REMEMBERING THE EXOTIC JACKFRUIT
BY ARMAND RODRIGUES
Next to the mango, the jackfruit may be one of the more exotic fruits in Goa. In weight, it is only second to the giant coco-de-mer of Seychelles, for a tree-borne fruit. It originated in the forests of South India, but, over the centuries, it has migrated to all of South-East Asia, where it appeals to the taste-buds of all and sundry. In Latin the jackfruit is called Artocarpus heterophyllus, in Konkani ponos or borkoi, in Swahili finisi, in Portuguese jaca, in Thailand khanum, in the Philippines’ nangka.
In Goa, the fruit may be soft and mushy or firm and crunchy. The flesh of the soft type can be used to produce a type of alcohol after a fermentation process. It can also be used in curries, jams and chutneys. Rolled flat, the soft pulp is dried between layers of banyan tree leaves and becomes a tasty snack. Other than yellow, the firm variety also comes with a distinct orangey colour. Both types may also contain a little nectar. The firm variety is the kind sold in cans.
The fruit is unique in the sense that it grows on the trunk of the tree. The tree can live up to a hundred years. The outer casing of the fruit is like a prickly rasp. It turns greenish-yellow when ripe and ready for harvesting. At this stage the smell becomes somewhat revolting but is a far cry from that of its cousin the Durian fruit. The latter is the bane of hotels and aircraft everywhere. When sliced open, one finds conical yellow pods like bulbs, clinging to the inside of a jackfruit. Trying to extricate a pod results in having to do battle with a sticky, messy, white latex that oozes from everywhere and encrusts one’s fingers and knives, with a vengeance. Cooking oil has to be used to free the fingers and clean the knives. The silver lining to the latex is that it can be used on branches to snare singing birds that alight above a bird feeder or sprinkled seed. The birds make good pets.
Jackfruit seeds can be saved to be roasted, boiled or ground into flour. Even the leathery leaves of the tree serve a special purpose in Goa. They are shaped into a cone held in place by dried broomsticks from palm tree leaves. A mix of desiccated coconut and jaggery is then encased in rice flour and placed in the cone. Steaming completes the cooking process. These cones are served, as per tradition, after friends and neighbours join in singing the litany of the saints. If a ripened jackfruit happens to fall to the ground, it becomes a feast for the pigs. Whereas flying foxes are frugivorous, it is believed that they avoid the jackfruit because the nasty latex could stick to their wing membranes and make flying impossible. Lastly, believe it or not, in Goa if a tree is not yielding fruit at regular intervals, it may be shamed by old shoes, rusty tin cans and broken clay pots tied to its trunk! There is no scientific evidence for why this works – if at all – but it is not an old wives’ tale.
Enjoy the fruit if and when you can.