Cousins who visit us play their travel history as the trump card and win the much coveted extra preferences from my grandma, Uma Aachi. If the norm is one Chengavarukkai Maanga per person, they are offered atleast about half a dozen or even more on demand.
While the pulpy ones are gobbled up right away, the unripe ottu maangas are cut, salted up, dried and pickled in large, ceramic jars/ bharani which is said to last for an year or more if properly handled.
Two varieties of Chakka / Jackfruit (Chakka means Jackfruit in Malayalam but has a completely different meaning in Tamil. We belong to a small town that is located in the TN-KL border where Aviyal bashai aka medley language (Tamil 80% Malayalam 20%) is predominantly spoken by the locals) are available in our ancestral house. One is the relatively firm and fleshy, bright yellow colored Varikkai/Varukka chakka and the other one is succulent and squashy, orange colored Koolan chakka which tastes even better than the honey-sweet Varukka chakka but everyone in the family prefers the latter for its decent texture. So, guess who gets to eat the Koolan chakka throughout Summer with no one else to compete with? *Collars up*
It’s not just the fruit but the Jackfruit seeds too play a significant place in Grandma’s Summer cuisines in the form of poriyal, thoran and aviyal during the off season.
Coconut is an indispensable ingredient in our kitchen. An equipment called Arivaalmanai aka aruvaamanai (blade with a serrated flat part fixed to a wooden seater) that scrapes off coconut is put to use for hours everyday. A periamma or chithi works on this while another one keeps making a paste out of it using the ammi kolavi. Once three or four huge balls of coconut based masalas are made, the machines slow down and rest.
The kitchen is repulsive to new experiments but promises the making of usual dishes every single day. The list includes rasam, aviyal, poriyal, thoran, kootu, pachadi, kichadi, pappadam, poricha meen and meen curry. In addition, the preserved food items like pickles and thavana podi will also be served along with hot steamy rice during lunch. Since a row of atleast six people are served two times, one would get only a meagre portion of these items on their banana leaf. The smart eater seats themselves near the picky eater to enjoy extra servings of delicacies underhand.
Spreading across a rich aroma of roasted raw rice/ pacharisi, kitchen work resumes early in the evening. The raw material either becomes a large batch of Murukku or a bucket full of kaadi kolukattai, depending on the kaipakkuvam of the women who handle the dough. If not these two, Uma Aachi and co. makes mundhirikothu or athirasam for the evening snacks.
When mom catches me diving in the plate full of sweetened delicacies along with my equally competitive cousins, she often gets ballistic about the fact that I would not touch a single sweet made by her at my home.
“Tell me about it. When they are in grandma’s house, even Avaraikkai is amirtham for these kids! We were no different!”, the sisters mutter and smile in unison.
—-to be continued—-