Saturday 14 May 2016

In Love with Indian Summer!

I am a person with a very low threshold to bearing the heat of the sun. So, it’s needless to say how much I dreaded the Indian tropical summer every year.  But since the last year, I don’t know what has come over me, I love the Indian summer and have even started romanticizing it.
I've realized that as long as you keep yourself hydrated and stay in the shade when the sun is right overhead, it’s totally possible to love summer. In fact, this summer, I have been braving the heat to go to the Pune market almost every week, and just take in the sights, colours and the beauty in the chaos. Call me crazy! Summer brings along a burst of colours, varieties of fruit and a spread of food like none other.

Let me begin with the visual treats that Nature offers us to mitigate the summer heat. Roads in cities are lined with benign Gulmohar trees offering shade and infusing energy by way of colours to commuters. Gulmohar blooms in red, yellow and blue too. You must have surely seen these. 
The Red Gulmohar. Picture taken from here

Peela Gulmohar. Picture taken from here. 

Neela Gulmohar. Picture taken from here.
Not only roads, even housing societies have gulmohar trees. In fact as I type this, I am smiling back at the gulmohar tee in full bloom, which is almost hanging into my balcony. I don’t even have to travel. Beauty is all around me. 
The gorgeous gulmohar saying Hi to me from my balcony.
There are many other trees too which flaunt their colours and blooms, the names of which I may not know. But there’s one, the Indian Laburnum, which is sure to warm any heart with its yellows. I remember walking down a lane in Pune lined with these in full bloom, and I was in paradise for some time at least.
Indian Laburnum. Picture taken from here
Some of my favourite fruits grow only during summer, because that is the kind of temperature required for them to ripen well. I saw this cart full of indigenous Indian summer fruits. I don’t know their English names but have eaten them all and they are delectable, each with their unique taste and nutrients to nourish the body for the summer season.

A colourful cart of indigenous summer fruits I saw in Pune. The white round ones are ice apples and taste like tender coconut (tadgola), the bright yellow ones are star fruits. 

Such a happy riot of colours. 
Who doesn't love mangoes? India is blessed with a hundred varieties of mangoes thanks to its soil and climate and yes the summer! Some other fruits available only during summer are the jackfruit and the jamun, both of which I eat in plentiful.
Varieties of mangoes. Picture taken from here.
The black ones are jamun, rich in anti-oxidants. 
Now to talk about the food preparations which are made out of the summer produce. On top of the list would be pickles- mainly the raw mango pickle. Every state in the country, every district, every village and every family has its own recipe for pickles which is passed down from one generation to the other. The pickle is prepared during summer because the hot sun rays are required for maturing the pickle and it is consumed during monsoon, when most vegetables are not easily available and the spices and the oil in the pickle is good for gut health when digestion becomes weak during the season. 

Avakkai or the mango pickle. Picture taken from Jeyashri's Kitchen
I recently visited Lalbaug, in Mumbai where there were several shops selling a 100 varieties of red chillies by the sack, mainly for pickles and masalas which are made during summer. 
The jaw dropping varieties of red chillies in Lalbaug, Mumbai. 

A shop dedicated for grinding spices, in Lalbaug, Mumbai. 
Of course that doesn't stop people like me from devouring pickles in summer too, mainly because this time it was my first attempt at pickle making and it turned out so delicious.
Talking of food, there are preparations that make me nostalgic like the chakka varatti or jackfruit jam and chakka payasam, a pudding made of ripe jackfruit and coconut milk.
The lip smacking chakka varatti or jackfruit jam. Picture taken from Palakkad Chamayal. 
The delectable chakka payasam or jackfruit pudding or kheer. Picture taken from Palakkad Chamayal.
There are also a variety of beverages to beat the summer heat and Nature in her infinite intelligence provides fruits and vegetables in a particular season that provide nutrients and nourishment required for that season. Take the Kokum for example. Its fruit is made into a refreshing summer drink which keeps the body cool and the digestive system working fine. 
A refreshing glass of Kokum sharbat. Picture taken from Myjhola
In some places in India  people drink copious amounts of buttermilk and lemonade to keep themselves hydrated. How can I forget the aam panna, a beverage made with raw mangoes and slightly spiced? It’s an appetizing drink which balances the salt and sugar levels in the body which are lost dues to perspiration and what a wonderful way to keep the body cool.

The copious quantities of buttermilk that was served in Kutch

Aam panna made with raw mangoes. Picture taken from Chefinyou.
On my recent visit to Uttarakhand, I was delighted to taste the juice of the rhododendron flower, which grows only in high altitudes. Locals say that the juice keeps the body cool in the Himalayan summer. I bought a litre of it back home to savour and share with family and friends.
The rhododendron juice. 
Other childhood memories I have of summer are my grandmother making papads at home and drying them on the terrace. They are consumed during the monsoon when fresh vegetables are scarce.
Women drying Pappads. Picture taken from Economic Times.
If summer comes, can Monsoon be far behind? India has been suffering from a severe drought so I hope to God that we have a good Monsoon this year and every year. But till then, it’s time to enjoy the grand and beautiful Indian Summer.

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