Kokum Juice Concentrate
Before Maushi and Kaka moved to their lovely little red bricked bungalow in Khanapur, they lived in a rented love nest on the upper floor of a modest house. Khanapur is a dusty old town with a very, very special place in my heart. So special that I cannot bring myself to write about it every time I think I should. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the people and the house are both no more, and it feels like a part of me is dead. But, that’s for another time. Today is about happy summer memories.
I spent the best days of my childhood in Khanapur with my doting aunt and uncle. In a small, dusty Karnataka town, up uneven, whitewashed stairs, was their first house. A dark house that smelled of the smokiness from the wood fires being burnt downstairs. The tiled roof had skylights here and there and when it was sunny outside, you could see a sharp sunbeam shoot through them, carrying little particles of dust otherwise invisible to the naked eye. On cold days, when you wished you could just sit on the high bed and not come in contact with the floor at all, that sunbeam would come in like a warm hug. Kaka worked in a ceramic factory and would often get me lumps of wet clay to play with. I must have spent hours modelling random stuff with the brown clay and rolling it out like chappatis. Maushi taught literature to graduate students and always had funny limericks for me to learn. I would wait for her to pull out a freshly sharpened pencil from a long, tube like pencil box of discolored white plastic and hand it to me to go scribble somewhere.
Then, there was the farm–where they grew rice, mangoes, cashew nuts, and whatnot. I loved the ripe cashew fruits–in the summer, the fruits would be harvested, the tender nut pulled out from the bottom of the fruit, and made into an “usal”–a simple stir fry with loads of coconut and fresh green coriander. The mangoes went through their usual routine of pickling and being eaten as desserts or just by themselves. But there was one fruit that had the most glorious processing. The Ratamba or the ripe Kokum fruit. In the Konkan and in some parts of Karnataka, summers bring home this beautiful, plum-like cousin of the mangosteen. You halve the fruit, scoop out the inner white flesh, fill the cups with sugar and pile them up in a jar. At the end of the week, you have shriveled Kokum skins and a clear, gorgeously pink-red-purple syrup. The syrup is then reduced briefly with a dash of cumin seed powder and salt and stored away for the year. When you come home, tired from the scorching sun, you simply mixed the juice concentrate with cold water and you were good as new.The kokum skins were salted and dried and used in curries and lentils to add a tamarind-like dimension of sour.
I still remember how the Ratambe were lined up and counted before their necks were slit open and they bled their juices in that cold, dark, Khanapur house with a sunbeam rushing in to warm things up. Ratambe are rarely seen in cities like Mumbai, but I was lucky to have a relative send me some from her farmhouse in the Konkan. I just knew I had to walk down that memory lane again and make the Kokum sarbat. We now drink this with soda just as often as with water, and it is an excellent base for a quick version of Solkadhi made with Kokum concentrate and coconut milk (if you balance it with adequate amounts of garlic, green chili, and coriander). If you do manage to get the Kokum fruit, please make this concentrate–if not for anything else, just to see those lovely colors!
Kokum juice concentrate
Kokum Juice Concentrate
- Kokum fruiits
- Roasted cumin seed powder
- Halve the kokum fruits and scoop out the white flesh. Discard. (A lot of people make an instant drink by mixing the white flesh with water, sugar, and salt and then straining it but I don’t like it much.)
- Fill each half with sugar.
- Pile up the filled kokum halves in a non-metallic jar. (Glass and porcelain work perfectly.) Press down to accommodate as many as you can. Secure the lid.
- Leave in the sun for a week. At the end of the week, strain the liquid out into a thick-bottomed pot. Season with salt and cumin seed powder and bring to a boil. Turn off, cool completely and fill in sterilized jars.
- To serve, add 3 tbsp. kokum syrup in a glass and top with cold water or soda. Stir and serve immediately.
- Salt the wrinkled kokum skins and leave to dry in the sun for a few days until completely dry. Use these in curries to add a sourness or pop ne or two in your everyday daal for a another dimension. (This is what Maharashtrians used as a souring agent (apart from tamarind) before the tomatoes came along.)