Thursday, May 18, 2017

Making Snake Gourd Vegetable (Padvalkai Palya), Anna Ishtyle

Goddess Lakshmi
Photo Courtesy:
My father and his two brothers were 3 male offspring of 10* born to my grandparents.  Ajji and Tatha, as they were called, celebrated each daughter's birth as the gracing of their homes by Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, Fortune & Prosperity. That meant a lot, given that they were poor. Tatha was a village schoolteacher who owned some land, but that didn't go very far to feed the 12 mouths in his home. 

Anna told us that in his childhood he often had to wrap a wet towel around his stomach, to dull hunger pains, before sleeping at night.

I believe that this was the reason why Anna could not stand it if one of us said that we were hungry. Anna would ensure that we immediately got something to eat - a banana, a biscuit, some peanuts. Anything really. Just to stop us feeling the hunger pains that he remembered from his childhood.

Padvalkai Palya. 
Photo courtesy: Raks Kitchen
Even tho' there wasn't too much food, Anna and his brothers, learned to cook in their childhood. As was the tradition in south Indian Brahman families, women were not allowed into the kitchen to cook (among other things) when they were menstruating. Also, as the cycles of women in one household often synced, there were days when Tatha had to cook. Simple, two dish meals, made of whatever could be afforded, at that time. As the boys grew older, they were pressed into service, to clean, cut, and cook meals for the family.

One of the dishes Tatha would cook at these times was padvalkai palya (snake gourd sabzi / vegetable).
Watch snake gourd being made village style
Tatha would sit on the kitchen floor, with the boys around him, pealed snake gourd at his feet. He would use a vegetable cutter and coconut scrapper (a curved knife with a circular scraper head at the top, mounted on a leg of wood) to cut the gourd. Tatha would cut the snake gourd horizontally, into circles, and give it to the boys. Anna and his brothers would then meticulously poke out the seeds from each piece with their little fingers! Each circle would be examined by Tatha (his eyes becoming magnifying glasses) to see that there were no stray seeds left. The boys felt like they were waiting for school exam results! Once he was satisfied, Tatha would cut the de-seeded circles into small pieces and then cook the palya / subzi.

Cleaning, de-seeding, and cutting snake gourd
Photo Courtesy: Kurinnji Kanthambam
Anna thought that poking seeds out of snake gourd was the only way to de-seed a gourd for many, many years. After all, his school-teacher father had taught him so! It was only when one day he saw, Amma, my mother, slice a snake gourd vertically in the middle, and take out the seeds in one single swoop, that he realized that he had not been taught the most efficient way!

He has told us this story time and again. Laughing at the time and effort it took him and his brothers to poke out seeds with their little fingers, waiting with bated breath for Tatha to examine each circular slice!

Even now when I recount this story to Anna, he smiles. It seems that his Parkinson's and Dementia fogged brain recognizes and appreciates old stories!

*There were 11 offspring, one died in childbirth.

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