Josna Rege

68. Frittered!

In 1960s, Childhood, Food, India, Stories on August 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm



Back in the sixties, apples were a rarity in India, at least in our part of the country. They were grown only in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, and it was very difficult to find them in West Bengal. Although we had fruit in plenty—mangoes, papayas, custard apples, guavas both pink and green, chickoos, jackfruit, oranges, bananas, coconuts, pineapples, passion fruit, jamuns, kools, divinely luscious lychees—perversely, we desired what we could not get. Therefore when one day our father came home with a small box of the prized commodity, it was an occasion for celebration.

The atmosphere of gaiety increased when our mother announced that she was going to make apple fritters. We could count on one hand the number of times we had had them, and our mouths began to water in anticipation. We helped her wash, peel, and core the apples, munching on the crisp, tasty peels as she told us stories of apples from her childhood. Her mother, she said with quiet pride, could pare an apple without breaking the spiral once. She could do it too—and here she demonstrated—but not as expertly as her mother. After they were peeled, we sliced the apples: not too thin, our teeth had to be able to sink into them, but not too thick, so as to make the most of what we had. Meanwhile, Mum beat the batter and began to heat the oil for deep frying, singing, as she worked, of other exotic, faraway fruits:

As I was going to Strawberry Fair/Singing, singing, buttercups and daisies/

I met a lady taking her wares/fol-de-dee/

Her eyes were blue and gold in her hair [so we sang it] as she went down to Strawberry Fair/

Ri-fol, ri-fol, fol-de-diddle li-do/ ri-fol, ri-fol, fol-de-diddle-dee.

Next came the tricky part, and we stood back and watched as Mum dipped each chunk of apple into the creamy batter and dropped it into the hot oil, turning it over soon after it had risen, sizzling, to the surface and, when it was golden-brown, ladling it out to drain on a sheet of brown paper. The final step was rolling the still-piping-hot fritters in a tray of sugar, and they were ready for tasting.

But we were in for a bitter disappointment. It turned out that, somehow, we had not rolled the fritters in sugar after all, but in salt. Mum knew at once that there was nothing to be done, and she told us so, but I insisted in trying to salvage them, painstakingly brushing all the salt granules off each fritter, and then re-rolling them, this time in sugar. But it was no good; once something is salted, it is salted, and all the sugar in the world cannot mask that fact. At last even I had to admit defeat.

Perhaps Mum did something special to try to make up for what had happened. Perhaps she made paper-thin English pancakes with a white-flour-and-egg batter, rolled up and sprinkled with lemon and sugar, or small, flying saucer-shaped fairy cakes with hot, sweet custard to pour over them: both English treats we had only occasionally. But at the time nothing could have substituted for those wasted apple fritters; and I can’t remember if she ever made them again.

Here in New England, where we have now lived for more than forty years, apples are readily available year-round and a dime a dozen in season, but in all the time Nikhil was growing up I don’t think I got around to making apple fritters more than once, maybe twice at the most. Now that’s perverse.

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  1. salted.
    oh, josna, i can taste your disgust on my tongue. did the same thing once making a cup of hot cocoa for youssou (his favorite on a school morning when he was a small boy), adding whipped cream for his extra pleasure. Mysteriously (they say here, one must be in love when making salt mistakes) I must have reached for the salt shaker. a prompt shriek from the boy’s room: did he fall, hurt himself? i ran and found myself in contempt. good thing though: you can make the redeeming cup of cocoa, if you are affluent enough to have enough milk and chocolate in the house. that day, i felt grateful for the plenty in my kitchen.

  2. I remembered my mother making banana fritters and pouring some of that wonderful, carefully saved maple syrup from America on them. OOOOHH yum!

    I don’t think I have ever been allowed to make them for Jennie because unfortunately early on in her young life her father made her eat too many bananas and she decided she hated them and has not touched another one since!

