Taler Pithe (Bengali Steamed Palmyra palm cake)

11:31 PM


In Bengal the month Bhadro is infamous for two reasons. Bhadrer pawcha garom (The sticky highly humid weather) and Bhadrer Paka Taal (ripe palmyra or toddy palm) and for obvious reasons these two are interconnected.

Taal is a unique fruit and while maturing from raw to ripe passes through a very interesting cycle.

When raw it is famous as Taalgoda/ talsansh or ice apple all over India. There hardly would be anyone who hasn't quenched their thirst in peak summer with it's cooling transparent seeds that holds some refreshing liquid inside. Throughout the country, the vendors will set their carts on the roadsides and will skillfully cut open the fruit to reveal the three perfectly shaped pods of Talshans or ice apple. The shape sure is special and the water inside it makes it a fun thing to eat. So much so that in Bengal, on an order to create something special to befool the new son in law a special sweet was crafted following this. Jolbhora or Korapaker Taalsansh the famous Bengali milk fudge was created to celebrate this unique fruit. 

Then it takes a couple of months to mature and ripen perfectly at the beginning of Sharad Ritu. The deep orange pulp gets sweeter and develops a heady aroma to announce the arrival of many mouth-watering sweet treats for the festive days like Janmashtami and Nanda Utsab.  and when they start to fall off from the tree,  It is then that the Bengalis plan their festive treats around it and a special day called Tal Nabami is dedicated to such treats.
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Taal Nabami is also known as Nanda Navami, is observed on the ninth day of the Shukla paksha (the 14 day period after new moon) in the month of Bhadra. In some families, this also is the day when the official initiation of Durga Puja takes place. The clay for sculpting the idol is formally prepared after puja and applied to the Protima framework. 
Taal Navami broto is not much celebrated in the cities anymore, but in the rural parts of Bengal women observe fast through the day and after puja, in the evening a full-fledged meal is prepared with the pulp of this fruit. In the last few years, an agricultural organization that I am working with is celebrating this day as Taal Utsab (Palmyra palm festival).  In Bankura district, they arrange for a fair where local women prepare and sell Taal delicacies. Surely a noteworthy effort to bring the focus back on the recipes that require some painstaking effort to take out the pulp and prepare it for cooking.


If you think that is the end of the life of our humble taal then you are wrong. The seeds after taking out the pulp are left on the ground to mature. By the time Lakshmi puja (Kojagari Purnima) arrives in the month of Kartik, they are ready to be cut open with a spongy, sweet, pristine white delicacy inside known as ankur. In many Bengali families, this ankur is an important item for Kojagari Lakshmi puja. 

For more reasons than one Taal has always been an important part of my growing up years, obviously in a delicious way. And today on Tal nabami let me share this Taler pitha recipe that maa used to make and serve it with Taler kheer.

These are mostly made wrapped in jackfruit and the leaves lend its beautiful vein pattern to the steamed pitha. But in absence of it, you can also use Banyan leaves, banana leaves, or simply some aluminum foil.

Taler Pitha


Ingredients:
For the Pitha-
Tal/ Palmyra palm: 1 (Prepared pulp 1+1/2 cups)
Rice flour: 1+1/4 cups
Maida/ all-purpose flour: 1/3 cup
Suji/ semolina: 1/3 cup (dry roast on low flame for 6-8 minutes)
Sugar: 1 cup (Grind in the mixer)
Coconut: freshly scraped: 1 cup
Milk: 2 cups or more to prepare the batter.
Soda: 1/2 tsp OR baking powder: 1 tsp
Pinch of salt

Enough leaves and toothpicks to prepare the cones

For the Kheer-
Full fat milk: 1 liter
Condensed milk: 1/2 can
Toasted finely chopped nuts: 3 tbsp
Green cardamom: 2 

Method:
Extracting the taal pulp-


The ripeness of the fruit could be checked by pressing on its dark brown skin. Make sure the skin looks dark like this picture. 

Clean the whole fruit by washing under running water. Then peel the skin by pulling it from the top. The fruit has three sections around the three seeds. Separate them.

Take one section and squeeze it to soften then start rubbing it on a sieve or a clean bamboo/ plastic basket. The pulp will start to gather on the other side of the sieve. Finish the process with all the sections. Now sprinkle little water on each section and again rub in a similar manner. A thinner version of the pulp will start to gather.

Preparing the pulp-
Once done take all the pulps in a fine muslin cloth or cheesecloth. Make a pouch and hang it over your kitchen sink or place a bowl under it so that he bitter sap can drain out. This is a very important process let it drip for 30 minutes.

Now you are ready to cook with it.

The Pitha-
First, soak the dry roasted suji with enough milk for at least 20 minutes.
Then mix the pulp, rice flour, pinch of salt and all-purpose flour to it. Add enough milk to make a thick batter. Add enough sugar to sweeten it as per your taste. Mix well so that the sugar dissolves properly.
Cover and keep aside for 15 minutes.
After this check, the consistency and if required add more milk. The batter would be thick and of pouring consistency (thicker than Taler bora batter). See the pictures for reference.
Just before you are ready to steam them add the scraped coconut and the baking powder and give it a good mix.

While the batter rests prepare the leaf cones or the container. You can use leaves, aluminum foil, small muffin cups, or even a medium-size cake pan/tin.


Leaves: wash them thoroughly and then wipe them dry with a soft cotton cloth. Now make a cone out of each leaf by bringing the two edges together. Make sure there is no gap at the bottom of the cone and also the shiny side should be visible from the outside. Secure it tightly with a toothpick. Prepare the rest of the leaves in the same manner.

Cake tin or muffin pans: line and grease them really well.

Prepare to Steam:
Take a deep bowl and line it with aluminum foil. This will help to change the shape of the bowl as per the requirement to hold the cones well.
Place the cones inside it tightly.

Pour enough batter to fill 2/3 of the cones and top it with some fresh coconut scrapings.

Bring the water in your steamer pan to a rolling boil with a net stand or flat katori in it. Place this bowl on it so that the bottom does not touch the direct heat. Cover with a tight lid and put the flame on medium. Steam this for 15-20 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Take the bowl out carefully. It would be very hot. Using a tong take out the cones one by one and cool them on a wire rack. 

Make the Kheer:
Mix milk and condensed milk together and boil on slow and low for 30 minutes till it thickens. Finish with the nuts and powdered green cardamom for flavour.

To serve: remove the leaf casing and place them on a plate. Pour some kheer on top and enjoy.

A Homemaker's notes:
  1. Sometimes the Taal might be a little bitter in taste, in that case, cook the pulp for 6-8 minutes after draining out the bitter sap as mentioned in the post.
  2. If you use aluminum foil to make these cones make them smaller.
  3. Depending on the size the steaming time will vary. For muffin mold, it would take close to 22 minutes and a 6" cake pan will take around 40 minutes. Keep an eye on it and check after some time to gauge the doneness.
  4. You can also add roasted cashew pieces in the batter for textural interest.
  5. To store these well, first, cool them properly. Then save them in an airtight container in the fridge.
  6. These stay good for 4 days.
Enjoy!


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