Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Archive for June, 2013

Notes of a Nobody: Romancing the Jack

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 8, 2013

Romancing the jack 0Vicariousness is a sure way to enhance the experiential richness of our lives. For all those who never experienced what it means to hunt a big beast, strain every pore of ones body to the point of pain, hurt and gore oneself in the process, drench in sweat, smear oneself dust, go for the kill, drag it home, cut it open, carve out the meat, separate the entrails, clean the blood spill, dispose the offal, distribute it among families, cook it and relish the gastronomical experience  …… try getting and cutting a large sized jack fruit. The jack has a hippo like bulk which wakens the now dormant hunting instinct. Hold the fruit in ones palms for a while and then put it down to look at what the grubby outer thorns do to the palms… the pressure points convert ones palms into a dotted matrix of alternating spots of pinkish full-bloodedness and pale yellowish bloodlessness besides straining the arm and back muscles.

Shrink a large jack fruit by a thousand times and it starts to resemble an unripe green mulberry fruit. In reality, jackfruit belongs in the Artocarpus genus of the mulberry family Moraceae with its full botanical name being Artocarpus heterophyllus. While the fruit itself is a sub-tropical fruit, its name appears to have travelled round the world. The word “jackfruit” comes from Portuguese jaca, which in turn, is derived from the Malayalam language term, chakka (Malayalam Chakka pazham). When the Portuguese arrived in India at Kozhikode (Calicut) on the Malabar    Coast (Kerala) in 1498, the Malayalam name chakka was recorded by Hendrik van Rheede in the Hortus Malabaricus, in Latin. The common English name “jackfruit” was used by the physician and naturalist Garcia de Orta in his 1563 book Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India. Centuries later, botanist Ralph Randles Stewart suggested it was named after William Jack, a Scottish botanist who worked for the East India Company in Bengal, Sumatra, and Malaysia. This is apocryphal, as the fruit was called a “jack” in English before William Jack was born: for instance, in Dampier’s 1699 book, A New Voyage Round the World

From the perspective of evolutionary biology one cannot help marveling at nature’s generosity in endowing an optimal design to this fruit despite its ugly external looks. While a raw jack looks all fused and tightly locked inside, as the fruit starts to mature and ripe, things start to loosen up a bit in the inside. This process appears to be the opposite of the human body where everything is loose when it begins but starts to fuse as time progresses. The sweet fibrous fleshy rind that covers the seed in a ripened jack is attached to the sternum of the fruit by small, flat spaghetti like fibres. One needs to cut these slippery ribbons to extract the yellowish rinds enclosing the seed. Sometimes the rind also comes in a flaming yellowish red colour. I am yet to see an artificial colour created by man which can come close to the beauty of this shade one gets to see in a jack

There is an air of ritualistic preparation that surrounds the cutting open of a ripe Jack. The sticky gelatinous glue that is found inside forces one to dress in as light clothes as possible for the occasion. The guiding principle being: lesser the clothes on you the better it is. Definitely no full sleeves. One needs a special set of knives – cleaver and a carver equivalent, a small bowl of oil to lubricate the knives, palms, hands and a clearing within the house or the courtyard to do the needed work. While the cleaver enables the grand entry, it is the hacking carver that does most of the work. One has to have ones strategy laid out upfront in terms of the initial cut. And depending on the preference, size of the fruit and expertise, it could be a longitudinal cut or latitudinal cut. In either of the approaches rarely can one avoid damaging the few initial extracts. It is also equally rare that one comes out unscathed without nicking ones hands. Cutting a jack fruit is a familial affair if not a small communal one especially with kids surrounding the proceedings waiting for the first taste. Mathematically, the ratio of inedible waste that gets generated for the edible core is easily outmatched four to one.

I have never been a great fan of this fruit in the past. However, in the recent past my fascination for this fruit has been growing after I encountered some of the tastiest jack fruits on a short trip to the hill station of Kodaikanal. Will this romance continue for a long time or will it be a short lived one?…. Only time will tell….

(some details on the botanical names and history are borrowed from wikipedia)

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