The winter is the time for gastronomic extravaganza. Not only are the vegetables, fish and a variety of special fruits available at this time of the year but a person's appetite grows stronger than in the summer. Even one with the weakest digestion power feels it enhanced by degrees.
It is only natural that people's stronger appetite has to be fuelled and satisfied by an array of special dishes. For centuries people in this part of the world have observed PoushSangkranti on the last day of the month Poush on the Bangla calendar. On this day, they actually celebrate the culmination of the harvesting season. Delicious cakes are prepared from rice dust of the newly harvested paddy. From every home the aroma of cakes fill the air all around. Molasses is the main ingredient of cakes but then milk and coconut also add to the flavor of a wide variety of such cakes.
It is the time when molasses is prepared from freshly obtained date juice and the preparation of this particularly sweetening agent can beat any of its counterparts hands down in taste and texture. Molasses is of three kinds -liquid, disc-like solid patali and the other variety in between the two; neither liquid nor solid. Well, cakes called sajerpitha (because those are baked on a particular earthen pot with one round and four equally carved oyster shell-shaped hollows) becomes a special treat when eaten with liquid date molasses. The liquid molasses also assumes the shape of red sugar if it is preserved in an earthen jar for a few weeks or months. Nothing compares with its flavour of sweetness.
Nowadays, though, the molasses available is of inferior quality. It is either adulterated or those who prepare them have lost touch with the great tradition of the art of molasses preparation. So, invariably the urbanites end up with pithas not to the liking of the taste buds. Molasses making is a dying art in villages. But then in some pockets date juice extractors have kept the art living. In Charmuguria right on the Barisal-Faridpur district highway, you can come across, if you are lucky, the finest variety of patali which is solid but not hard and it smells of fresh date juice.
Cakes prepared with this particularly variety of molasses can give one the taste of a lifetime. It is simply unforgettable. Sweetness of molasses is not all, it is the flavour, the art of heating it on the oven that really matters. It is incomprehensible why more and more date trees are not grown on the demarcated line of plots or croplands. After all, these trees do not hamper growth of crops; instead they are environmentally friendly and like palm trees can help reduce the incidence of thunderbolts. Now date trees are disappearing fast and with it a most vibrant culture of cake preparation.
In cities, particularly in the capital, there is an attempt to revive the cake festival. Not only isit confined to the PoushSangkranti but also it is arranged throughout the winter. From school, colleges and universities to different elite societies to department stores, there is a cake festival everywhere. People show keen interest in the nicely baked cakes of various beautiful names. Apart from the well-known vapapitha, pulipitha, patisapta, there are golappitha, fulkuri, rasmanjari and the likes.
No doubt, they look artistic in their shapes but there is no guarantee they can do justice to their names because the ingredients available here are not of the best of quality. So the need is to revive the tradition of making quality molasses and ensure its availability to all including the urbanites.
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