Eating from trees

A dish made with a mix of drumsticks and jackfruit seeds  

Imagine if we got our veggies from trees just like we do our fruits. This thought has been at the back of my mind through this summer while working with organic vegetable farmers during this unprecedented drought.

I realised that almost all the vegetables we want come from cultivated one-season crops that require a considerable amount of water and care and are vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate variations.

We expect these seasonal plants to provide vegetables consistently the year around: be it potatoes, tomatoes, okra, beans, gourds or cool seasonal veggies. Maybe it’s time to think differently.

We, in the south of India, are fortunate to have many trees with edible fruits. In fact, during my childhood in Kerala, the role of tree-based vegetables was significant. We consumed drumsticks, drumstick leaves and flowers in various forms; we made delicious poriyal, erisherri, kootu and other preparations with raw papaya. Summer food at my paternal grandparents’ home revolved around jackfruits, mangoes, grapefruit and breadfruit — raw, cooked, roasted, preserved or fried!

Jackfruit and jackfruit seeds played a stellar role with the whole family involved in cleaning the raw fruit, skinning the seed and sharing it with neighbours, so that the cut fruit is not wasted. Jackfruits converted beautifully into aviyal, kootu, and puzhukku (in which the raw fruit and seed are cooked together along with coconut). The seed was made into a delicious poriyal with drumstick; it was combined with roasted coconut into theeyal. The chakka puzhukku was also eaten as a rice replacement.

How can we forget the crisp jackfruit chips and the rich chakka varatti (jackfruit jam), which was preserved to be eaten for the next few months and used for making chakka prathaman.

Raw mangoes went into everything — the sour ones into pickles chutneys, sambar, aviyal, fish curry and mango rice or were salted away for rainy days. Apart from eating the ripe ones, we got pachadi and pulisheeri.

We also consumed the sour bilimbi (supposed to reduce cholesterol) that was made into an aviyal with small onions, added in fish curry, made into pickles and used in almost every curry that requires a souring agent.

Bananas were as much vegetable as fruit. Every part of the banana tree was cooked and eaten — from the stem and flower to the raw and ripe fruit. We used the ripe nendranpazham in pachadi and kalan. After the chips were made, the leftover skin was made into a delicious and nutritious poriyal.

Then there was my favourite vegetable: bread fruit, a wonderfully adaptable vegetable that arrives in February and disappears when the jackfruit season begins. Breadfruit made delicious theeyal, poriyal, chips, and masala curry.

Not to forget that the essential curry leaves, the healthy agathi keerai come from shrubs or small trees; and that tamarind and Malabar tamarind also come from trees. I am sure there are many more.

Once irrigation and transportation across long distances made other vegetables easily available, we began to ignore what was available in our backyards. It is time for us to seriously re-look some of these tree-based veggies and uncultivated greens.

As we face unprecedented drought and shortage of groundwater, the increasing tree cover could be our salvation. For a warming planet, these trees would be a gift to bring the much-needed rains while providing food, shade and biomass. This change will require us to do some additional work, get used to seasonality and availability and also explore growing some of these trees in and around our homes.

Maybe climate change will force our hands whether we like it or not and lead us to these tree-based vegetables again.

Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty is the Co-Founder of Bio Basics, a social venture retailing organic food, and a Consultant to the Save Our Rice Campaign. She can be reached at 9790516500

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 3:41:02 AM |

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