Josna Rege

48. Jaggery Coconut, Nectar of the Gods

In 1960s, Childhood, Food, India, Stories on May 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

It was not until my sister and I were grown and out of the house that our father took up cooking in a systematic way, following the recipes in a Maharashtrian cookbook that he picked up on his first trip back to India, seven years after we had emigrated. By all accounts he had improvised to great acclaim during his bachelor years in England, and when we were growing up in Kharagpur he conducted occasional but memorable experiments with the fruits and vegetables he grew in our big home garden.

One concoction was bhel juice, which Dad mixed up in a large jar and presented to us as if it were nectar of the gods. (Bhel, also known in English as Bengali quince, I have learned since, is valued for its medicinal properties, particularly in treating constipation.) The juice looked promising, deep orange in color like mango juice, but turned out to be sour, watery, and without much flavor. Since Dad insisted that it was extremely good for the health and was evidently very pleased with it, we drank the tumblers he filled for us and made polite noises; but we didn’t ask for seconds.

A outstandingly successful experiment, and one that Dad carried out only once, did indeed produce nectar of the gods, a creation so delicious that it has assumed a near-mythical status in my mind. He took a green coconut, at a stage when it is still chock-full of water and the inner flesh a creamy pulp, cut through the outer husk, and drilled a small hole in the top. Then he poured in jaggery or gur, unrefined sugar that he must have pounded and melted on a low flame, sealed up the hole, and hung it in our dark pantry, safely out of reach of the ants. I don’t know how long it hung there, but we had forgotten all about it by the time he deemed that it was ready, lowered it ceremoniously, and broke it open.

Inside, it was like a geode. The coconut water had absorbed the jaggery and had itself been absorbed into the flesh of the coconut as it hardened, creating an indescribably delicious natural fudge of jaggery-imbued coconut meat. Dad passed it around in pieces and this time, he didn’t have to ask if we wanted more: we couldn’t get enough of it, and it was soon gone, leaving only a hallowed memory.

I have never heard of this preparation before or since, but perhaps it was something my grandmother used to make, since there is a large and prolific coconut palm growing outside the kitchen in Ratnagiri, which Dad says he used to climb as a boy. In preparing and serving us that wondrous coconut confection, he gave us an ancestral memory that has become part of us forever.

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  1. Josna, I just read this delightful story to Dad and Jane. Our appetites are sufficiently whetted. Good, because we have been saving ourselves for dinner at the Eclipse restaurant!

    Dad: We enjoyed the story very, very much.
    Jane: Me too!

  2. Dear Anna, Anna’s Dad, and Jane, Thank you for your kind comments, and I hope the appetizer helped prepare you for a delicious meal at Emma’s restaurant. x J

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