A mellow winter morning. I lie on Grandmas ancient four-poster, cocooned in the warmth of a patchwork blanket, adorned with birds and bees, flowers and vines, watching the truant sun cast a kaleidoscope of images on the opposite white-washed wall.
It’s unusually quiet though.
Deafening silence. Punctuated only by the garrulous parakeets in the gnarled guava tree.
I wonder where everyone is.
It’s then that the heady aroma hits me. Teases my olfactory senses.
Too tempting to be ignored, I, curious as a cat, follow the trail of scent to the kitchen.
I discover Maa at work.
Toasting grated coconut and jaggery. In an ancient kadhai, well past its prime, that snugs sits on the mud oonoon. (oven)
You must be making narkel naru, an elated me tells Maa in delight.
No, it is Gokul Pithe today, Maa responds with a sublime smile, carefully taking the now sinfully caramelised coconut-jaggery mixture off the oonoon.
Today’s Makar Sankranti, Maa elaborates, the day when days start getting longer again and the nights shorter.
Remember your geography lessons ? she quizzes, noticing my vacant stare, a frown nestled on her face.
Oh yes, I nod in approval. Mindlessly though.
And we celebrate this day with pithe, puli and payesh, endearing treats made lovingly with newly harvested fragrant rice, coconuts, fresh khejurer gur (date palm jaggery) and patali gur (jaggery). A tribute to the bountiful produce of Mother Earth.
I watch Maa in rapt admiration, her deft fingers nimbly tearing small balls off the golden-brown coconut jaggery mixture, dipping them generously in a batter that sits in a kansa bowl by the side and gently dropping them into the kadhai of hot oil.
A couple of minutes of patient wait.
And the gorgeous balls gradually start to rise to the surface.
Can I taste one ? I ask as Maa’s experienced hands effortlessly remove the pithe from the oil and immerse them in the jaggery syrup, but even before Maa can warn me, I have snatched one and bitten into the gokul pithe.
My tongue is singed.
And for that odd moment, I am all numb.
Minutes, that feel like days, pass.
And then the taste sinks in, sublime, a mellifluous symphony of grated coconut and jaggery.
This is food heaven !!!
So here’s Maas Gokul Pithe. Dumplings of jaggery and coconut. Dipped generously in a milk, flour and semolina batter. Fried to a splendid golden. Then added to a syrup, perfumed with the seasons new jaggery.
Redolent of winter, the harvest and the blessed bounty of Mother Earth.
For the stuffing
- 1.5 cup coconut freshly grated
- 1/2 cup patali gur or date palm jaggery grated
- 2/3 cup whole milk
For the coating
- 1/3 cup suji or semolina
- 2/3 cup plain flour
- 1 cup milk
For the jaggery syrup
- 2 cup water
- 1 cup patali gur or date palm jaggery
For Gokul Pithe
- oil for frying
For the stuffing
- Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium flame, add the freshly grated coconut and jaggery, cook, with frequent stirring, till the jaggery is well incorporated into the coconut. 5-7 minutes I would reckon. Now gently pour the milk, continue to cook till the milk has almost dried up.
- Allow to cool to room temperature. Keep aside.
For the syrup
- Heat the water and jaggery in a pot for about 10-15 minutes till you get a nice golden syrup.
Assembling the Gokul Pithes
- Soak the semolina in 1/3 cup of milk, keep aside for 20 odd minutes.
- To the soaked semolina, stir in the flour, add the remaining milk, whisk well to form a thick batter, ensure there are no lumps. Keep aside.
- Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan, take a small portion of the coconut-jaggery stuffing, shape into a small dough ball, dip generously in the batter and release gently into the hot oil. Fry till golden. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Repeat for the rest of the coconut-jaggery stuffing.
- Soak the fried pithes in the hot jaggery syrup for 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from syrup and serve.