison d’être and became solely useful for dyers for washing dyed wool and cotton. Children like us also ventured there to play in the water.

Streets in the Western sense were a new phenomena and a few were even surfaced. On these streets one would see one or two private cars, coaches, lorries, donkey carts, cabs, porters and cyclists milling around and the cyclist always won the day in the tussle.

Alleyways and paths were mostly cobbled and in parts covered. ‘Gozars’, the covered parts of the thoroughfares, housed small shops such as butchers, grocers, spice-sellers, soup sellers (Ashpazi), carpenters, tinkers and delicatessen who met the needs of families in the immediate vicinity. At the time the bakeries were gradually being converted from wood burning ovens to gasoil.

The main economic activity of the city revolved around hand-woven carpet production including the weavers and all related businesses before and after the sale including export. Carpet weavers were all women without exception.
The second was ‘Sha’rbaafi’ or textile workshops which employed only men. Of the 35,000 inhabitants of the city about half of the working male population were employed in the textile and its related industries. Men worked in textile workshops and women weaved carpets at home. The bazaar provided the arena for presenting their products, a three kilometre long covered corridor which gave shelter from the killing heat of the summer and the biting cold of the winter. A few businesses such as goldsmiths, shoemakers, dyers and garment sellers had their own sections. Branching off the main rout of the Bazaar were a dozen substantial ‘Timcheh’s. Big merchants of various commodities, money lenders, import/exporters and those involved in carpet or textile industries (wool, cotton, dye, indigo etc.) were mainly stationed in the chambers of these round or rectangular prestigious wealth spots. Coppersmiths occupied a section of the same bazaar and met the needs of the city and villages around.

Since the city was surrounded by farms and fields in addition to villages, a significant portion of the city inhabitants were often also farmers and farm hands who spent the winter months working in the city as labourers. These were the poorest segment of the population.

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