Walking to school was great fun – kicking pebbles, slowly ambling or running, depending upon how early or late we were, laugh and chat with cousins and friends, looking for trees laden with raw mangoes, guava and ber to filch….er…pluck. Oh, it was great fun, all right! Houses then had small and big backyards and sometimes gardens too with the said trees fully laden. Ber of course, was the favourite because one stone throw and we had a virtual shower of the little fellows!
In case you haven’t heard about ber, don’t be fooled by its plebian name. It is called variously as ziziphus mauritiana, Chinese apple, jujube, Indian plum, regi pandu, Bor, elandai pazham and masau. It is a tropical fruit tree species belonging to the family Rhamnaceae. Whew!
Its vitamin C content is as good as oranges and a darn sight cheaper! It is also a great source of potassium, amino acids and phosphorus. Little wonder then that ber is called garibon ka mewa (dry fruit of the poor). I guess that should have convinced you about its awesomeness, right? There was even a popular Bollywood song in its honour in the ‘60s.
Let me now come back to my story. When we found a suitable ber tree, one of us threw a stone at it. Giggling at the ber shower, we would quickly stuff them into our satchels. A quick wipe on our uniforms and in they would go into our greedy mouths. Most house owners didn’t mind our foraging for them and some even invited us into the garden. But some would come out screaming at us to get off and we would take to our heels, the loot safe in our bags, laughing nervously and hoping she wouldn’t complain to one of our mothers. Living in a small town did have its disadvantages!
During winters our brothers would go to the jungles on the outskirts of the city where they could pluck and carry back as much ber as they could for free. These were the small variety, and were rather sour, but we loved them. We would pick out the fresh and juicy ones for eating right away and after sorting, we would wash and spread them out in the sun to dry.
Semi-dried ones were very tasty too! It was the sheer quantity of the ber that ensured that mother had some left over from our constant raids on the drying berries, for pounding into powder seeds and all. This was tough work, but the resultant bor-kut as it was called, could be eaten with a pinch of salt and go straight to heaven! For one and two paise, we bought tiny amounts of this powder wrapped in bits of newspaper from old men and women who sold them outside our school. What? You have never heard of coins of those denominations? You have to wait for that story now!
Then there was the uble ber (boiled ber). This was also bought for similar sums of money at school. Made by boiling the dried ber with jaggery, we got the dry version at school but when mother made it home, we fought for the syrupy liquid that tasted like honey!
I might have enjoyed the tangy small variety as a kid, but today I prefer the golden yellow berries of the round variety, which is much sweeter. There is a variety that is as big as apples and is in fact called apple-ber or Chinese apple. Trust the Chinese to grow even this mewa of the poor!
Go, find some local varieties of this wonderful fruit and enjoy them. It is in season right now!
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!