The indigenous and underappreciated jackfruit tree was celebrated for the third in Goa at the Ponsachem fest, or Jackfruit festival, with people paying tribute to it by wearing costumes inspired by the tree, and eating and drinking the fruit in myriad forms.

The scene-stealer of the day was an innovative recipe for a jackfruit pickle, which uses the fruit’s rind after scraping off the prickly outer layer (which is also used as cattle fodder). In addition to the edible fare, the visitors also sampled “jaffe” – a healthy coffee-like supplement popular in Coorg and parts of Kerala and Karnataka, made from 60% crushed, roasted jackfruit seeds and 20% each of fenugreek and cardamom.

Celebrated on June 24, the Ponsachem fest coincided with Sao Joao festivities in the state. A volunteer-based and community-driven festival, there were no chief guests or sponsors, no alcohol and no plastics. Food was served on leaf plates and drinks in cups made of coconut shells.

“Our village is a wooded area,” said Father Santana Carvalo of the Succorro Socio-Art and Cultural Association, responsible for hosting the festival. “There are plenty of jackfruit trees here whose fruit ripen in the early monsoon season. So we celebrate the Ponsachem fest as a way to celebrate our way of life, the fruit and foods that nurture us and to preserve the wonderful environment, culture and community spirit we have around us.”

Photo credit: Marius Fernandes/via

From wood to fruit

“Last year, we focused on the jackfruit tree and the use of the jack wood timber, that local carpenters use to make tables, chairs, doors and windows and other items of affordable and durable furniture,” said Marius Fernandes, a resident of Goa who returned from the UK a few years ago, and has since been co-ordinating and curating the festival. “We had carpenters who work with jackfruit timber come in and conduct demonstrations and speak about their craft.”

This year, Ponsachem fest focused on the fruit of the tree, with live demonstrations and tastings of the wide variety of value added products. “More than a hundred different dishes can be prepared from the jackfruit, right from when it is tender and immature, to its unripe, mature stage to when it is fully ripe,” said Sunetra Talaulikar, a home scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Talaulikar’s team demonstrated the making of jackfruit halwa, bajias or fritters, and cutlets to the festival’s audience.

“The jackfruit is endemic to this part of the world,” said historian Dr Fatima Gracias da Silva, author of Cozinha de Goa, which traces the history of Goan food. “Goan Hindu cuisine has many recipes that use the tender unripe fruit as a vegetable and in some sweet and savoury preparations. The Portuguese took it to Bahia in Brazil in the 17th century and to Sao Tome in Africa in the early 19th century.”

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

Jack of all plates

Cookbooks from the region have plenty of of recipes ranging from jackfruit wine, kheer, pudding, jellies and jams, papads, jackfruit pathalyo (a local delicacy steamed in turmeric leaves), stews, curries, bhajis, sanna and voddes. “In October, we will follow up with a cooking workshop to teach villagers various preparations so some can possibly use the fruit to start home based businesses” said Fernandes. Like the mango and coconut, every part of the tree is used, including the dried leaves that are used to make disposable leaf plates, or in the past were simply rolled up, filled with tobacco and smoked, according to Dr Da Silva Gracias.

The most famous jackfruit preparation in Goa is the sandon – steamed rice cakes with a jackfruit filling, followed by dhonnos or jackfruit cake. Chaako, a dry vegetable dish with tender unripe jackfruit and grated coconut, is well-loved, as is the folle and chaakachem tonnda, a sour accompaniment. The sweet yellow pods of the ripened fruit are also consumed by themselves, the seeds are boiled or roasted.

Fruits comes in two varieties – the ones with firmer cartilage are called kaapo and eaten ripe, while the softer, pulpier variety called rassal is used in sweets or as a vegetable when tender.

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

Several groups in Goa currently market jackfruit preserves like standardised juice, pulp, squash, jam, chips, and fruit leather or saath under the brand name of Kathal de Goa – in North India, the jackfruit is known as kathal, while in Konkani, it is called Ponos. Goa’s ICAR is trying to popularise tender jackfruit in xacuti, a popular masala and fried coconut-based thick gravy. “We are actually trying to get local self help women’s groups to use the fruit to make items and preserves that can be packaged and sold to supplement their income” said Talaulikar.

“There are several other ways in which the jackfruit can be better utilised in Goa,” said agriculturalist Miguel de Braganca. “There are companies that use it as a vegan chicken and make into items like teriyaki jackfruit, Tex Mex jackfruit, BBQ jackfruit, curry jackfruit and export it in pouches. Flour from the seed is a gluten-free, protein-rich supplement that can be used to make cakes, rotis and the like.”

Similar attempts are being made by the Agriculture Technology Management Agency of Goa. “There are no commercial cultivations of the tree,” said Sanjeev Mayekar, an ATMA officer. “It grows almost wild in the forests and much of it is wasted. We are trying to identify the germplasm of varieties suitable for particular items like jackfruit chips.”

At the festival, the most popular edible items apart from the pickles were ripe jackfruit pods and boiled seeds. Festival volunteers served these to guests and participants from the village, as they performed traditional songs and dances, with the fruit featuring both as a prominent decoration and snack.

Guests were handed out kopels or flower crowns made of jackfruit leaves, that are worn on Sao Joao. “We spent two days learning to make the kopels for ourselves and our guests in the village,” Fernandes said.

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello