Summer, when Heena Punwani was a child, meant biting into the smooth, juicy flesh of a tadgola (ice apple) to better deal with Mumbai’s heat and humidity. “It’s one of my fondest childhood memories, eating an ice-cold tadgola, while it was so hot outside. So when I got the chance, I decided to use this fruit in our summer menu,” says Punwani, who works as pastry chef at The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro in Mumbai.
The Summer Fruit Sundae that she created this year for the latter includes tender coconut, kokum, litchi and tadgola, as well as some mango. “When people think of summer fruits, they’re usually thinking of mango. But there are other fruits that are just as delicious, and perfect for the heat. The point of Summer Fruit Sundae is to draw attention to some of those other fruits,” she says.
Till now, summer meant mango and for good reason. Besides being delicious and adaptable to all kinds of culinary uses — from chutneys and spreads, to curries and tarts — extensive mango cultivation in the country has ensured a proper and usually reliable supply chain. This is not true of other bounties that the season brings. Fruits such as tadgola, shehtoot (Indian mulberry), jamun (java plum), hisalu (golden raspberry) and bael (wood apple) are not cultivated anywhere close to the scale of mango cultivation in India, and many, especially highly localised fruits such as hisalu or shehtoot, are harvested from the wild.
Also, other native summer fruits typically appear only for a brief period. “This relatively short season is one of the reasons most professional chefs don’t really bother with other native summer fruits,” says Rajat Chandra, Executive Sous Chef at Alila Fort Bishangarh, Jaipur. “Take shehtoot, for example. Its season lasts about 15-20 days,” he explains. Yet, Chandra has found it worth to develop recipes, even if only to offer them for a week or two.
One of his favourites, he says, is the shehtoot ice-cream he had developed for this year’s menu. “It’s a delicate fruit with a delicate flavour that needs to be harvested at the right time. We have a tree on the property, which is where we get it from,” he says.
Other chefs around the country too have found it worth their while to develop creative ways of using native summer fruits. Dhruv Oberoi, Head Chef at Olive Qutub, New Delhi, for example, harnesses jamun’s unique combination of sweetness and astringency in a variety of ways, from cocktails to desserts to a savoury amuse bouche.
“You can convey the whole essence of a season when you use seasonal fruits on your menu, and yes, there are sourcing issues, but kitchens all over the country are now waking up to the importance of studying what grows in which month and preparing menu according to what’s available. You can also preserve these fruits in different ways, by making jams or fermenting or pickling them,” says Oberoi, who is looking forward to fermenting the jamun pulp that he and his staff have frozen this season.
Interestingly, one of the chief attractions of these native fruits now is that they’ve become exotic and hard to find, at least in cities, says Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants. He has, over the years, developed creative uses for these fruits, whether it’s making a bael and chilli sorbet or using tadgola coins with aamras.
“The use of indigenous produce is a great trend. It’s not just that eating these fruits in the right season has great nutritional value, it also helps those who grow these fruits, and in turn, helps us rediscover these unique flavours. It also helps us reintroduce diners to fruits they may not have tasted since they were children,” he says.