  3. Hi JJ, loved your fritters story! Do you remember reading stories about The Lady from Philadelphia? She solved a problem similar to the salty apples. The family had put salt in their coffee instead of sugar, and they added ever so many different things to it, but couldn’t get it to taste good. So, as usual, they called up the Lady from Philadelphia, who told them to make a fresh cup and start over. Oh, how thrilled they were with her idea!

    Also, along the lines of losing such a precious commodity, I remember visiting Subhash’s sister Usha in Nainital. Subhash had brought a rarity: an entire bottle of bourbon, to impress people and to enjoy. We were just setting out the tiny shot glasses for everyone, when someone knocked over the bottle, and we all watched, aghast, as the precious elixir flowed across the concrete floor. Probably for the best…
    love, s

    • I’ve never heard any Lady from Philadelphia stories, Sally—they sound delightful. I guess Sabine took her advice when she made the fresh cup of cocoa for Youssou (lucky boy—cocoa with whipped cream before school on a winter’s morning!). Marianne’s mother’s maple syrup and Subhash’s bourbon were both those “precious elixirs”—one carefully eked out, the other (sadly, or not!) spilled, to everyone’s horror—all the more precious for being so hard to get. I had forgotten all about banana fritters—also delicious.
      By the way, the maple syrup and the shot glasses have reminded me of a Japanese student befriended by Andrew’s sister Vera when she was in college. When Vera took us to meet her, she ceremoniously opened a tin of maple syrup, passed round glasses of water, and solemnly spooned a little of the precious elixir into each one. We all thanked her as we sipped our maple-water, unable to bring ourselves to tell her how maple syrup was “supposed” to be imbibed.

  4. I did the same with apple fritters in freshman year of college – lured people with tantalizing promises of a British Raj themed dinner, and then burned both the entrees and salted the dessert fritters. Thankfully, Travis rescued – no, elevated – the fritters by serving them with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. Since then, I’ve served salted fries/fritters (apple, banana, peach, pear, potato, and bacon) quite a few time with ice cream for dessert. Unorthodox, but quite yummy, and a great mix of sweet and salty.

    • Ha! I can imagine that disaster of a dinner—poor you. But that was bold and resourceful, turning a disaster into a delicacy. Did you tell people that this was how those Britishers liked their fritters? I can imagine the pear and banana fritters tasting pretty good salty, and the salty potato and bacon fritters with sour cream. I find it harder to imagine the apple fritters with salt, but then, we didn’t have vanilla ice cream or chocolate sauce handy at the time. (My mother would make ice cream in Kharagpur by a painstakingly slow process of skimming and collecting the cream from the top of the milk, beating it with sugar and ice, and putting it in our tiny freezer, which was about the size of a gallon milk carton.)

  5. Bless Auntie Glad – I can just imagine her cooking them! Do you remember that time you were going back to the States from Albert Street and your mum went through a ‘wonderloaf’ in an attempt to toast it? I am sure it had something to do with dad impatiently waiting to take you to the airport but I could be wrong……. 🙂 Happy Days xxxxx

    • I certainly do, Lesley–and Uncle Len wouldn’t let us forget it–he retold it so many times! I remember it as a ordinary—and very welcome—visit from him, not before a trip to the airport. Sometimes he dropped in while we were at Albert Street, since he worked so close by; and while he (and Mum) talked a mile a minute, Mum was totally absorbed in the conversation. All the while, she was absent-mindedly making toast—or trying to do so—but she kept forgetting it, and burnt the lot not once, not twice, but three times! I can’t remember how she was toasting the bread, but suspect it was the English way, above the cooker on one of those pans under the gas broiler. In the end the whole loaf had ended up in the bin so that was it for the toast, but your dad’s visit was still a lot of fun. xox J

  6. I can picture you singing as the fritters were frying.
    hugs, mehr

    • Hello Mehr! My mother used to sing as she worked around the house, and we grew up accustomed to singing being as natural as talking. When a phrase came up in conversation, my mother would often start singing a song with those same words in it, so that I came to believe that one could be considered a grown-up when one could come up with a song for any word someone might mention. Did you sing freely at home as a child?

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