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Forgotten Meals: The Eenthu Panna tree’s seeds possess the story of a delicacies, tradition and its custodians


That is the first in a three-fragment series that chronicles the ancient past of lesser-known regional Indian ingredients and dishes, and highlights their importance in micro cuisines — #ForgottenFood.

“Support in the day we beneath no circumstances had machines to pulverise or powder issues, so when we did construct eenthu pidi, it used to be a perevaadi.” Ummi Abdulla uses the Malayalam term — ‘perevaadi’ — meaning clarify programme to describe the act of setting up a dish that teeters on the purpose of an practically-forgotten culinary panorama. “My maternal grandfather broken-down to bring the eenthu home in the route of some aarattu or competition…” In an abrupt, circulation-of-wakeful vogue, she shifts focal point to her sister, whose marital home used to be in Nandi. “She had an eenthu tree there — she is no extra, but the tree remains. Her daughter, on the opposite hand, soundless makes eenthu powder for me.”

The ensuing story, of the 84-yr-broken-down gatekeeping matriarch of Kerala’s Mappila delicacies and author of several pioneering cookbooks, is replete with vivid imagery. Abdulla adopts a reverential tone when outlining the job that converts the seeds of the eenthu tree staunch into a flexible flour, giving a burst of lifestyles to an elusive ingredient of legendary proportions.

Ëenthu is look after areca nut. It could probably probably well in point of fact not be ready unless it’s fully dry and here is difficult because it’s on the total plucked in the rainy season. We on the total reduce it into two objects and dry it over a hearth adippe. It is then soaked in water and ground to a sparkling powder with a broken-down stone or cement uralu and olakka.”

Giant but stately, the eenthu panna tree is glorious as dramatic in look because the heirloom preparation that elicits never-ending paeans and expressions of distaste alike, due to the its pronounced model, in the north Malabar set. Recurrently in most cases known because the Queen Sago Palm or Sago Palm, the Cycas circinalis is an evergreen palm-look after tree that grows as much as 25 toes. in peak and is endemic to the Indian subcontinent.

Its thick, corky trunk erupts staunch into a flamboyant crown formation of long, vivid inexperienced, feathery leaves which are as much as 270 cm long. Etymologically, the establish circinalis is a spinoff of the Latin observe for coiled, suggestive of the leaf unfurling because it grows.

Of the nine species of cycads recognised within India, six are endemic and the species Cycas circinalis — endemic to south India — is a nutraceutical plant for several indigenous communities in the Western Ghats. In his article for the Cycad E-newsletter, R Singh refers to it as “the selection restricted to the Western Ghats and hills of the southern peninsula, as a ways north-east as Madras, in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.”  The vernacular names by which it is referred to, similar to Mund isalu (Kannada), eenthu panna (Malayalam), madana kama raja (Tamil) and Malabari supari (Marathi) are testimony to its pervasive presence in these areas.

In maintaining with John Donaldson in Cycads: Location Suvey and Conservation Action Idea, “The cycads (family Cycadaceae) are one of the sector’s most threatened plant teams. Originating 300 million years ago in the route of the Carboniferous duration, cycads are the oldest extant group of seed plant life.”

The palm-like eenthu panna tree grows up to 25 ft. in height and is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. All photos courtesy the writer

Illustrations of the “Todda Panna or Mouta Panna” own been recorded in the pioneering Dutch botanical textual reveal material Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, Continents Regni Malabarici apud Indos celeberrimi omnis generis Plantas rariores, 1678-16 (many times in most cases known because the Hortus Malabaricus).Commissioned by Hendrik van Rheede, the Governor of Dutch Malabar at the time, it outlined the flora in the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa and supplied the first definitive insight into South Asia’s tropical botany. These went on to support because the root of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus’ descriptions of the Cycas circinalis L.

The eenthu panna’s distinctive seeds lend their secure to a unfold of recipes which are vanishing from the tables of communities such because the Mappilas. Homemaker Nurul Hidaya remembers how her marital division of the Arinhal Karuvantevalappil family, initially from the puny village of Punaad in the Kannur district, would grind powdered eenthu podi with a pinch of turmeric and salt over the ammi kalle slab.

The consequent combination could be long-established into pellet-sized pidi or dumplings and steamed in banana leaves or immersed in boiling water and cooked look after pasta. “We would wait to get a mountainous fish look after aikoora (seer fish) and marinate it with chilli, turmeric and coriander powder, alongside with ginger, garlic and onions. This could be boiled and we’d then add a one after the other ground paste of coconut and fennel alongside with the pidis.” The outlined recipe is issued with a caveat. “You don’t in actual fact quiz eenthu grand in retail outlets for the time being.”

