A lingering smell that pervades the entire household, easily drawing us to the store room, without a doubt. For that’s where the jack of fruits is stored. Its porcupine-like exterior would have assumed a greenish-yellow hue. A whiff of chill air always remains locked in the room, with streaks of sunlight falling on the floor through the crevices of the roof.
April is the time of Vishu, the Malayalam New Year’s Day — also the time of the Tamil New Year. This is when the jackfruit is felled from the tree and dragged into the store room. Grandpa used to tell me that was the right time to have the fruit pared off the tree so that it begins to ripen in the store room. He wanted to take full responsibility: 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 coconut oil smeared on 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 the arduous cleaning process.
After the flesh was plucked out, there was more work: it had to be deseeded. Grandpa somehow believed we kids could lend a helping hand in the deseeding operation. Little did he realise that we were there only to pop them into our mouths. Of course the moment he saw our mouths bulging with the flesh and seed, some chiding used to ensue. All this, so that a variety of edible items could be prepared for the whole family. Nonetheless, eating the flesh before it was dispatched to the kitchen was delightful.
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 favourite snacks. In fact I prefer this one to its cousin of the fritter family: banana fritters. The wobbly flesh is meant for some jam-like preparation.
This is made by sautéing the flesh in jaggery and ghee. Over the flame, a jam-like concoction thickens over time. It is even preserved in stainless steel or glass jars to make payasam.
The seeds are not binned; rather, they are spread out in a large tray and left to dry in the sun. Once dried, the skin of the seed is peeled out and used in regular cooking. There are standalone recipes made just with the seeds: they are pressure-cooked and then sautéed in coconut oil, with some pepper and salt tossed in at the end.