Food Katha: Desserts with Anaar and Anjeer

Anar seeds are also dried & pounded and added to various dishes to add a subtle sour-sweet taste to the food; Figs became so popular in the east that laws were enacted to forbid their exports

Food Katha: Desserts with Anaar and Anjeer

Mrinal Pande

Anaar (the wild variety was called Dadim in Sanskrit and Dadhimm in Kannada and Hindi), is a native of Iran but is grown all over the countries around the Mediterranean. Discovery of two pomegranate-shaped clay jars in Harappa is taken as proof that it was being consumed by people in the Indus valley around 2000BCE. According to the learned food historian KT Acharya, in Mahabharata there are references to a picnic, when food was garnished with Dadim seeds.

Dadim was eaten as a fruit, used as a garnish for meat dishes and used as an ingredient to make Panaka, an alcoholic beverage made with pomegranate juice. Charaka refers to its medicinal properties. According to Medical News Today, Pomegranate juice contains 100 chemicals with great healing properties and has been used for the past thousand years as medicine. It is an anti-oxidant, a rich source of vitamin C and protects against a range of dreaded diseases including cancer and Alzheimer’s. Hindi has several sayings: Ek Anaar Sau Beemar being just one of them. It means too many sick takers for an expensive (medicinal) fruit.

Wandering Buddhist monks referred to it growing wild in the forests they trekked through. By the 7th Century Chinese traveller Huen Tsang recorded that this wonderful and nutritious fruit along with oranges, was being cultivated all over . The 14th century poet Amir Khusro, a great foodie, praised the taste of pomegranates grown in Jodhpur. A little later Sikandar Lodhi, the ruler of Delhi declared the Indian pomegranates to be superior to those of Iran!

Food Katha: Desserts with Anaar and Anjeer

Anar seeds are also dried and pounded, as in Anardana and added to various dishes to add a subtle sour-sweet taste to dishes ranging from Punjabi Chholey to Banarasi pumpkin curry.

Pomegranate also attracted the poets and writers. The straight and closely set lines of seeds within the fruit inspired Kalidas to compare the beautiful teeth of his women with a row of these seeds as Dadim Pankti.

“Tell them you weren’t hungry, tell them you followed the pomegranate seeds because they tasted like blood, like love”.

(Pauline Albanese, Closed Doors)

“…Pomegranates are like little explosions of awesome in your mouth”, wrote Iranian Tahreh Mafi. Oscar Wilde (in The Birthday of the Infanta) writes of pomegranates split and cracked that they“...Showed their bleeding red hearts.”

Greek mythology maintains that goddess Demeter, the Spring goddess and mother of all fertility in the world, had a willful daughter Persephone who ate half a dozen pomegranates in the underworld and was punished to spend six months there by the Gods. Angry Demeter receded to the dark corners of the earth setting into motion a cycle of seasons beginning with bitter cold days. For classical Greeks, this fruit since then spells the inescapable cycle of life and death.


Food Katha: Desserts with Anaar and Anjeer

Anjeer, Figs:

Fig is the edible fruit of a short tree, Ficus Carica that belongs to the mulberry (shahtoot) family. Like Anaar it is a native of the Mediterranean and West Asia, which have a moderate climate. It is one of the oldest trees to be cultivated by man both for its fruit, as also its ornamental value. The Bible has Adam and Eve covering themselves with a fig leaf when they ate the forbidden fruit and shame sprouted in their hearts.Today various varieties of figs are also grown in California.

Figs are perishable products and unless dried and stored properly, high sugar content leads to over ripe fruits and fermentation. This limits their shelf life. In India while mostly wild fig trees are seen, dried figs are imported and strung together, or they are preserved in syrup and canned. The dried figs are soaked, pureed and eaten as dessert with cream. It is a nutritious fruit packed with calcium, potassium and phosphorus. The Indian name for figs, Anjeer comes from Injir, a variety grown in Smyrna in Greece. In California they’ve renamed it as Calimyrna.

Figs became so popular in the east that laws were enacted to forbid their export beyond a point. Pliny the elder describes many varieties and says it was the food for slaves that provided both nutrition and taste. Latin myths hold it as favored by Bachhus, the God of all good things, and hence was used in many religious ceremonies.

Rome’s lucky emblem features a fig tree giving shade to the twins Romulus and Remus who founded Rome. There is a reference to Bindusara, son of Chandragupta who had a Greek mother, writing to Antiochus in Greece for sending him figs. The Britons, while they were fighting the Marathas, are said to have lived on bread and figs.

Food Katha: Desserts with Anaar and Anjeer

Figs are grown in limited quantities in India. Punegrows Smyrna variety of figs. They were also grown in Surat. They are a prized delicacy for breaking the fast during Ramzan. The Moghuls who were great horticulturalists grafted fig branches imported from central Asia on mulberry trees.

The Jains however, are forbidden expressly from eating this fruit since its high sugar content may often trap small insects.

(The writer is author, columnist and Group Editorial Advisor of National Herald)

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