While the eenthakka podi or eenthu flour could maybe presumably not enjoy the frequent incidence it did about 30 years ago, it continues to be enlisted in extra humble staple preparations across the squawk. The grisly flour could maybe presumably moreover moreover be steamed with ground coconut in a steel or bamboo cylindrical mould to construct puttu; soaked and left to ferment overnight with yeast and salt and given the idli remedy; and even made staunch into a baby porridge when the leached, sparkling flour is flavoured with salt, sugar or coconut.

The eenthu, on the opposite hand, just isn’t excellent to be written off as one more romantic food that elicits nostalgia. It serves as a reminder of the age-broken-down dependence of communities on wild foods and highlights how a renewed reliance on these is a capability of assuring other folks of nutritional safety. Ethno-botanical study in Kerala’s Wayanadu district, highlights 165 safe to eat plant life broken-down by the Kattunaikka, Paniya and Kuruma tribes. Of these, the Paniya tribe possesses records regarding 136 taxa of wild safe to eat plant life, the Kattunaikkas of 97 taxa and the Kurumas of 42 taxa. Consumption and conservation patterns of those wild safe to eat plant life are upheld by these communities in a vogue that is congruent with their social values.

A quantity of those species usually are not simplest seen as a capability of nutrition and survival to tide these communities over in the route of intervals of drought and food scarcity but additionally comprise a factor of their long-established dietary intake. Each species is acknowledged as playing a characteristic in declaring the biodiversity within its ecosystem, and the solutions of series are linked to its biology.

Handling and processing solutions too are on the total unrecorded and handed down generations orally. Leaching of the eenthu seeds, let’s explain, is a prerequisite for consumption. Seeds are soundless in the months of June via August in Kerala and own to attain a greenish yellow colour earlier than they are pronounced as ripe and interesting for harvesting.


The processing commences with the seeds being halved and placed on elevated bamboo platforms for smoking. Dried and smoked seeds could maybe presumably moreover moreover be saved for added than three years, but soundless must soundless be leached  — both by the exhaust of being placed in a bamboo basket or jute sack in working water or to be boiled extra than three instances in water — earlier than being made staunch into a sparkling or grisly flour. Some villagers in Tamil Nadu enjoy preparations that contains the young leaves and steamed seed.

Dr P Sujanapal, a scientist at the Kerala Wooded space Examine Institute in Kerala, reminds us that the sooner diagram whereby foods own been standardised “used to be via a trial-and-error job”. This, he adds, is, “the wisdom of our broken-down of us that went about eating wild foods in the capability of trying to sign their properties. Some are toxic and others want processing.”

The eenthu panna also serves as a wanted prototype in terms of gazing the keen assignment of gender roles in indigenous series solutions and the subsequent administration of secure. Kattunaikka females, let’s explain, thoughtfully depart the upper branches of fruit bushes unharvested or selectively harvested for birds and other animals.

The eenthu pidi’s “safe to eat heirloom” pickle could maybe presumably moreover moreover be attributed to the Cycas circinalis’ endemic nature. It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Crimson List; severely endangered in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; and inclined in Kerala by the Foundation for Revitalisation of Native Properly being Traditions (Ravikumar & Ved 2000). Dr Sujanapal reminds us that its regeneration price is sad and the pattern of contemporary seedlings is declining. He adds, “In demography, it’s called a declining population. Habitat loss and degradation could maybe presumably moreover moreover be one more ingredient.”

Dr Sujanapal also elements out that the Cycas circinalis’ region as a nutraceutical can not be lost sight of. The exploitation of its leaves occurs for a unfold of causes starting from being over harvested to enhance “pandals” — causing the bushes to turn out to be stunted and unable to reproduce in quantity — to broken-down specimens being hacked for the extraction of pith that is believed to own medicinal properties.

The legacy of the eenthu is glorious as grand about the sense of ceremony that prevails “at the very least once a yr” for custodians similar to Abdulla, who treat the preparation of eenthu pidi as a “characteristic”, because it is about acknowledging the solutions of the broken-down that assured many food safety in the secure of wild edibles. As acknowledged by Dr Sujanapal, the eenthu wants to be seen in the light of worthwhile “ethnobotanical records that is handed down from generation to generation”.

Jehan Nizar is an self reliant elements author and food blogger essentially based mostly in Chennai, India. Her work most in most cases explores food as a point of convergence for ancient past and anthropology and has seemed in national and international publications alongside side The Wire, Firstpost, Whetstone Magazine, PEN The usa, The Beautiful Eats, and Gulf Files. She beforehand wrote a food column for Asiaville.

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