Ode to the jackfruit

Who would pay homage to the humble jackfruit when the mango is the king of all fruits, right? Wrong! If you have grown up being introduced to the jackfruit first, the chances of King Mango being a close second is pretty high.

I love mangoes and have tried its many varieties: from the Alphonsos of Ratnagiri and Goa to badami, chaunsa, dasheri, kesar, langra etc available in the Gurugram markets. But, at the risk of seeming almost blasphemous, I have to say: ‘Give me jackfruit any day!’

Have you ever tasted a honey jackfruit pod, juicy and fresh? I have, for as long as I can remember, and though there are many who feel like throwing up if they get even a whiff of this fruit, it is ambrosia to me. So, can you imagine my delight when L sent across a box of perfectly-cleaned, bright yellow, ready-to-eat jackfruit pods all the way from Bengaluru for me? Just opening up that tightly-sealed box and having the aroma fill my whole house was sheer bliss.

I was introduced to jackfruit at my maternal grandparents’ home in Coorg, where we could see the huge fruits ripening right in front of our eyes. We could hardly wait for them to be cut down by experts, the outer jagged, dinosaur-looking skin to be taken off, the latex/gum to be eased off with oiled hands and the yellow pods prepped for us to eat on large plates.

My grandmother’s warning of ‘Don’t eat too many; your tummy will get upset,’ fell on deaf ears as 16 rowdy cousins, who had arrived from all over the country for summer vacations, gobbled down all they could! The fruit was also cooked as a curry or pulped and steamed inside banana leaves — all forgettable as far as I was concerned. I only relished the ripe fruit.

My mother now gets the fruit for me from Burliar, a tiny village in the Coimbatore–Nilgiri border, where the climate is perfect for the growth of jackfruit. Coonoor, where she lives, is way too cold for the jackfruit tree to grow. Kept in the fridge for my arrival, no matter how tight the box the jackfruit is sealed in, everything in the fridge seems to acquire a wee bit of its inimitable flavour.

I am told that jackfruit festivals are held in many cities with varieties like Black Gold, Golden Nugget and Golden Pillow. A farmer from Karnataka has even won an award from the National Innovation Foundation for producing gum-free, tasty jackfruit after years of grafting and experimenting. Hats off to him!

Apparently, the wood of this tree is also used to make furniture and its leaves and roots are medicinal, not to forget the seeds that are roasted and consumed. So it does seem fit to insist, in conclusion, that it is about time the jackfruit is no longer taken for granted and given its due. Move over, mango!

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