By Janaki Krishnan
Mumbaikars welcome summer for many reasons - happy holidays for children, travel plans for the family, and of course, Alphonso mangoes for everyone.
For me, summer is not just these things, it is also the season of the Jackfruit, Queen of Fruits, with its lovely yellowish soft flesh and unparalleled sweet taste.
Jackfruit extracted and ready to eat (Matunga Market)
My earliest memories of this fruit go back to the 1960's when I was in the seventh standard at SIES School, Matunga. As soon as the school closed for summer, we would start packing to go to our native village in Kerala, where my grandparents lived.
A month before our arrival, my grandfather would begin preparations for our visit. He would select the jackfruit tree that bore the sweetest fruits, and earmark the best fruit for us. "Don't cut this", he would tell the servants. "It is for my grandchildren from Bombay."
The day we reached Kerala, he would make preparations to pluck and bring down the ripest fruit. Jackfruits can be huge; and we children found it fascinating to watch a big fruit weighing 20-25 kilos being brought down carefully from the tree. A rope was tied around the fruit, and it was lowered down slowly to avoid damage.
Jackfruits at Vashi market. There are some giant ones at the bottom left.
Once the fruit was lowered, it was then brought into the house with all of us 8 children trailing behind it. First the big fruit was cut into two. Then, as we watched in anticipation, it was cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. Finally, the "nose" of each piece was cut to loosen the fibres that bound the fruit together; and each child was given a piece.
Before we could dig into the fruit, my grandmother would emerge from the kitchen with coconut oil to protect our hands from the sticky "chakkini" (thin long fibres holding the hidden fruit inside). Once the oil was applied, we were then finally free to handle the fruit. The pleasure of removing the chakkini, finding the delicious fruit, removing the seed, and then finally popping the soft sweet fruit in your mouth is a heavenly experience! Today's children may perhaps consider it a laborious procedure, since they are products of the fast-food age. But in those days, even my youngest brother (who was just 4 years old) would not allow our grandmother to do it for him.
Delicious fruit hidden inside the fibrous chakkini
By the time we finished gorging ourselves on the fruit, servants and other poor people of the village would come to buy the seeds for making vegetable curry. They would pay 2 annas for a big measure of seeds; but there would still be many seeds for our own use in cooking.
The thick, thorny outer skin would be cut into smaller pieces. We children would take the pieces and feed the cows and buffaloes. Thus every part of the fruit would be used.
Our adventures with the jackfruit didn't end with this. The next day, an unripe jackfruit would be selected; and deep-fried to make jackfruit chips. The day after that, another fruit would be used to make jackfruit papadam, and another for jackfruit jam, both of these for us to take to Bombay.
Almost every day that we stayed in Kerala, the menu would include jackfruit (chakka). Most often, it went hand in hand with mango (manga). Chakka kootan and manga pachadi. Manga sambar and chakka poduthual. Chakka pradaman. Chakka Erisheri. Chakka Neyappam.....an endless list of inventive dishes would include the jackfruit.
Idichakkai poduthual, made from jackfruit seeds (from Moorthy mami's kitchen)
All these summer joys came to an end when my grandparents moved to Bombay, for my grandmother's treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital. But the jackfruit continued to make its presence felt. My mother would buy jackfruit every year on Vishu, and she would make these dishes afterwards.
Most of these dishes are just a fond memory now. I do not have the skill (or the enthusiasm!) of my mother, to try my hand at various jackfruit recipes. If I do buy jackfruit, the easiest thing, I have discovered, is to make chakka poornam. Cut jackfruit into small pieces, add fresh coconut and jaggery, cook it for 15 minutes, and add ghee at the end. The taste is lovely; it can be eaten plain; or as a sort of spread with white bread; or even an accompaniment to a dosa. Try it!
Posted by Deepa on behalf of Janaki Krishnan