Keep Calm and eat Palm … fruit.
I am an avid fruit lover and strange and unusual fruits have always appealed to me. I also have a fascination for palm trees and their produce, probably because coastal blood runs in me (even though I have never actually lived in my native place of Mangalore, India).
While almost all the fruits of the different varieties of palm trees are quite difficult to access as compared to most other fruits, obviously due to the height of these trees, it is also interesting and a bit agitating that it is also difficult to easily process these fruits to make them available for consumption. Case in point being the most well known of them all, the coconut.
Well apart from this, one of my other favorite palm product is the Palmyra palm fruit. This fruit is usually available in my city of Bangalore, in the summer months of April and May and it is a common sight to see carts loaded with what look like heaped cannon balls clinging in clusters onto thick, tough stems.
Just like the coconut, this fruit is equally complex to open up and get to the edible part which are the inner seeds and one has to depend on the skill of the amazingly dexterous vendors whose prowess in wielding a murderously sharp sickle of sorts, is the special power that extricates the fragile translucent seeds from their sockets and brings them into our grasp.
The jelly like, tender seeds are delicate and are further encased in a thin skin which also requires skill to peel without damaging the seed and losing the sweet nectar within. When I consume this precious stuff, I try not to waste even a tiny bit and hence I have come up with my own process which ensures that I enjoy the entire thing without too much trauma 😀
So watch the gentle denuding of the palm fruit and try it out for yourself whenever you lay your hands on them. This method of mine also ensures that you can store the fruit for a longer period and hence buy them in larger quantities at a time.
The pictures in this post have been clicked years ago, when I did not even possess a DSLR camera. I will update them in the next season with my updated skills and equipment. Until then, please be tolerant and non judgemental 😀
The Borassus Flabellifer –
The Borassus Flabellifer palm is also known as Sugar palm, Toddy palm, Ice apple etc and across India, it is known by several regional names like taal, tadgola, irwol, nongu, thaatnongu, pananungu etc.
The leaves are fan shaped and grow in a circular cluster atop a tall narrow trunk. Likewise the fruits too grow in bunches and are round like cannon balls. Greenish when immature, they eventually grow into a diameter of around 5 – 6 inches with the outer skin turning black and leathery. On an average, each fruit has 3 seeds, though there are some with 2 and even 4 at times.
When they are ready to be eaten in tender form, the fruit is harvested and mostly sold in roadside carts by vendors who possess the skill to decimate the fleshy layer of the mesocarp that encases the seed.
Their expertise enables them to extract the edible seed without damaging it and this is very important since each seed contains a small amount of precious liquid that bursts forth in the mouth and greatly enhances the experience.
The seed is lightly gelatinous in texture and has a thin skin that is edible but slightly bitterish in a ‘palmy’ kind of way and hence some people prefer to gently peel it off before eating. The seed has a very subtle sweetness and flavor but the blandness notwithstanding, it is quite addictive to those who are fans of it.
If the fruit is not harvested when tender and it is left to ripen on the tree, it eventually matures. This results in the tender mesocarp turning into a fibrous mass coated in a thick, golden yellow, ripe mango like pulp. Also, the once tender seeds now turn hard like rocks and have the potential to eventually germinate into the sprouts of new palms. More about this relatively rare avatar of the fruit in the next post on the Ripe Palmyra Fruit.
How to pick a good fruit –
The seeds are present in varying stages of tenderness, depending on when the fruit has been harvested. So they range from extremely soft and delicate to medium firm to quite tough and chewy.
Generally, the medium firm is the most sought after, though the super soft one also has takers. In the latter, it is difficult to ensure that the inner liquid does not break out and get wasted while removing the seed.
The tougher ones are not so pleasant to chew and also do not have any meaningful amount of inner liquid left. They can probably be used to liquidize and make beverages.
Unless one is an expert, one has to depend on the vendor to figure out what stage the seed is in.
How to peel and consume the seed –
The fruit is sold by piece or sometimes even by the seed. As mentioned, the vendor is the person we have to depend on to extricate the seeds for us.
The Palm fruit or Nongu as we know it, is a round black fibrous fruit that houses two or mostly three delectable, translucent jelly like fruit which are inaccessible to the common man It requires great skill and knife wielding abilities to extract this fruit, which luckily for us, most nongu vendors possess. The fruits are covered by a brownish skin and they contain a sweetish fluid … and for me, eating the fruit with all the liquid intact, gives the greatest thrill. Cutting out and scooping the fruit without damaging it and hence keeping the liquid safe, is achieved by only the most skilled of vendors.
Also peeling the brownish skin off without tearing the flesh apart, is the next challenge.
