Jackfruit. Chakka in Malayalam. It’s one of the few things left in this world that can bring a smile to my Grandmum Grumpy Face. Gmum where G stands for grumpy, has had enough of this world as she reminds us multiple times a day. But present her with the prospect of a jackfruit-related activity and she perks up like a politician seeing a TV crew.
It was no wonder then that the talk of this hallowed jackfruit began the minute I got home. Never mind that I had bought an exorbitant air ticket at the airport and waited all day to board this late evening flight. Never mind that I got home well past her bed time. And never mind the minor detail that the occasion for this emergency visit was my father being hospitalised. All she could talk about was the jackfruit.
She talked persuasively about the possibility of me looking into the plucking of the said jackfruit. It’s like the art of persuasion was child’s play to her. I don’t know how she does it. She never once asked if I would do it. But in the end I found myself in the mid-morning sun, staring up at the jackfruit tree, armed with a cane pole.
The night before Mission Jackfruit, she hunted down specific aluminum vessels of varying sizes for the much anticipated jackfruit disembowelment proceedings. Meticulous as she is, she had counted the number of fruits on the tree, called plavu in Malayalam. And there were 48. Guess Douglas Adams got the number wrong after all.
When the day of the jackfruit killing dawns, the excitement is palpable. Three of us, minions at her bidding, have emboldened her efforts. We are in a trance. Now she is shooting out commands faster than a machine gun. And now we are running around, willing ourselves to run for cover but involuntarily being efficient. We are mavericks prepping ourselves to go out into the big bad backyard and battle the plavu for a chakka.
For breakfast, Gmum goads us to fuel up with extra doshas and tea. When we reach the scene, we inspect the fruit hanging way above the rest, at least 15 feet above ground. And without further adieu, Mission Jackfruit, also known as the Chakka Murder of 2017 is underway. Being the only person under 65 years of age, I am entrusted with making the chakka kiss the floor. I have three supervisors, each one lower in rank than the next, with varied opinions on the best technique to tackle the situation. And I thank God for the extra shot of patience I took this morning.
Gmum cheers me on from the sidelines with an age old saying, Pennu Thuninjal Brahmanum Thadukkilla meaning when a woman decides to take action even Brahma won’t stop her. The minute I hit the chakka, my crew springs into action, like a school of piranhas, taking it apart and cooking it multiple ways, leaving behind delicious end products, all within the hour. This crew would make a stellar car stealing company selling spare parts.
If Gmum were a superhero, her wand would put both Spiderman and Harry Potter to shame. It collects sticky jackfruit latex called chakka mulanju. It’s primarily used for sealing pickled mango jars and she’s had it as long as I can remember. And if you wish to rain down the wrath of the Gmum on yourself, I dare you to touch this wand.
All parts of the chakka other than the core and the pokey rind are edible as Gmum has demonstrated time and again. She used to even salt and dry the covering of the seed (tholi), and the stringy covering of the flesh (chauni) and fry them as chips. Not one to waste anything, she would also use the inner layers of the rind in avial.
- Chips: As kids we grew up on endless supplies of chakka chips. I still gawk at the price of little packets of these in stores and imagine Gmum suffering a stroke when I tell her its price. Cut off the ends of the fleshy jackfruit segments so that you are left with similar sized pieces. Now make long slices of equal measurement so that they cook evenly. Fry in hot oil and stir till crispy. Then reduce the flame and add salted water. If the flame is high, the oil could overflow and catch fire. Gmum says “kilum kilum” is the sound chips make when they are done. I doubt we will ever get that sound right. And you can buy chakka chips online now.
- Moloshyam: Cook the fruit in water with salt, turmeric and chilly powder to taste. When they come together, add a spoon of coconut oil and a sprig of curry leaves. Chakka Moloshyam makes it worth the year-long wait for jackfruit season. This tastes even better when eaten with piping-hot kanji. Variations include adding a paste of coconut and cumin and occasionally shallots.
- Mezhukkupuratti: Another simple recipe is to crush shallots, whole red chillies and curry leaves and saute them with the fruit.
- Seeds: Chakkakuru added to both moloshyam and mezhukkupuratti make it yummier. But do expect some music from the rear.
- Chakka Varatti: If you prefer sweeter things, try chakka varatti which is essentially a jackfruit halwa. Made best with sweet ripened chakka, the flesh is cooked and then ground to a paste. Cook this paste with ghee and melted jaggery on a low flame. Starting with this semi liquid, stir till it darkens, leaves the sides of the vessel and easily forms a ball. Making this sweet is also a good upper arm exercise. This preparation can be stored for a while and be used in chakka adda which is a flat steamed/toasted rice dumpling filled with gooey jackfruit goodness.
- Pappadam: Grind cooked chakka to a paste along with cumin, pepper and salt. Spread in circles on cloth and dry in the sun. These can be stored and fried as required.
This is all in a day’s work for Gmum. She is more than half a century older than me but she still does more work in a day than I do in an entire week including crossfit. When we were both younger, I remember how she used to work like a horse from four in the morning to ten in the night; in the kitchen, around the house and in the backyard. Now that she is unable to work like that anymore, she has taken to employment generation for her minions. We are currently considering nominating her for the post of employment minister for the nation. She would give Make In India a boost that no one saw coming. If that’s not available we could settle for head of Vigilance or CBI, for such is her skill in triangulating information from seasoned evaders. Watch this space for more on these appointments.