The onset of summer indicates the arrival of the Mukkanis - Maa, Palaa, Vaazhai - (Mangoes, Jackfruits and Bananas). Of course, bananas are available throughout the year. The other two are not as plenty as bananas. The Jackfruit, called Palaa Pazham, in Tamil is the second of the Mukkani. The sweetness of the Jackfruit is a hallmark of its popularity. The Jackfruit is available throughout the summer season and once the rain arrives, the jackfruits are not available and the onset of rain decreases the taste in the fruit and are not tasty as the ones in the mid-summer. Biologically, a multiple fruit, the jackfruit forms part in auspicious festivals, esp the Tamil New Year, that usually falls on April 14th, where people offer the Mukkanis, esp the Jackfruit. The mirror is placed as a God Image and the Mukkanis along with other sweet and auspicious offerings are kept the night before the Tamil New Year and people wake up looking into the mirror. This practice has many indepth meanings. First, when people wake up looking into the mirror, it shows their reflection, it means to search the God within themselves and not elsewhere. Second, let the reflections of the auspicious things placed in front of them mirror bestow happiness throughout the year. Third, as the mirror that reflects the whatever is placed before it, let your presence reflect all happiness and sweetness as the Mukkanis in front of the mirror. And so on...
The Jackfruit takes a predominant position as a fruit in the South Indian delicacy. Even the tender Jackfruit, called the Palaa kaai, is used as a spicy recipes like Kootu and other cuisine. The presence of jackfruit trees, each with a bunch of jackfruits, in a country indicates the country's fertility in those good old days. And in many songs, the jackfruit is mentioned as a part of fertility and the richness of the plant life in the country. Even in many pasurams by Thirumangai Azhwar in Naalayira Dhivya Prabandham, he mentions about jackfruit soaked in honey. Well that is one good combination to eat jackfruit. The taste of jackfruit soaked in honey is unmatched and out of this world. There is yet another comibination in which people eat jackfruit, they pour a teaspoon of ghee, and that too the ghee taken from cow's milk and not from buffalo's milk, in each fruit and then eat it. These combinations really make many mouths to water.
There is even a short fable from the Mahabharatha, when the Pandavas were on an exile. They had to live in the forest for a year and they had the magical vessel, the Akshaya Paathiram, that would give any food item they wished. And during lunch, Bhima would request the jackfruit soaked in honey from the Akshaya Paathiram. So that itself explains the combination of jackfruit with honey.
There is a riddle that would mean the jackfruit. The riddle goes like this
meaning the father is a man with itches, the mother is a woman with a lot of hair, but the kid is as sweet as sugar. This riddle is told to indicate contradictions of things. Like a father with itches and mother with lots of hair have a sweet kid. But this neatly explains the structure of a jackfruit. The coarse rough, thorn like outer skin, that is the protecting layer like the father for the fruit inside. The string like things that is between the fruit that feeds the fruit that grows inside is like the mother. And the kid, the actual fruit, called the Palaa Sulai, sweet as sugar.
Not only the fruit, but all the seeds and sometimes even the outer skin is used in the cuisine. The seeds are cooked, roasted and used in combination with Pulikkulambu (Tamarind Gravy), Karuvaadu Preparations (Dried Fish) and of course other spicy varieties like Sundal etc, but the only problem with the seeds is that is creates Vaaivu, that is it forms gas inside the stomach. So people add ginger and garlic to mitigate the effect of gas formation by the seeds .
The Jackfruit grows in the plains as well as the mountains. But the ones that grow in the mountains are more tasty than the ones that grow in the plains. The jackfruit grows at various places in the jackfruit tree, in the branches, near the stem and even in the roots, below the ground. The ones that grow in the roots are called as Vaer Palaa. Vaer means root, so Vaer aa means the one the grows in the root. This is not known until the aroma of the jackfruit comes from the underground. This Vaer aa is very rare, unlike the ones in the branches, because it could be easily reached by animals and those animals would eat them once they detect the aroma of the ripe fruit inside the ground. Also being inside the ground adds more taste to the fruit when it ripens.
The Jackfruit arrives to the market from various places, but the ones from Panruti is famous. Those varieties have big Sulais (single fruit of the jackfruit) and are more tasty than the other varieties.
There is even one song that is taught for the kids in the kindergarden that mentions about the jackfruit especially the Vaer Palaa. Sorry that I could not recollect the entire song. I am posting what I could recollect. I would be thankful to the reader who remembers that song and posts it in the comments. The song goes like this
"... Enna Pazham? Palaa Pazham
Enna Palaa? Vaer Palaa
Enna Vaer? Vetti Vaer
Enna Vetti? Viragu Vetti
Enna Viragu? Mara Viragu
Enna Maram? Maa Maram
Enna Maa? Amma"
The song goes like a chain riddle that ends with the word that means mother. The rough translation is as follows
What fruit? The Jackfruit (Palaa)
What Palaa? The Vaer Palaa (The jackfruit that grows in the root)
What Vaer? Vetti Vaer (An aromatic root soaked in water to prepare a juice that cools down the body heat during summer)
What Vetti? Viragu Vetti (Vetti also means cutter, so the question is which cutter, the answer is Wood (viragu) cutter)
What Viragu? Mara (Tree)
Viragu What tree? Maa Maram (Mango Tree)
What Maa? Amma (Mother)
Though this song is rhymes with the last word of the previous question, it emphasizes the jackfruit and especially the Vaer Palaa. So the Jackfruit has pervaded the minds of many since the good old days. So lets try the combination of jackfruit with honey and jackfruit with ghee this season. There yet another combination the one with coconut oil. It adds a good taste to the jackfruit clubbed with the aroma of cocunut oil, but too much is not recommended as it might add cholestrol. So, only little quantities in this comibination are recommended. Lets taste these combinations with the gifted jackfruit and enjoy this season of jackfruits before the rains arrive.
More to come, until then...