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Life on a farm

Farm homestays around Bengaluru offer visitors lessons in mindful eating and the provenance of each ingredient on the plate

Coffee berries being plucked on the Golden Wood Eco Holiday Homes estate.
Coffee berries being plucked on the Golden Wood Eco Holiday Homes estate.

There are 16 long weekends in the 2018 holiday calendar and this means weekend getaways can be much more than beach or forest holidays. Karnataka has seen a burgeoning of properties which offer a back-to-nature experience with a focus on farm-to-fork dining. A number of farm homestays, all within a 450km radius of Bengaluru, offer the opportunity to commune with nature all the while focusing on fresh produce and local culinary traditions.

Take, for instance, the Golden Wood Eco Holiday Homes estate and homestay in Sakleshpur, around 250km from Bengaluru. A large Mangalore-tiled cottage and three modern-day cottages, set in the heart of the coffee estate, accommodate multiple guests. On arriving here, we were treated to masala chai with pepper grown on the estate. The steaming rice at lunch came from the surrounding paddy fields. And then there was the magnificent pomelo salad made from the fruit that the caretaker had plucked from a tree on our walk around the property. This was food at its best—simple, fresh and directly from the source. “We want to showcase traditional Malnad or Uttara Kannada food and most of it is made with the produce that we grow on estate," says Chandini D.M., founder and chief executive officer of Golden Wood Eco Holiday Homes. There is at least one local speciality prepared everyday based on the season and availability. The chefs whip up chigli chutney made with the red fire ants that weave their nests in fruit trees which grow abundantly around the estate. Kalule (bamboo shoots) and akki alubu (rice mushrooms) are made into curries or dry fries. “We encourage our guests to pluck and eat fruit straight off the many trees surrounding the cottages," says Chandini.

Earth Kitchen’s lentil and dill rice and sautéed vegetables.

Another homestay in Sakleshpur, with a similar approach to food, is Mugilu. Located a little beyond Sakleshpur town, in the middle of a 10-acre coffee and pepper plantation, Mugilu is far removed from the bustle of the city with bird song filling the air. The food served here features rustic and hyperlocal recipes with almost everything grown on site. We sampled dishes like a hagalakayi gojju (a spicy bitter-gourd curry) with akki (rice) or jolada (jowar/sorghum) rotis. The pulaos were garnished with diced pineapples; the custard at the end of our meal had juicy lychees in it. For breakfast, we gorged on bananas and rose apples. When there is an exceptionally good crop, some of the fruit is turned into wine and squashes. Mugilu was started by advertising professionals Chandan and Sapna Gurukar, who left city life in Bengaluru to settle down here and their idea of food had a large part to play in it. “We think that the essence of local dishes and traditional recipes are being lost in the cities and that is why we try and focus on that experience here and interact with our guests, especially during their first meal and educate them on the concepts of healthy, naturally grown (without the use of pesticides) produce. Our all-natural (growing according to the capacity of the soil and what will grow best in it) plantation grows tomatoes, chillies, greens, beans, brinjal, pumpkin, and a variety of cucumbers, bitter gourd, sweet potato and mustard leaves." The estate has numerous fruit trees; their passion fruit juice and wine are delicious and the guava and jackfruit jams, a delight.

Meera and Praveen Khanna, who run Silver Oak Farm on the slopes of Nandi Hills, around 65km from Bengaluru, have a similar food philosophy. They always invite their guests to walk through the garden and see all the produce up close. The paneer (cottage cheese) that they serve is made from the milk that comes from the farm’s cows. Produce from the farm, which is grown naturally without any pesticides, takes myriad forms—bitter gourd and gooseberries are turned into pickles, and karondas and guavas are bottled into fragrant jams.

Cinnabar, a homestay in Kodaikanal, about 465km from Bengaluru, also believes in the organic way. “No one understood our methods when we first started," says K. Balakrishnan, who owns and runs Cinnabar. “But when they tasted the food, the difference was evident." A vegetable that is freshly picked and cooked a few hours later, tastes completely different from those that have travelled a long distance in cold storage," says Balakrishnan. The Cinnabar kitchen also focuses on making international dishes with local grains. Balakrishnan explains that the idea is to adapt to the local context. For example, the hummus here is made with locally grown butter beans instead of chickpeas. They also make a couple of varieties of artisanal cheese. Everything from beans, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes to the whole gamut of salad leaves and microgreens is grown on the farm. Fresh homemade jams are served at breakfast.

Vegetables grown at Cinnabar.

For those who can’t take out the time to go as far as Kodaikanal, Earth Kitchen in Hessarghatta, a short drive from Bengaluru, is an easy option. This farm is home to self-styled weekend chef and full-time gardener Arati Venkat and her husband Naved. It is open to the public on weekends only. The couple is now in the process of constructing their homestay and this facility will be available soon. “For me, farm-to-fork has never been about luxury. Rather it is about absorbing the colour palette of nature," says Venkat. “Recently one of our guests was quick to recall the fragrance of the lemon balm herb I used in the tea infusion and asked for it again. It is small things like this that make what I do pleasurable." Venkat’s garden yields produce that finds its way into a range of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, like a delicious Garden Salad with crunchy bell peppers, cucumber, radish, pomegranate seeds, cherry tomatoes and star fruit and tossed with a citrus dressing. Every ingredient is drawn from the farm’s well-designed kitchen garden and it is a pleasure to see what you are eating is grown barely a few yards from your plate.

Such farm experiences with their fresh ingredients and home-cooked meals are a great reminder of just how gorgeous the bounty of nature can be. Here, away from supermarket shelves, one learns the seamless connection between the food on our plate and the land that it comes from.

Golden Wood Eco Holiday Homes, Sakleshpur

Price, Rs7,200 onwards, for two persons per night

Mugilu, Sakleshpur

Rs5,400 onwards, for two persons per night

Silver oak farm, Nandi Hills

Rs5,500 onwards, for two persons per night

Cinnabar, Kodaikanal

Rs6,000 onwards, for two persons per night

Earth Kitchen, Hessarghatta

A day out is Rs1,500, per person

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