Some of the best memories of our childhoods were the summer holidays – many, many of them – that we spent with really large bunches of cousins at one aunt’s place or another. Kalyani pinni’s place was always THE top favourite for us to go to – for one, my aunt was a heart-as-large-as-the-world person, ready for a laugh at just about everything under the sun, a superb cook who really understood the thing about ratios and proportions vis a vis age and food – that small people needed large quantities of food to get through the rigours of playing, swimming, chatting and lazing about on the swing… that in between meals, said small people needed to be supported with prodigious quantites of murukus, laddoos and sundry other snacks! In other words, Kalyani pinni was the very best kind of egg!
Her laugh – completely inimitable – started out as a low chuckle in her throat, went down to a rumble in the tummy and then having gathered force on its journey, burst forth as an explosion of – sheer hilarity!
One of these holidays at her place – then in Nellikuppam, a small sugar growing town – overgrown village actually – where Parry Confectionery had a factory – was particularly memorable. There were some fifteen of us cousins, not counting a few aunts and pets and sundry other people – like the cook – who impacted our existence hugely! The house was bursting at the seams with some thirty people!
The days were spent in the swimming pool – with one epic session of six hours ending in a heat stroke for yours truly! Feeling sick and quite miserable in my tummy, I spent a few minutes wandering around the house looking for a cool place to lie down. Everyone else was still downstairs at lunch. Opened the door to my aunt’s room and the ‘coolth’ of the airconditioned room (a/cs were a rarity in the 70s!) beckoned irresistably. Quietly and gratefully curled up on my aunt’s bed, considerately leaving a large part of it vacant for her, sank into the land of nod – blissfully oblivious to the fact that I had been missed downstairs (how that was possible with so many kids was in itself a mystery!), looked for all over, search parties despatched to the library and the swimming pool and the club house and wherever else they could think of!
Finally, my uncle decided I’d turn up sooner or later and decided to go off for his afternoon siesta – and discovered one tired kid fast asleep in his bed!
They were a kind set of people – no scoldings resulted – though my aunt chuckled over it as a good joke!
With an army to feed, every mealtime was like a factory production! Remember Nellikuppam was a very small place so supplies were not easy to get in either! And so, when my uncle went off to Cuddalore to play a tennis match, he was charged with buying bread and eggs ‘enough’ for the next day’s breakfast. With so many people, he decided he couldn’t take a risk and came back with six large – very large – loaves of bread and six dozen eggs!
Now ‘enough’ is a very subjective concept as everyone from the Buddha to the Mahatma has been trying to teach the world – unfortunately their teachings hadn’t reached our lives yet! And so, next morning being a Saturday, my uncle went off for his usual early morning tennis game. Came back after a few hours, ravenously hungry and looking forward to fresh toast and a nice omelette. Like I said, ‘enough’ is a subjective matter. No bread for toast and no eggs for the omelette! What??Whaat? What about all the stuff I bought yesterday?
Oh, that? The kids finished it! Six loaves and 72 eggs!
While this conversation was going on, the demolishers of said eggs and loaves were quietly disappearing to various corners of the colony… we could play Injun when we wanted to!
He was a good sport so made do with some hastily rustled up upma.
For some reason, the one dish that really sticks out in my mind from that summer is the beerakai pappu that made an appearance frequently on the table – much to my delight because I love pappus in many forms!
Here’s the quintessentially Andhra staple…
BEERAKAI PAPPU/RIBBED GOURD DAL/PEERKANGAI PARUPPU/TURAI DAL
- Beerakais -ribbed gourd – 2 large, tender ones. Peel, taste for bitterness (discard if bitter) and cut into 1 cm cubes.
- Toor dal – 1 cup – pressure cooked till soft with 2 cups water and a pinch of turmeric.
- Tomatoes – chopped – 2 – optional
- Green chilies – 2 – sliced
- Ginger – 1 cm piece – grated
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp chopped
- Pepper powdered – 1 large pinch
- Mustard seeds, urad dal and jeera – 1/2 tsp each
- Asafoetida- 1 large pinch
- Ghee – 1 tbsp
Heat the ghee in a saucepan. Add the mustard. When it splutters, add the jeera and urad dal.
Add curry leaves and asafoetida. Add the cut beerakai pieces. Add tomatoes if using. Cover and cook till almost done.
Add the cooked dal, salt, green chilies and pepper and simmer for a few minutes more. Switch off, sprinkle coriander on top and serve with hot rice.
Guaranteed cure for most ills -including sunstroke, I’m sure!