A sharp knife is used to first separate the fruit from the rest of the bunch. A quick decapitation of the top then reveals the inner soft white part. The 3 seeds are then located with the tip of the knife and dexterously carved out. A quick scoop and out they go, into your waiting bag or container. I always breathe down the vendors neck to make sure that they do not damage the inner liquid because quite a bit of the fun lies in the sensation of the cool, sweet nectar bursting inside your mouth 😀
For the same reason, I also have a couple of favorite vendors who are patient with me because most of them try to do a quick job and get irritated if the process has to slow down in a bid to slice carefully. And remember, they have that sharp knife, so make sure to keep them smiling 😎
I was lucky to find the charming and petite Selvi, the pleasant, good natured nongu vendor whose slender form belied her admirable strength and skill. And who managed to extricate as many fruit as I wanted, without shedding a drop of juice. Had I taken a Selfie with her, it would have been a Selv’fie … or just Selvie, as we fake Tamilians pronounce
Once the seeds are all in the container, close it well and bring it home. Wash them immediately with clean drinking water or even soak them for a few minutes. You can consume them right away or even store in the fridge for 2 – 3 days or even a month in the freezer.
The fresh seeds have very clingy skin which makes it rather difficult to peel without puncturing them.
Some people consume the entire seed along with the bitterish skin and some prefer removing it.
My method –
For me, the palm fruit is more of an emotion than an item of food and hence I get into quite a ritual every time I bring the seeds home 😀
So let us now proceed to learn how to strip your Nangu … er Nongu … the Palm fruit (Face’Palm for the lame joke 😉)
In the interests of achieving perfection and not losing even a drop of the precious nectar, I have come up with a method (of freezing the fruit) that prevents the inner liquid from leaking out during the process of peeling and also makes the peeling far easier than usual.
Step by step tutorial depicting – The denuding of the Palm fruit.
Step 1 –
Bring home the Nongu and wash them well in drinking water. Drain in a colander for a few minutes and then dry them and place in the freezer in a a wide, circular box with a well fitting lid or in a ziplock bag. Allow them to freeze completely.
Once frozen, these turn as hard as rocks and can be used as weapons if the need arises 😎 See a close up of the frost on the frozen nongu.
Step 2 –
Once they have frozen completely, I take out what I want to eat and submerge them for a few minutes in a vessel of drinking water. Allow it to stand until the fruit can be easily pried apart with the fingers, without damaging it. Separate the fruits from each other by carefully pulling them apart.
Step 3 –
Replace the fruit back in the water and allow them to soak until the skin slips off easily. The time will depend on the ambient temperature. Usually 10 – 15 mins in average Bangalore weather.
(Moral to note here – Pried comes before a fall … and also lame joke number Infinity)
Step 4 –
Carefully peel away the skin with fingers or with the help of a knife. If the fruit has defrosted to the right temperature, the skin should peel away as easily as a banana peel and should come off in large unbroken strips. Figure out if the fruit is ready for skinning by testing a portion. To make it easier, you can dip the fruit or your hand in clean water during the peeling. Because the inner liquid has frozen, it is easy to do this without being nervous.
Step 4A – Gaze lovingly at your handiwork and take in the moment for a while … not a very long while, just a few seconds.
This step is optional 😎
Step 5 –
Strip all the seeds and leave them at room temperature or in the fridge, until the core also defrosts and the inner liquid is back to its original state.
Step 5A – Take some black and white shots of the white fruit … how innovative right?
Again this is an optional step 😛
The defrosted fruit is ready to pop into the mouth and send you into a state of bliss or ready to be injected with vodka or home made tamarind wine. Be creative, it’s not that difficult 😉
Storing the seeds –
You can also take out all the seeds and peel them and then replace them in the freezer, in which case, all you have to do whenever you want to eat them, is take them out and defrost.
The seeds stay well in the freezer and I have even stored them for over a month at times. Some of the more mature ones do tend to toughen a bit but then it is a small price to pay for the rest of the benefits.
Other consumable products and stages of the Palmyra –
The Palmyra is an amazing tree with several edible products which are said to have several health benefits including curing digestive and skin ailments.
The Palmyra is called the toddy palm for a reason 😀 The sap that is tapped from the inflorescence is sweet when fresh and ferments rapidly in a few hours and turns into alcohol.
The sap also is used to produce palm sugar.
The tender seeds of course are the most commonly known.
The ripe fruit yields an edible pulp that can be eaten as it is or used as an ingredient in several dishes.
When the mature seed germinates, it develops a crunchy kernel that can be eaten.
The new shoots of the palm are harvested and eaten after steaming. They are also pounded into a flour and used as an ingredient in some unusual items.
The apex of the trunk where it meets the crown of leaves, also contains an edible portion which can be accessed only when a tree is being cut down.
Other aspects of the Palmyra palm –
The various parts of the palm have innumerable uses and there is no portion of this wonderful tree that goes waste. However, I will not focus on that for now because my interest is in the edible parts. Yeah I have my priorities right, like that 😀
I hope you will successfully try this process and I would really appreciate if you leave your feedback in the Blog comments.