Chalta'r Achaar (Pickled Elephant apple/Dillenia Indica)9:16 AM
Wish all my readers a very happy new year, may the God fulfill all your dreams.
A new year is always an excuse to start things afresh. For me its the time to be hopeful. there is something about winter that makes me happy. The weather, the stamina, the mood everything is positive during this time and there are plenty of festivities to cheer you about life. So come end of December I am all geared up and never miss a chance to make my resolutions. Yes I have diligently done so all my life and now when I look back I see a pattern.
before marriage it was to loose weight, look gorgeous, party more and such silly things. but now with age and experience I have turned to making more achievable goals that would make a real difference in my life. So no more loosing weight just to look beautiful rather to excercise daily is on my card to be more fit and increase my stamina to run around with the kids.
But the biggest change am planning this year is to practice more mindfulness in my everyday life. To be aware of my surrounding, what makes me happy and whats not and slowing down to savour life as it is. I am inspired by the slow living movement which preaches structuring your life around meaning and fulfilment. I will write more about it later but hopefully on the blog front you will se me experimenting more with new ingredients and digging up more old forgotten recipes from the past.
Today am sharing one more local and seasonal ingrdients. Chalta/ Elephant apple or Dillenia Indica is native to Asian countries. In my region earlier it was available easily but with urbanisation they are vanishing rapidly. The fact that these are not used that widely (in few curries and chutneys) and not cultivated commercially is adding to it being vanishing from the market. But this is the season when they are available in selected markets and if you know how to cut, prepare and cook them then you will not leave this chance to use them.
The fruit genrally is round and very hard. Consists of several petals which actually are a part of the flower. The seeds are embedded in an edible but fibrous pulp.
Another interesting fact as per Wikipedia is "Dillenia indica produces a large hard fruit which is accessible only to the megaherbivores. An interesting study in the Buxa Tiger Reserve by ecologists Sekar & Sukumar has shown that Asian elephants appear to have a particular fondness for the fruits of D. indica, and hence an important seed dispenser for this tree.With the prospects of extinction of the elephants this tree has developed a back-up system, whereby its hard fruits that were only accessible to megaherbivores, slowly soften on the forest floor through the dry season to allow access to successively smaller animals such as macacques, rodents and squirrels. Seeds from both old and soft fruits are able to germinate well, enabling the persistence of this tree to be independent of the survival of its major megaherbivore disperse"
There is one more story associated with this fruit. D. Pedro of Brazil sent this fruit to Portugal with a note that 'in this land money grows on trees'. When the Portugese cut the fruit open they found each containing a Brazilian coin. To portray the natural richness of the soil Pedro placed a coin while the flower was starting to shape as a fruit. The formation of this fruit is such that there is a gap between the several petals of the fruit and the pulpy center. More about this story HERE.
Chalta has a significant place in Bengali folk art. The much famous Kantha embrodery thrives on the basic chalta ful design (the flower of the plant). It gets repeated in our Alpona designs (designs made on floor with rice paste) again and again and even in our weddings they have a presence. While decorating the newly weds room we write a poem to bless their married life and decorate that with phulghor (flower room) which is a traditional design with chalta and other flowers. Will soon share a picture of the same.
This year I made a small batch of chaltar achaar or Elephant apple pickle. This sweet, sour spicy apple is delight to have as an aftermeal palate cleanser or even for those winter afternoons on the terrace, Sitting stretchlegged on the mat and enjoying a bowlful of this. My kids love sucking on the fibrous pieces of pickled fruit as an aftermeal condiment.
Chalta or Elephant Apple: 1
Jaggery: 1/2 cup
Panchforon: 1 tsp
Dry red chillies: 2
Fennel seeds: 1/3 tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Coriander seeds: 1/2 tsp
Dry red chilli: 1
Mustard oil: 4 tbsp
First separate the petals of the flower. Just press and pull them apart. Now cut each petal in 1/2" thick long pieces. Using a knife or bonti carefully remove the hard shiny skins from both sides. Immediately place them in salted water or they will turn black. Once all your fruits are prepared wash them under running water. Drain and pound them with something heavy like a pestle or rolling pin. I prefer to place them in a ziplock bag and then bash with my pestle to make them flat and separte the fibers. do not bash them so much that they are completely disintegrated.
Now add some salt to them, mix and spread on a clean plate in a single layer. Sundry them for a whole day so that they are dry to touch yet not completely dry.
Heat the oil till smoking and then decrease the flame. Temper with the panchforon and the chillies. Stir for a few seconds and then tip in the dried chaltas. Cook with salt and little turmeric powder. cook for a few minutes and then add the Jaggery. Mix and add 1/4 cup water. Cook on low for the jaggery to melt. cover and bring it to a boil. Then switch off and keep it aside for the fruit to absorb the sweetness and release more juice.
After 8 hours or overnight again ring it to a slow boil and cook till the water is almost absorbed. Dry roast the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and the chillies and pound them to get a coarse powder. Mix in the pickle and simmer again till the fruits are coated with a sticky syrup. Switch off and cool completely before placing these in a jar.
Stays well in an airtight container.
Make sure you use a dry and clean spoon everytime you scoop a little out of the jar.