Nellikai and sunshine
Having slipped away from the clutches of Vancouver’s winter wetness, I’ve spent the last few weeks making the most of the reliable days of sunshine one tends to take for granted in India. At home in Mercara, watching the house mutt baking herself in the late morning sun, heaving her drowsy self over with a satisfied grunt every now and then, I was very tempted to join her on the grass!
The winter months in Coorg are simply gorgeous. Azure skies, cool breezes and mellow sunshine. Did I say mellow? Actually, it’s easy to forget that at that elevation (4,000 ft above sea level) the sun can get very intense. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself light headed and dizzy, with a pounding headache from a little too much sun. Dress sensibly and wear a hat, and you can get your vitamin D fix without giving yourself sunstroke.
Like most grandmothers in Coorg, back in the day, my grandma made pickles with nellikai. Come gooseberry season, and large ceramic jars (baranis) full of brined fruit would be set out in the sun every morning. Naturally these were raided in the course of the day by gangs of grandchildren, looking for a handy thirst buster on the run! The real refresher though, was the juice my grandmother made from nellikai.
Amidst the jars of pickle basking in the sun outside her kitchen, she would set a couple of large bowls, standing them in shallow water baths to keep away the ants. These dishes held neatly scored gooseberries, mixed with coarse sugar crystals. She’d stir the contents gently a couple of times a day, just to be sure that the sugar was doing its work of drawing out the juices from the fruit, and dissolving nicely. Three or four days of this treatment was usually enough to extract and concentrate the juice. She would then strain the syrup and pour it into old brandy bottles that had been rinsed out and dried in that same happy patch of warmth!
It’s the simplest of recipes – just fruit, sugar and sunshine, to make a simple syrup that’s packed with flavour. Grandmother used the same technique to make wonderful concentrates from kaipuli and lime juice too. I managed to rouse myself from my place in the sun long enough to whip up a couple of batches.
Here’s how it’s done.
Grandma’s simple syrup
For nellikai juice
- Wash and dry your fruit.
- Gooseberries should be scored through to the seed, sectioned, and evenly sliced. It’s not essential to slice the fruit, but it does help speed up the process of maceration, especially with the larger variety of gooseberry. Removing the seeds also makes the straining process easier.The gooseberries will typically release most of their juice in the first two days.
- For every kilo of prepared fruit use 500gms of cane sugar.
- For kaipuli or lime juice, use 2/3 cup of sugar for every cup of juice.
- Pour into wide mouthed, non reactive dishes, stir to mix, then place in the sunniest spot in the garden.
- Cover with a food net, or muslin if there’s likely to be much dust about.
- Don’t forget the water bath!
- Stir a couple of times a day, just to be sure the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. And remember to bring the dishes in at night!
- After three days in the sun (or when the liquid level has reduced by about an inch), strain and bottle it.
Refrigerated, this syrup keeps well for up to two months.
Pour about a tablespoonful of concentrate into a tall glass and top with cool water. Stir, taste, and let it carry you off to your place in the sun.
Nellikai and sunshine. A perfect match made in and around grandma’s kitchen.
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