Women who make sweets and savouries are sought after by those looking at alternatives to greasy goodies sold in the market

Bharati is busy checking into her bag of goodies as she talks. “I am already running late. I have to deliver these packets to a few houses,” she grimaces, looking at her watch. The days leading up to Deepavali are busy ones for her and her daughter-in-law. Between them, they have to make and supply nearly 100 kilos of savouries and sweets for the festival.

Gifting dry fruits, chocolates, cup cakes and brownies may have made inroads into what was traditionally an occasion celebrated with Indian sweets and snacks, but the festival remains incomplete without a small share of these. Large sweet shops in the city hire special mithai makers from Bengal and Rajasthan apart from those in the city to cater to the demands of a cosmopolitan city.

At the same time, there is a section that prefers home-made sweets and savouries to those bought off the racks. “We used to make them all at home when I was young. Preparations would begin a week before the festival. But now with everyone having less time on their hands, it’s convenient to place orders. The chakkinalu sold in shops are greasy and turn stale within a few days. We can’t be sure of what oil they use,” says Premalatha, a homemaker in her 70s.

This is where women like Bharati come into the picture. “Those who place orders are particular about the quality of the oil. Some prefer groundnut oil and others, refined vegetable oil,” she says, underlining that she doesn’t use hydrogenated fats to make traditional Telugu savouries like chakkinalu, chegodilu, challa murukulu and odappalu. On request, she makes boorelu and bobbatlu as well.

‘Murukku’ and more

Carnatic vocalist Chandrashekar sensed the void in home-made delicacies and started helping close friends source home-style murukkus 15 years ago. “I knew Tamilian friends who wanted a variety of murukkus. We found two women who would do this at home and today, we get orders for nearly 500kgs of savouries and 200 kgs of sweets. Since there are more orders during the festive season, a few more women from Madurai come here to prepare the sweets and savouries,” he says. The women make the traditional hand-made kai murukku, thenkuzhal, ribbon murukku and thattai apart from sweets like boondi laddu, jangiri and badushah.

These sweet makers claim they don’t reuse oil. A test of quality is the shelf life of the goodies. “Store them in airtight steel containers and even after a fortnight, there is no stale smell. There is no grease on your palms either,” says Premalatha.

Since the quality of the ingredients is not compromised, in some cases the charges are on the steeper side. A case in point is the ‘andal mixture’ widely sold in Malkajgiri for about Rs. 160 to 200 per kg. This would cost upwards of Rs. 300 per kg from these women.