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We spent our summer holidays surrounded by an abundance of fruits like mangoes and jackfruits. My sister once posted on Instagram about how mangoes were an important part of our childhood summers. She left out the bit about jackfruits. There were times when mango trees did not yield, which was never the case with jackfruits. I vividly remember the elders at home cutting open the humongous fruit, and large proportions readily going into the bellies of eagerly waiting children. Often, we were warned of an impending tummy ache, if you ate too much of the fruit or drank cold water along with it.
Unripe fruit was roughly chopped, cooked and tempered with grated coconut, chillies and other spices into a delectable mash called ‘Puzhuk’. Some afternoons, thin slices of the unripe fruit would be fried in coconut oil, the aroma wafting through the entire household attracting children playing in the premises to the kitchen.
When I left for college for several years, I never missed a jackfruit opportunity. Often, a classmate would produce a box of deseeded jackfruit flesh, only to be polished off in seconds. Some others would bring various traditional jackfruit dishes from their weekend home trips, which would inevitably meet a similar fate. Worst case scenario, one could always buy the fruit from roadside vendors.
And then life happened, and I moved two thousand kilometres North, to a land of no jackfruits. During my work-related travels here, I did see a few fruit laden jackfruit trees in the field. A few days later, carts appeared on the streets laden with tender, immature jackfruits. The vendor would cut up the fruit, including even the rind which is considered inedible back home, to be cooked into the local version of Puzhuk. But what I was really waiting for, was the fragrant, golden chunks of the ripe fruit. Soon, to my disappointment, I found that ripe jackfruit is not consumed in this part of the country. The roadside vendors would give me blank stares when I enquired about the ripe fruit. The neighbours had never ever heard of such a thing. And not just that, even the unripe fruit was looked at with a certain disdain. Many folks avoided eating the tender jackfruit because apparently, the curry reminded them of mutton. Clearly, mutton was not a hot item on the menu either.
Anyway, I never stopped looking for jackfruits. Every year, I asked confused vendors about the ripe fruit. Every summer, I enlightened the mutton haters about my jackfruit infused childhood. Every day of the jackfruit season, I scrolled wistfully through endless social media posts on jackfruit. Occasionally, I openly expressed jealousy to my gloating cousins, who complained that they just couldn’t eat any more jackfruits. And I kept looking, until one fine afternoon my search bore fruit, literally.
I was returning from work one day when I saw unmistakably yellow jackfruits on a roadside cart. I asked the vendor if they were sweet for which he gave a vague headshake that I took as a yes. I brought home a fairly large half of the fruit. And as soon as I got home, I peeled off the outer aril and bit into it. It was bland. Not defeated yet, I decided to wait for a couple of days to see if it would ripen properly and Voila! On day 3, the unmistakable aroma of the ripe fruit was wafting from the kitchen.
I cut the fruit open using the standard operating procedure involving sickle, coconut oil and newspapers to protect the floor. I separated out the inedible portion from the juicy arils and saved the seeds for later. I also realized that the three kilos of fruit was reduced to a paltry portion of the edible fruit and I had paid a princely sum for the indulgence.
To the uninitiated neighbours, I did offer a few arils of the fruit. They gingerly bit into one and I could say that they never would become fans of this majestic fruit. The rest of the fruit was then made into a jaggery preserve for later!