Synonymous with the place down the ages has been the tummy satisfying dish called Rajma-Chawal and Anardana sauce!
-‘There is a peculiar familiarity in places such as Bhaderwah, Doda, Ramban, hills in Udhampur, Poonch, Mandi and many other places in UT J&K. The first is straight away beauty. These hills/mountains are the cradle of the hearts of the people staying amidst them and absolutely stunning for those visiting for the first time. The undulating landscape is interlocked at their feet as if in eternal friendship as they reach the horizons seemingly to meet the skies. They are bright in the light and calming upon the days of rain, ever present, ever beautiful. They look as if they rise to blow kisses to the sky. It’s a mesmerizing scene and if a musician was to describe them he would say that these lovely waves of earth rise rhythmically as if they were piano keys creating a divine song.’ The eyes simply fall in love with them as the beauty is magically dazzling.
-‘The second is that these sweetest of caterpillars upon the land are also famous for something that stomach/tummy loves and that is something called as red kidney beans, Rajmah and in Poonch and Rajouri Mothi along with hot rice and sauce/chutney made of pomegranate seeds (Anardana), mint, salt and red chilies and of course the ladle (kadchi) full of clarified butter (desi ghee) the signature dish of Jammu’
-‘Though some may feel offended, let me just remind people that rajma did not originate in India. It was first grown in Mexico, carried back to Europe by the Portuguese, and then brought to us through the south-western coast of India. But nobody’s taking away the fact that we have made this dish what it is today by adding fried onions, chilies and other spices to make one of the most awesome cuisine in the world!’
-‘The smaller version of pomegranate, duruni (in local parlance) the tree on which this great fruit grows is found in the areas above mentioned and it is from them that the seeds are taken out and then dried to produce what is called as anardana which is used to make sauce that we all love and is a much relished side dish in meals which have Rajmah and rice as part of the main course. These hills/mountains no doubt capture the soul, they give the first real sense of how a home should feel but the food I have mentioned gives the real feeling as to what great food is all about’!
-‘Like everything has a mystery and a legend behind it, the pomegranate too has many stories behind it. I managed to collect a few for our readers just for their information. In Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the ‘fruit of the dead’ as it was said to have arisen from the blood of Adonis. It also prominently featured in the myth of Hades and Persephone. Hades, God of the underworld, used pomegranate seeds to trick Persephone into returning to the underworld for a few months of every year. Alongside death, the pomegranate symbolize fertility in Ancient Greece and Rome. It had a strong association to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, as well as Hera, the Greek goddess of marriage and childbirth!’
-‘Another one says that in Ancient Rome, newlywed women wore crowns woven from pomegranate leaves, and the juice of pomegranates was used to cure infertility!’
-‘ Yet another one says that in the Quran, pomegranates grow in the Garden of Paradise and are referred to on multiple occasions as God’s good creations. The pomegranate is also said to be found in the Garden of Eden according to Ancient Iranian Christianity and was believed to be the real forbidden fruit rather than the apple. During the non-Christian Iranian tradition, Yalda Night, people come together on winter solstice and eat pomegranate fruit to celebrate the victory of light over darkness.’
-‘If you are on a visit to the places I have listed above then be rest assured that you would feel something like this and say to yourself, ‘I have been finding treasures in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen to. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take. I was prepared to see what really exists on the other side, what exists behind the blinds, and taste of the lovely fruit that looks right, plump and ripe. I did feel the same way when I for the first time moved in the hills/mountains of Bhaderwah with my eye balls popping out of the sockets and mouth wide open gaping at things I had never seen before during my childhood’
‘Plants in these places are as courageous as almost all human beings living here a pomegranate tree would rather die than produce anything else, whereas instead of dying the average person would rather be someone they are not.’
I still remember when I was growing up and my grandma (with whom I have spent a lot of time in my formative years of childhood) making delicious lunch and almost every time making the sauce using what she used to call as kunda-danda or hamam dasta, in English mortar/pestle. The sauce consisted of the seeds of the fruit which she called as duruni (refused to call it as anardana because her father-in-laws name was Anar Singh and ladies those days never took names of their elders). Trust me it was absolutely stunning as the tangy taste left its flavor and aroma on the tongue. In those days it was an everyday affair but as the main ingredient (pomegranate seeds) became an expensive commercial crop the periodicity of it being used during meals has slowed down and thus for many it has become once in a blue moon sort of an affair but nevertheless still the most welcome for the palate! But one cannot imagine a Rajmah-Chawal dish without it or an extravagant preeti bhog without it though the tamarind sauce (imli ki chutney) is a substitute but not as good as the anardana one!
But there is some good news from the hills because if the reports are to be believed then this time around the seasonal yield has been great in the hills especially so in the place where it is found in abundance. The places I have mentioned above. But the bad news is that the prices are not going down because the pomegranate seeds are used in many products because of their great medicinal value. Pomegranates have been used for years for their health benefits. Modern science has found that pomegranates can help protect your heart and may even prevent cancer.
Some facts and figures:
Pomegranate is an attractive shrub that has several useful features, including medicinal values. The origin of Anardana was in Iran, however, it has later been cultivated and naturalized in India, and other countries, quite extensively. Anardana first came to central and southern India from Iran around the first century AD and has been cultivated since then. Though cultivated extensively throughout India, Anardana is mostly found in the Himalayas in northern India, between altitudes of 900-1800 m.
The tree needs a certain climatic condition to grow properly. The climatic condition of India is considered suitable for the growth of Anardana. The Anardana species grows in abundance in mild-temperate to subtropical regions and is naturally adapted to the regions, having cool winters and hot summers. However, certain types of Anardana are also grown in home dooryards in tropical areas.
The soil of the regions above mentioned provides all the necessary components for the growth of Anardana. Anardana mostly thrives on calcareous, alkaline soil and also on deep, acidic loam and a wide range of soils. It is spontaneous on rock strewn gravel in northern India.
Jammu and Kashmir has a great potential for the yield to further increase because it is a very high pedigree cash crop that can boost up the economy of the regions where the crop has found and the yield this season around should give a big boost to the people who have the trees bearing this great fruit with a crown on its head, hard skinned but with those lovely pink seeds as the kernel which are both sweet and sour and it are the sour ones that give us the tangy sauce called as anardana ki chutney which is a major part of the food laid down for the emperors who are gourmet lovers!