If it’s May, June, July, it must be raining jackfruits in Kerala. Every household has its own tree or trees, loaded with rich knobbly bundles, some bursting open to reveal gleaming yellow flesh inside. Each homestead is suffused with the all-pervading, strong fragrance of ripening jackfruit and fruit-related delicacies. Of these, the ones that evoke a very strong memory in me are chakkavarattiyathu and kumbilappam. I shall come back to kumbilappam later. Chakka varattiyathu, meaning, jackfruit pieces roasted till all the water content is removed, merits a space of its own.
Among the sweets I yearn to eat again, chakkavaratti stands fairly high. Friendly neighbours and colleagues used to drop by after they had returned from the “nadu” ( native village), bearing such delicacies as chakkavaratti, fried jackfruit and banana chips. Even about thirty-odd years ago, tiny Trivandrum was more cosmopolitan than the rest of Kerala. The fast pace of modern life made it difficult for working women to make a time-consuming delicacy like chakkavaratti at home, so they preferred to raid their mother’s kitchens and bring back a store for themselves.
On the surface of it, the recipe sounds simple. But it takes a lot of time and back-breaking effort to stand by the fire and stir together pieces of jackfruit, jaggery and ghee till it reaches a gooey consistency. I scoured the net in vain for a recipe spoken in English. So I did the next best thing – I took the most coherent version and added my own written text.
Ingredients: 1 kilo jackfruit pieces, de-seeded and cut into small pieces;half kilo melted jaggery, strained, powdered cardamom, quarter kilo ghee.
Method: Take a heavy-bottomed vessel and pour half the ghee into it. Add the fruit pieces and stir for about five minutes uncovered. Reduce flame and cook it covered for another five minutes. It will start to exude water. Keep on reduced flame and keep stirring till the fruit becomes really soft and pulpy. Add melted jaggery and keep stirring to blend thoroughly. Add more ghee as required to prevent it sticking. When it finally forms a ball and starts to leave the sides of the pan, it’s ready. Sprinkle powdered cardamom and serve hot or cold. It will stay good for at least a couple of weeks .
As a child, I couldn’t get enough of this fudgy concoction. There are foil-sealed versions available at places like Ambika Aplam, but it isn’t the same, not having been stirred with love and care. A lot depends too on the quality of the jackfruit and the colour of the jaggery. You could make it gooey or really chewy. A little sourness in the fruit also adds to the taste.
Different people make lavish claims about how long this can last. One person even said one year, but we’ve never had to keep it so long. It’s usually polished off in a jiffy. It can be added to jackfruit payasam, it goes well with dosa or rotis or bread, it is further incorporated into kumbilappam or ela ada, or it can be just eaten anytime, anywhere by itself——- its uses are multifarious. Not too many exotic or expensive ingredients, either, just God’s own bounty from God’s own country.