It is Custard Apple season, and a bountiful one this year, perhaps due to plenty of rains. Mangoes and Custard Apples are the most grown local fruits and normally available in plenty. Grapes also used to be grown in large quantities around Hyderabad, but now it is not so.
Custard Apple season starts in August and fades out towards mid-November, sometime after Deepavali. The onset of the fruits is announced by a number of road-side vendors selling them in baskets. In peripheral areas of the city you can see a number of villagers selling them from their bullock carts. These vendors normally pick them up from the few trees in their fields or from the trees that grow in the wilderness. There are hundreds of such villagers who eke out their living in this season by selling these fruits in the cities, towns and highways. Soon afterwards, fruits from the Custard Apple gardens flood the market through Fruit Stalls and Fruit Carts that can be seen along every street of the city. You will find most fruits grown in size, but not ripe, so it would take a few days to ripen them at home, by placing them in the leaves of its plant, dry grass or by placing them in rice grain.
Custard Apple is locally called as Sitaphal, meaning Sita Devi’s fruit. The story behind this name is very interesting. When Lord Rama and Sita Devi were in exile, in forests (Aranyavasamu), Lord Rama went for hunting and did not return until late in the afternoon. Sita Devi became anxious, and after a long wait set out into the dense forest to find him. As the sharp pebbles and thorns caused her pain she wept and her tears rolled down. Ultimately she was united with Sri Rama but was too tired to walk back. Lord Rama picked her up and carried her to the Ashram. Being a hot day and as he was carrying Sita Devi he perspired a lot and drops of sweat fell along the way. The tears and sweat that fell on ground soon grew into two types of plants. And later they bore fruits, one round in shape and green in color, and the other, a lager one, heart shaped and brown in color. Lord Rama and Sita Devi found the fruits delicious and named them after themselves as Sitaphal and Ramphal.
I hope Sitaphal is available in your area. If you have not tasted this fruit, you must do so immediately, it is a very sweet, soft, unique flavored, delicious fruit. Despite eighty odd seeds in a fruit, the pleasant experience of eating it makes one have as many as possible in a season. Sometimes, two after a meal! It is an apt dessert in this season! Further many recipes like Sitaphal Milkshake, Kheer and Ice cream can be relished.
Secunderabad has a very old fruit market named as Sitaphal Mandi. It is so named because in the olden days many vendors from different villages used to converge here and sell Sitaphal. Today Sitaphal Mandi is not just a Fruit Market but the name of a large residential and commercial area between Secunderabad Railway Station and Osmania University Campus. Finally, I must say that it is a very nutritious fruit with many health benefits. It is packed with many essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Wish you a bountiful Sitaphal season!