Saturday, May 12, 2012

Summer Reminds Me of the Palmyra Palm Fruits and Trees.

Every season has some natural special foods to offer. Having grown with tastes of such foods, a craving starts for them as every season changes and new one sets in. Year after year this routine and enjoyment continues.
Among all seasons, perhaps summer has the most foods to offer. The most popular and natural ones are Mangoes, Sugar Cane, Watermelons, Jackfruits and Palmyra Palm Fruits. Then there is long list of Ice creams, Kulfies, Milk shakes, Fruit juices and a variety of Lassies. I have earlier written articles on Mangoes and Watermelons. You may click on the following links to read these articles:
The arrival of all seasonal fruits is known to us immediately as we have a number of roadside fruit vendors along the road adjoining our house – Prenderghast Road, and the close by Brigade Sayeed Road, adjacent to Paradise CTO, Secunderabad.
This article is especially about the Palmyra Palm Fruits and Trees. The Palmyra Palm Tree is called as Thati Chettu and the Fruits as Thati Munjalu in Telugu. And the British in India named them as Ice Apples. The Palmyra Palm Fruits look similar to Coconuts but are slightly smaller. By carefully chopping off the top of the fruit one can see three Kernels (Munjalu), which can be easily scooped out. The Kernels are covered outside with a pale yellow white membrane which has to be peeled off. The peeled Kernels are translucent and jelly-like with a crunchy texture, similar to that of Litchis. Inside each Kernel is a small quantity of sweet and cold water. By pinching out a hole the water is first consumed and then the soft and cool kernel. If the Munjalu are tender one can even have them with the outer membrane. The above photographs show you the Fruits, a chopped Fruit showing the three Kernels in their sockets, and also the scooped out Kernels (Munjalu) with membrane and without membrane ready to eat!
The availability of Munjalu is less within the city but more in the outskirts and along highways. City vendors get only the kernels in a basket covered by leaves (to keep them fresh) on Bicycles and Mopeds and sell them along City roads. However in the outskirts the fruits are chopped in front of us and the fresh kernels sold to us for consuming there or carry home.
The Palmyra Palm Tree is a tall and swaying tree that can grow up to a height of 30 metres having a width up to 0.5 metre at the base. The tree can be easily recognized amongst a gathering of trees due to its enormously high single dark trunk and a cluster of very large fan-shaped leaves at the top of the tree. Each tree may bear 6 to 15 bunches of fruit yearly with an average annual yield of close to 100 fruits. You may see some pictures of these trees at the bottom of this article. The Fruits of the Palmyra Palm tree are no doubt popular but the trees are more popular for its chief product, Neera and Toddy - a sweet white sap that is tapped from the trees for over six months every year. This is a very popular beverage among many people. The fresh sap is called Neera. Neera ferments naturally within a few hours and becomes an intoxicating drink called Toddy (Kallu in Telugu). It is also distilled along with some additives to make alcoholic liquor called Arrack. Each tree yields several Liters of Toddy providing a reasonable income to the owners of the trees. By preventing fermentation, villagers make Palm jaggery which is said to be more nutritious than crude cane sugar. Another edible product of the tree is Gaygulu.
Every part of the tree is useful. The trunk is used in village constructions as beams, supports, posts and as a pipe for water supply in the fields and also as firewood. The leaves, fresh or dried are used for fencing and roofing of huts, for making mats, baskets, fans and umbrellas. Pouches are made out of the leaves to carry and serve food and to pack the Munjalu being sold! The fiber from the leaf stem is used to make very strong ropes.  In ancient India the leaves were used for writing. The great Indian epics and all available writings of the long past are written on these leaves (called Thati Pathralu in Telugu) and most of these ancient leaves that could be traced are intact! And the village folk use various parts of the tree as medicine to cure a variety of ailments!
It is a very common and important tree in Telangana and a community survives on its produce. It occupies a place of prominence wherever they are available. It is the State Tree of Tamil Nadu and the National Tree of Cambodia!

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