ripe jackfruit

In Praise of Jackfruit

That first day in Kolkata, my breakfast was this sampler of unknown fruits, and ripe jackfruit, pictured above. I have seen jackfruit trees since childhood. The fruit is quite spectacular, big and spiky and hang directly off the trunk instead of off the branches like other fruit trees. It is even more spectacular inside, being an aggregate fruit, meaning that the thick outer skin hides dozens of little fruits inside. Unfortunately I was distracted while my mother’s cook was cutting it, so I don’t have pictures of the process of separating each fruit from the whole. Anyway, at the end of it, she had that plateful of fruits from less than half of the big guy. I told you it is a big fruit! Inside each of those beautiful golden yellow fruits, is a big fat seed. I remember my mother saving those seeds when I was a child. They would be dried out, peeled, then roasted or fried and added to a pot of lentils or a pan of vegetables. I loved to eat those sweet and nutty jackfruit seeds.

The first day, I ate the fruit just like that. This particular variety is low in fibre and has a slight crispness to it which makes it easier to eat, a characteristic of the southern type, which I first encountered in Chennai in my childhood. Until then the ones I knew from Bengal were characterized by a certain slimy fibrousness which make them slightly difficult to swallow without gagging on the fibres. And no, that is not the reason you should not try jackfruit, because there is a way to circumvent this problem, which Bengalis use all the time. Pureed into yogurt or milk, it makes a delicious smoothie or a base for breakfast cereal. My mother even describes desserts that she saw being made in her childhood. Apparently they were delicious and labour-intensive, which probably explains why nobody in my childhood ever made them.

The reason why some people don’t like ripe jackfruit is the smell. It is not like durian in the least, as in nobody will mistake it for something non-edible or disgusting. The aroma is fruity and rich but it does have a certain penetrative and lingering quality to it. Which means that if you have ripe jackfruit in your house, the whole place is going to smell of it. It’s like having a truckload of overripe bananas in your living room. OK, perhaps I am exaggerating. My mother was reluctant to park the leftovers in the fridge because she was afraid for all her curries. In the end, we stored the fruit in airtight containers in the freezer. And that’s another thing we discovered this time, the fruit freezes really well.

The second day, I had some with yogurt for breakfast. That was pretty good. There’s some more waiting in the freezer for me when I go back to Kolkata again. Yum!

Notice how I kept writing ripe jackfruit instead of simply jackfruit. That is because we, in the northern part of the country, also eat the green, unripe ones like a vegetable. Even the ripe jackfruit haters do not balk at the prospect of eating jackfruit curry, because green jackfruit has none of that fruity odour. It has a certain meaty texture and is prepared in a rich curry redolent with spices that would normally go into a meat curry. It is a vegetarian’s delight and even a sworn meat-eater will not refuse to sample it. I probably need to remind my mother to make some this time, her list of “things to feed the kids when they visit” is already quite long, I know!