After a Diwali spent bursting 1000 in 1 bombs at 3 in the morning and eating far more than was good for us, our whole family hied off for Yelagiri, a hill station five hours away from Chennai. Armed with the dubious experience of having lived in Himachal Pradesh for three years, I appointed myself authority on hill stations and spent the drive making contemptuous statements about how we call the hills of the south pebbles, up north. My cousins, to their eternal credit, didn't sit on my head.
The road up to Yelagiri wound up the hill, taking a total of fourteen hairpin bends, each of them a novelty and a tourist spot. We made impressive preparations for car sickness, armed with an array of pills, spices and paper bags. Thankfully none were needed and we made it up the fourteenth bend, cheering.
Yelagiri was lovely, with its winding roads and sprays of honeysuckle and romantically decaying buildings. It didn't offer much by way of dissipation; musical fountains and paddle boating across a man-made lake were its star attractions. When we made our way to the boathouse though, we found it very crowded. Every other tourist there had apparently the same idea. So we abandoned visions of paddle boating and elected to walk around the lake instead, pointing out water snakes to each other and poking at touch-me-nots.
Amma and Chitti espied a nursery along the way and rabid plant hunters that they are, immediately made a beeline for it. I followed them and spent my time chasing the nursery cat among the daisies. After making our purchases, we emerged and saw a woman sitting on the pavement, selling wood apples.
I have no childhood memories of eating wood apples. I remember being introduced to them only about five years ago, when Amma bought them at the Sunday vegetable market, with what I considered undue excitement. But after I tasted the pachchadi Amma made from them that day, I understood the excitement, which is why on the Yelagiri hill, I clutched Amma's arm and pointed and nagged.
Amma refused to buy them that day; we were going onward to Coimbatore and by the time we returned to Delhi and our own kitchen, there was a good chance the fruit would spoil. That didn't stop me from throwing a tantrum though.
So imagine my surprise when, on her return from Coimbatore, two days after me, Amma extracted two round little wood apples from the bottom of her bag. She'd remembered my little scene and scoured the city in search of wood apples for me.
Cracking the wood apples in my opinion, is the most fun part. you can be unscientific and throw them hard on the floor till they split, or you can have at them with a hammer. Both are very satisfying. I immediately opened one of mine and proceeded to make a pachchadi, under Amma's directions.
It tasted of the hills.
Wood apple: 1
Jaggery: 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds: a pinch
Fennel seeds: a pinch
Curry leaves: 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Amma's rule of thumb for selecting wood apples is to shake them, next to her ear. If you can here the insides rattling about, it's ripe and ready to buy. If you can't hear anything, the fruit is probably still unripe.
Begin by cracking open the wood apple and scraping out all the seeds and flesh. Mix in the jaggery till it's as homogeneous as you can make it and add salt by pinches, till you have it where you want it.
In a teaspoonful of oil, pop the mustard seeds, roast the fennel and toast the curry leaves, till fragrant. Mix in and serve.