Playing with dough is my favourite pastime these days.
I tear a frugal bit from the ball of dough Didi has surreptitiously given me, unknown to Maa who is far from encouraging when it comes to what she calls ‘a thoughtless waste of food’, flatten it with my palms, gently press the centre with my thumb and smoothen the edges till it almost resembles the top of a truncated globe.
My miniature Kadhai, I beam with pride. This shall now be left to bake in the glare of the sun and once slightly hardened shall adorn the kitchen of my doll-house.
I proceed to badger Manikkaka – I now want tiny replicas of the treasured tea-set that Maa keeps perpetually locked in the glass cabinet, out of reach of Dada’s tennis ball projectiles, sculpted out of dough.
My princess, Manikkaka patiently explains, let me first finish scraping the coconuts for Ginnima (as he called Grandma). She’s making your favourite pithes today.
Patience doesn’t list amongst the virtues of a young girl, especially one who’s yet to reach double digits in age.
I go looking for Grandma now.
I discover Grandma in the kitchen, a mellow sunshine flirting with the kansa vessels perched in disciplined rows on the shelves, seated on her pnire (wooden pallet), stooped over what looks like rice-flour dough, her nimble fingers at work.
Two wooden combs and a bowl of water wait in patient anticipation by her side.
Combs in the kitchen ? I wonder. You never brush your hair in the kitchen, one of Grandmas golden rules, I distinctly remember.
Grandma tears a small ball of dough, covers it back with a wet muslin cloth, her experienced palms now proceed to shape the ball to a cone.
She effortlessly digs one of the wooden combs into the heart of the cone and then in one confident move rotates the cone along the teeth of the other comb that she holds firmly.
In a flash, the nondescript cone magically transforms into a beautiful shell, replete with crests and ridges.
What is that ? An awe-struck me asks, brimming with curiosity.
That’s Jhinuk Pithe, Grandma responds, pithe shaped in the form of a sea-shell.
Does it look like a shell ? Grandma asks, holding up the Jhinuk Pithe, looking for confirmation.
Of course it does, I approve.
And if you are wondering, these are new combs. She smiles.
You are a magician, I want to tell Grandma, you even know what I am thinking.
I don’t say anything though, I just hug her.
Grandma proceeds with her second Jhinuk Pithe and then the third.
Before long, the thala is pompously flaunting a heap of perfectly sculpted Jhinuk Pithe.
Jhinuk Pithe. Dough made from fragrant newly harvested rice. Deftly shaped using combs to form beautiful shells. Pan-fried. And then stewed languorously in milk sweetened with nolen gur.
Divine, isn’t it ?
And by chance, if you are as ardent a fan of pithe as I am and looking to making a batch of pithe this Sankranti, these pithe puli of mine are a must-try !!