Badam kheer: Of dolls’ weddings and cashewnut bhojanams

Wedding in the family home signifies great excitement. All the little girls in the neighbourhood are invited and everyone turns up in “Paavada-chokka” (the long skirt and blouse combo – one of the prettiest things ever), flowers in their hair and for those who are blessed with mothers with deft fingers and time on their hands, “poola jadalu” (flowers woven into long plaits). My mom used to try valiantly to do this for me but invariably the whole assembly would be top-heavy and fall off before i reached the end of the road! Not to mention leaving me with a splitting headache!
Back to our wedding. Said little girls turn up with little gifts – flowers from their gardens mostly, also pretty shells or rocks or coloured paper streamers left over from birthday parties or whatever else could be used to decorate a “mandapam”. “Invitations” to the ‘bommala pelli’ were scribbled on pieces of paper and passed around to all the little people – strictly NO boys!
The venue was a tiny dressing room in our old fashioned home and the mandapam was below the dressing table! Much excitement over the wedding of two of our dolls – both female but one necessarily had to become a groom – am sure child psychologists and feminists today would go ballistic over gender confusion, gender identity, gender stereotyping blah, blah stuff! We, luckily, were blissfully unaware of the word ‘psychology’ and feminism ran in the blood anyway!!
Mantras were chanted and the dolls were duly wed and then came the serious business of eating the wedding “meal”! My mother, ever a generous soul, would provide us liberally with cashewnuts and badam (almonds) and kishmish (raisins) which were distributed out with complete fairness so everyone got their quota of 2 cashewnuts and 4 raisins or whatever it was – no army quartermaster could be fairer than a 7-year old!
Formal goodbyes were said before everyone trooped off to play something more invigorating after the wedding. Come to think of it, that’s why those wedding feasts never made us fat – now we just sit around and nap after wedding lunches and look where we’ve gotten to!
Cashews and almonds and raisins remain favourite snacks to date and are rarely cooked – mostly just popped into the mouth. But when i do cook ’em, more often than not, it’s to make badam kheer – cold and delicious.
Badam kheer
Almonds – 3/4 cup – soak for an hour and peel.
Cashewnuts (optional) – 2 tbsp
Chironji (charupappu, charoli) nuts (optional) – 1 tbsp
Milk – 500 ml
Water – 3 cups
Sugar – 10-12 tsp (sorry, but that’s how i measure sugar – not at all sure about cup measures!)
Saffron – 1 pinch
Pachakarpooram (edible camphor) – a very tiny pinch – be very judicious in using this – it’s heavenly but a very little goes a long way!
Grind the almonds and cashew nuts to a smooth paste using about 1/4 cup of water. Mix the paste with the rest of the water in a heavy bottomed pan. Cook, stirring nonstop – this takes about 7 minutes  – till the raw almond smell goes. Add hot milk slowly into the pan. Add sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring all the while. Switch off and add saffron and pachakarpooram. Stir for a few minutes more. If using chironji, roast in a few drops of ghee, cool and add to the kheer,
Serve chilled. If you’re feeling lazy, just eat the nuts!