Summer, as epitomised by the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, is not a time to laze around. For, in states like Goa and Maharashtra, this was—and is—the season for preserving produce. It was the time of school vacations, extra pairs of hands, grandmothers bustling about and rows of produce drying in the yard—from papad and pickles to vegetables and fruits—to ensure sufficient stocks for the monsoon months that would offer very little fresh produce. Even fishing activities would cease.
It’s a tradition many families continue to follow.
Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, a culinary chronicler, notes: “Throughout its existence, Indian cuisine has been localised and seasonal. This meant the diet had a variety of plant foods but before refrigeration it had limited shelf life. And so Indian culinary culture created solutions for food preservation, including a variety of dough-based dumplings, pasta-like dried foods that mimicked vegetables, and dried foods like papads and badis that supplemented the diet.”
Goa even has a festival based on the season of storing and preserving, called purument, from the Portuguese proviso, or “making provision”. Every May, the Margao church celebrates the Purumentache feast—a weeklong outdoor fair that sees home cooks and vendors selling everything from dried fish to pickles and sausages. This year, it was on 28 May.
Oliver Fernandes, co-founder of the speciality restaurant and store The Goan Kitchen, says that though many items are available in the market all-year round now, “many households still follow purument as it is an age-old tradition and it helps discerning households maintain the quality of their ingredients”.
The Goan Kitchen menu routinely features dishes such as Kite Fish Para, Bombil Molho, and Dry Prawn Balchão, which use purument ingredients like dried fish, dried prawns and souring agents. Goan households also make choris (Goan sausages) and mitantulem maas (salted pork) and preserve spices, pulses and fruits.
In Maharashtra, the summer sees a surplus of mangoes, jackfruit, kokum (Garcinia indica) and other foods. In the Konkan belt in particular, mangoes and jackfruit are preserved in the form of amba poli (mango leather) and phanas poli (jackfruit leather). Kokum and other souring fruits are dried to make amsol (dried kokum) and kokum juice. Vegetables like gavar (cluster beans) are soaked in spiced buttermilk and sun-dried, to be turned into stir-fries.
In Gujarat, dried vegetables are called sukavni. Typically, vegetables like bitter gourd, okra, cluster beans and lotus root are sun-dried and later deep-fried to serve as a crunchy side to a meal.
Goa goes beyond mango and jackfruit leather, sun-drying cereals and pulses like alsande (cowpeas) as well as spices like teppal/tefla (Sichuan peppercorn) and souring agents like mango, kokum, bimbli (tree sorrel) and otamb (monkey jack).
Panchkuta, one of Rajasthan’s star dishes, is made from dried produce. It consists of five ingredients: dried sangri (wild beans of Prosopis cineraria), dried ker (berries of Capparis deciduas), dried goonda (gum berry), amchur (dried raw mango) and dried koomti (acacia seeds).
A favourite across many states, vadi—a dumpling variously called badya, vadyo, sandge—is made of ground dals and cereals with puréed vegetables and spices. The dal paste is ladled out on cloth or plastic in different shapes and forms. An old Maharashtrian cookbook specifically suggests that the sandges be dried on a white dhoti, possibly because these were made of soft, undyed cotton. The vadis are deep-fried and used all-year round. They are also cooked with other vegetables or greens. Munshaw-Ghildiyal describes them as “the original plant-protein alternative”.
Each region uses a different combination of pulses and vegetables. A common one in Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, for instance, is ash gourd and black gram.
Mumbai-based Anjali Karnad, 65, who first tried her hand at the piyava vadyo (onion vadis) when she was 13, today runs a home business and makes 150kg of vadyo and papad in a season. It is “a genuinely soothing and pleasant activity”, she says.
“Since the preparation of these provisions was laborious and often intricate, many hands made the work easier,” says Munshaw-Ghildiyal. “Ladies from the neighbourhoods would come together to dry large quantities of produce, papads, badis and more. Over time, these gatherings became a way of celebration, empowerment and even a lifeline for scores of women In India.” Songs were sung, stories were told; the oral tradition continues to this day in some families.
Surabhi Bhandari, a home chef specialising in Rajasthani cuisine, recalls: “Everyone would gather on the terrace in the morning. The kids were tasked with spreading sheets of plastic or old saris and the men of the family would ferry huge pateelas of dal paste and cooked khichiya (a thick wheat-based papad) dough. The ladies would sing and talk while my dadima would sit in a place of pride, instructing her daughters and daughters-in-law on how to roll out the thinnest of thin wadis.”
Anjali Ganapathy, a home chef who promotes Coorg (Kodava) cuisine, dividing her time between Coorg and Bengaluru, recalls family get-togethers with chutneys, jams, juices, wines, etc. “You could see all the different methods of preservation on display at the family table!”
Indeed, these traditions evoke a sense of romance, of hygge, a fragrant reminder perhaps of our childhoods and a yearning for the slow life.
Yashodhara Sirur is a Mumbai-based part-time writer, full-time IT professional.