Winter is nicely on its approach out now, and we’re lapping up the final of the intense purple winter carrots and pale inexperienced recent peas. For us, winters all the time meant two issues — ma’s ‘to die for’ peas kachori and khejurer gur. From sweets made on Makar Sankranti to the thick, creamy payesh and the on a regular basis consolation meals of doodh-bhaat (milk and rice), khejurer gur nudged and pushed white sugar out of enterprise and elevated the mundane. I might break items of the comfortable, deep caramel gur and put it on my tongue and savour the complicated sweetness slowly spreading in my mouth. It was like a small piece of candy heat. I nonetheless assume that is one of the simplest ways to eat it. Ma had trusted sources who would procure and ship to her good high quality khejurer gur from Bengal to Assam, the softer ones for quick use and the tougher roundels to final by the yr, safely tucked in hermetic containers contained in the fridge. My sister and I inherited this trait and we fulfil it yearly like a household ritual.
Khejurer gur or date palm jaggery, that extremely prized seasonal produce, occupies a spot of satisfaction in Bengal’s already achieved sweet-making historical past. Way back to the 4th century BC, Panini wrote, Gurasha auang desho goura, which implies Gour is the place of gur. It’s, nevertheless, troublesome to know precisely when khejurer gur turned widespread in Bengal. Some early references could be discovered from the historical past of Joynogorer moa. The previous Pundra Bardhan in undivided Bengal, now Bogra in Bangladesh, turned referred to as Gour for its high-quality gur produced from sugarcane. At the moment, Mitraganj was a well-known market in Joynagar, which is now in Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district. A weekly market or haat was held on Mondays and Fridays in that village the place individuals from totally different villages got here to promote gur. The fantastic high quality of the date palm jaggery offered on this haat is orally documented within the Piruli music of Farid Pir and likewise within the folks poems of Dakshin Kalikapur village. The rationale why a extra formal, ‘Sanskritised’ documentation of the origin of khejurer gur is unavailable is as a result of the Siulis – the artisans — belonged to the decrease castes.
Amir Sheikh and his youthful brother shift house from Nadia to Adityapur village in Burdawan district for 3 to 4 months each winter. This implies staying in makeshift huts, away from their households and creature comforts. A couple of kilometres away, close to the Kopai river in Bolpur, Sabir stays along with his household of 4, together with two infants. These households are all seasonal nomads, Siulis, who specialize in tapping the sap of the date palm tree and making khejurer gur.
The Siulis principally belong to Scheduled Castes or Tribes, or to the Mahishya and Muslim neighborhood, and they’re unfold throughout the four-five main gur producing districts of Bengal — Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad and Malda. Whereas the demand for khejurer gur has steadily elevated through the years, no one actually is aware of a lot about its distinctive and climate-sensitive manufacturing or in regards to the neighborhood that produces it. Within the absence of this join, the Siulis, the boys who scale the thorny timber to gather the sap, are virtually by no means acknowledged.
Acquiring the sap requires talent. The tapping is usually completed at night time, with an intervening interval of relaxation for the tree. The Siulis climb the tree at nightfall, reduce the tip of the inflorescence (flower cluster), and hold an earthen container from it, leaving it in a single day to catch the dripping sap. The tree can’t be tapped if the climate is foggy, drizzly or heat, because the sap will turn into turbid and bitter. It’s this that makes the gur so delicate to weather conditions. The recent sap of the wild date palm is good, aromatic and as clear as consuming water. Wealthy in nutritional vitamins and iron and with 12-15% sugar, it’s a scrumptious thirst quencher.
Nonetheless, it ferments shortly together with the rising solar to show into the alcoholic tari, so the Siulis begin work earlier than the break of day. The pots are introduced down from the timber and the collected sap is filtered and poured into open troughs. This juice is then put to boil until the Brix worth reaches 118-120%, a calculation that skilled Siulis like Amir make simply by sight and contact alone, with none trendy devices.
Date palm jaggery could be eaten as nolen gur — the softer, golden colored gur, named after the nol, or the pipe that’s used to gather the sap, and from nolen which means new. Or as jhola gur, the viscous liquid gur made by lowering the sap however stopping in need of crystallisation.
Jhola comes from the Bengali phrase for ‘hanging’ — the best way the pots are hung. Jhola gur has low shelf life however excessive aroma, and is used to make the well-known Joynagarer moa. Then there may be poyra gur, from the phrase poila or ‘first’, for the gur constructed from the primary sap of the season. That is believed to be one of the best selection due to the elongated interval of relaxation that the tree will get.
The jhola gur constructed from the primary sap known as jiren jhola gur — ‘jiren’ being the phrase for resting. The jiren gur is sort of translucent. The sap is decreased additional on low warmth and poured into terracotta moulds to yield the solidified patali, which has the best shelf lifetime of about eight months however is probably the most compromised on flavour.
Khejurer gur has now turned part of fantastic eating and has impressed a number of refined sweets, however the first jhola gur every season nonetheless evokes reminiscences of a winter particular Bengali breakfast of luchi and jhola gur. Or, because the well-known poet Sukumar Ray recalled, “kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur” — one of the best of all is bread with jhola gur.
Jhola gur diye moong-narkoler ichhamura
(Candy croquettes of moongbeans-coconut served with jhola gur)
It is a tackle the Bengali pithe ichhamura, which will get its title from the rectangular form that apparently resembles a prawn head.
1 half cup jhola gur
Refined oil for deep frying
150 gms shredded coconut
75 gms moong daal
200 gms sugar
50 gms kheer/ khoya
2 inches cinnamon
1/Four cup water
1 tbsp ghee
2-Three tbsp maida
1. Take sugar and water in a kadhai and placed on medium warmth. Let it come to a boil. Add the coconut, combine on low flame for 5 minutes and add khoa. Preserve stirring until it turns into sticky and coconut is shiny. Take away from fireplace, switch to a different container and let it cool a bit until you possibly can deal with the combo.
2. Roast the moong daal in ghee, add cinnamon and boil in simply sufficient water in order that the daal is cooked and the water is absorbed. Take away half the cinnamon stick, cool, and make a clean paste in a blender. Prep the daal combine earlier than the coconut.
3. Combine the moong daal, coconut and maida collectively and type a clean dough.
4. Take a tbsp of the combo and mold into inch-long rectangular croquettes. Deep fry until golden brown in sizzling refined oil.
5. Warmth the jhola gur in a pan and put the ichhamura proper after draining the oil into the jhola gur. Soak for some time and serve, with spoonfuls of jhola gur drizzled on prime.
Word: Drop a bit dough into the oil and examine should you want extra maida to bind. Don’t add a lot as it would wreck the style. Don’t fry in piping sizzling oil as it would brown the skin too shortly and blister it too.
The author is part-time culinary historian, part-time improvement skilled and full-time storyteller.