A lingering smell that encompasses the entire household, easily drawing us to the storeroom, without a doubt. That’s where the jack of fruits is stored. Its ‘porcupiney’ outer would have assumed a greenish-yellow hue. The common instruction found on bottles of medicine: ‘store in a cool, dry place’ could be aptly used for the storeroom at my maternal grandma’s place. A whiff of chill air always remains locked in the room, with mild streaks of sunlight that fall on the floor from the crevices of the roof.
A time when we would have been freed of our burden of writing examinations in school. Our 2-month long annual vacation, the most awaited break, each year. When Chennai’s summer begins to soar beyond comparison, with an air of parched aridness around, I have always been fortunate to escape into some soothing greenery of Kerala.
April is the time of Vishu, Malayalam New Year, also the time of Tamil New Year. This is when the jackfruit is felled off the tree and dragged into the storeroom. Grandpa used to tell me that this is the right time to have the fruit pared off the tree so that it begins to ripen in the enclosure of the storeroom. Grandpa wanted to always take up full responsibility of the fruit: which meant- cutting it deftly-tearing apart the humungous fruit into equal halves- dealing with the gooey mess of the sticky interior with the aid of some coconut oil smeared into the palms.
Quite a ceremonious ritual this used to be each year: As kids we only stood aside as spectators until the fruit was fleshed out completely. Sometimes crunchy, sometimes very soft and slimy, the flesh is worthy of all the arduous cleaning process of the fruit. Even after the flesh was plucked out of the fruit, there was more work: it had to be deseeded. Grandpa somehow used to have the belief that we kids could lend a helping hand in deseeding the flesh. Little did he realise that we were there to only pop them into our mouths more often than actually offering help! Of course the moment he saw our mouths bulging with the flesh and seed, a strew of chiding used to ensue! All this, only so that a variety of recipes could be doled out to the family: nonetheless, eating the flesh before it was dispatched in batches to the large kitchen was a delightful experience.
The crunchier lot of the flesh is usually reserved for fritters: The flesh is sliced and then fried until golden yellow with light brown edges, in some salt-laden coconut oil. Slurp! It is one of my favorite snacks; in fact I prefer this one to its cousin of the fritter family: banana fritters. The wobbly flesh is usually reserved for some rich jam like preparation. This is made by sautéing the flesh in jaggery and ghee. The jam like concoction gets thick overtime and is even preserved in large stainless steel or glass jars for making sweet drinks like ‘payasam.’
The seeds were not binned; they were spread out in a large tray and left for sun drying. Once they dry, the skin of the seed is peeled out and is used in regular cooking. There are standalone recipes just with the seeds: they are pressure cooked and then sautéed in coconut oil, with some pepper and salt tossed at the end. But there was nothing to beat the smoked seeds. Our kitchen had the charcoal and wood stove. All we had to do was, to toss a few seeds into the stove and wait for the embers to flame up. We had to carefully fish out the seeds - separate them from the pieces of wood. Once it is taken out you, just blow the smoked crust and have the skin peeled off. The resultant is a tasty, smoky, grilled fetish that I still nurture.
These were simpler times with the jackfruit, however I am not sure how many would bother to buy the whole fruit per se. They are purchased in small portions from hawkers dotting the streets with their pushcarts. Nobody perhaps even cares to attend to the wonderful seed; which in itself serves for a good recipe. Quarter kilo of jackfruit flesh I heard from friends, costs rupees 30. Nothing though, to match the fruity aroma that permeates the household.