Our jack fruit tree stands in the pretty little corner of our much loved and much tended-to lawn. It exists, with no pretension of being the best jack fruit tree in the neighbourhood, branching and jutting out to the sun, over the fence.
Journeys of the sweet fruit
For years I have watched this one garner heartfelt phone calls of happiness and appreciation of its treacly sweet jack fruits that are parceled to our friends in the city, in the backseat of a car, perched carefully between the legs on a rickety scooty or exchanged for a 12 pack of garden-fresh eggs. Yes, the barter system still exists, it’s awesome, I don’t know why we had to drag currency in it!
The most common beneficiaries of our chakka(jack fruit in Malayalam) are the next door aunties who would eye the fruit as they walk past our gate and walk in to claim their’s the next day. Since the best of them hang from the highest branches, if you need the chakka, you probably will have to pluck it with the pole yourself, under the supervision of amma,(planter, caregiver and benevolent distributor of the goodies)of course.
Our neighbours and my family love their chakka. Any form, size, shape, ripe or unripe, none goes to waste. Chakka season, usually the peak of summer will see a plethora of dishes styled from this bad boy. Myself, on the other hand, shies from it, I may have one or two of the fleshy petals for the whole season.
I fall for the jackfruit
But this year it was different. I can’t say if it was the lockdown and a sense of contingency that had me more interested in this fruit. Whenever a chakka was ripe, we would man the plucker, aim for the slender stem and it drops to the grass with a thump. The hefty fruit is then axed down to reveal the golden petals tucked in the emerald-green-spiked-fortress outside.
“Aishwaryam” of the golden jackfruit arils
It’s quite a sight really and mom, who always has a sparkle in her eye when plucking chakka, remarks, when I ask her about this obsession, “It looks so prosperous. Its so inviting and full of the fruit.” The sweet ones are picked, cleaned and sorted into large boxes that go into the fridge.
The ripe fruit is my favourite which makes for a sweet snack to munch on as you walk past the kitchen all day. It makes for a delicious treat that beats Häagen-Dazs, post a spicy Kerala lunch as well.
One fruit, Unending list of dishes
The unripe ones go into making some of the most delicious dinner servings. The much-adored chakka puzhukku(steamed jackfruit garnished with fresh birds eye chilli, shredded coconut, turmeric powder and a dash of cold-pressed coconut oil), a dish so simple yet the aroma can have you rushing to the kadai for a spoonful.
Then comes the chakka thoran(stir fried jackfruit) in an inviting sunset yellow garnished with mustards. Chakka avial is yet another crowd-pleaser dish with the young jack fruit, aburst of flavour that can’t be put to words.
The sweet and mature jackfruits go into making the finest sweetmeat. The chakka ada(jackfruit steam cakes) and the chakka varatiyadu,(a blend of overripe jackfruit and jaggery slow-cooked in a large bronze uruli or heavy vessel over wood fire) are the classics in this category.
It’s such a satisfying sight to watch the jackfruit-jaggery mixture crackle to the raging fire as the golden chakra saturates down to a dark brown tint. The young jackfruits are also split into fine pieces then fried to crisp making the chakka varuthadu(jackfruit crackers).
The jackfruit seeds are a whole other category. Taking up almost half the volume of the jackfruit itself, these were traditionally roasted in the wood fire to make tasty evening treats for the starved 7-8 kids at home to munch on. Since there are not as many mouths to feed in modern homes, we experimented with finer things.
Renaissance of the Superfruit-Thanks to Lockdown
The lockdown was also a period of renaissance for the Jackfruit seeds. The possibilities were jackfruit seed cutlets, unda(a ball of ground jack seed, jaggery and powdered rice), and even jack seed shake and jack seed brownies, the last two, very millennial choices.
The jack seed shake truly blew my mind. It made an entrance with being shared in the family WhatsApp group and was lauded as the bomb! We couldn’t do without giving it a try and I have to say, it was a winner. Thick and flavorful, I have now found a new way to get my share of protein for the day.
Rewinding back in time
The quarantine surely has us confused and uncertain, but I would like to reiterate the cliché phrase with more conviction today.”Take life one day at a time.” I have a newfound appreciation for everything that grows in my garden,of homemade and doing things that take time.
Life is NOT a race, savour, like you would our jackfruit!