Of emperors who are knaves and jacks who are kings!

The jackfruit is one of those things you either love to pieces or hate to death! I have yet to meet a guy who’s got a let’s-take-a-middle-path attitude to this one fruit. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Buddha’s teachings did not really penetrate in a major way to this part of the country – most associated with the jackfruit – Kerala… the middle path was unknown!

Of the guys who hated it, the most famous was the Mughal emperor Babar – who by all accounts was a fruit connoisseur, introducing melons, grapes and pomegranates into India because he missed them so much – far away from his native land! In the quest for a melon, as he described it to one of his “Hindoo” cooks he had to put up with, he described the fruit and the cook – probably from Kerala, had a eureka moment!

Big, yellow, smelly and sweet? But of course, Ind has it, Sire! And with great trouble, he transported one to the court of the great Mogul (they hadn’t changed their spelling to Mughal then!). Took trouble to cut it open, laid it out on a silver plate and proudly carried it to the emperor’s morning room. As the smell of the fruit wafted in, the emperor turned pale and feared that one of the dastardly diseases of this hot and miserable land (the big B – the original guy, not the Bacchan – hated the rich land he had conquered!) was about to strike him dead and began to invoke the ninety names of Allah – hoping that the camel would whisper the hundredth in his ear before he died…

…and then he thought he had died and gone to jahannum (hell) for having conquered Ind! With fear and trembling in his heart, he opens his eyes and finds… what he describes (when he figures he’s not dead!) as… “sheep’s stomach stuffed and made into haggis!” 

But, ah, we have to take this one man’s poison with a large sackful of salt… how much is his opinion really worth when he goes on to describe a mango thus: “When the mango is good it is really good… In fact, the mango is the best fruit of Hindustan. Some people praise the mango to such an extent that they prefer it to all fruit except the melon, but it is not so good as to warrant such praise.

Fond as I am of the melon and all fruit in general, I would willingly stuff the great Mogul into a sheep’s stomach, stitch him up and bake him or whatever they do to make haggis – for daring to denigrate the sacred mango thus! Also the jackfruit!

When I was expecting my second child, I had this overpowering desire for jackfruit. Terrified to buy the cut stuff they sold by the roadside (having already had a bout of Madras belly!), I bought a full fruit – weighing some six or seven kilograms! Tucking my tummy in carefully, I sit down on a low stool in the balcony and cut it open (have watched my dad do this many times so I know how it’s done!) and over the next three hours – with breaks every now and then, proceed to disembowel (dat dratted Babur is still on my mind!) the fruit of some 150 of the golden-yellow tonalu as they are called in Telugu. Which is probably why Kanch hates the fruit so much today – she must have had an overdose!

Me – i love it! Love the ripe fruit by itself, love the appalam made out of it, love the chips and I absolutely adore the payasam/kheer made out of this.

One more of the dishes that I’d never eaten till I got married, the chakkai pradahaman as it’s called in Malayalam, was a revelation…


  • Jackfruit pieces or tonalu – 12 – deseed and remove the white ‘placenta’!
  • Jaggery – half a cup
  • Coconut milk – fresh is best. Otherwise one 200 ml pack is enough.
  • Dry coconut pieces (not desiccated coconut – break open a nut and let it dry overnight in the frig) – cut into small pieces about 1/2 cm long thin slivers – 2 -3 tbsp – roasted in ghee
  • Water – 3/4 cup
  • Cashew bits – 2 tbsp
  • Salt – 1 pinch
  • Ghee – 2 tbsp

Pressure cook jackfruit peices, cool and grind to a rough puree.

In a large pan, boil the jaggery and water together to make a thin syrup.

Add the ground jackfruit paste and simmer for about 5 minutes – adding a couple of tbsp of water if it’s too thick. This payasam is not too thick.

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 4-5 minutes on a low flame.

Fry the cashew nut pieces and coconut pieces in ghee and pour over the payasam. Add the pinch of salt.

Serve, hot, cold, warm – whatever – it tastes just as good!

Don’t waste it pouring it on Babur’s head when it’s hot – even if you are tempted to!

Another easy way to make it is if you can get hold of readymade jackfruit jam – then all you need to add is the coconut milk and garnishings!

And oh, Babur did find something good about Ind… “The one nice aspect of Hindustan is that it is a large country with lots of gold and money.” Harrumph!