“God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.”
Visits to my mother's house were a fun filled, biweekly affair. We would spend the entire day in the quaint little village (not so quaint now), where each house stands in several acres of land and rubber trees and pineapple plantations dominate the scene. We used to meet up with my aunt and cousins at the bus stop, and the fun started from that point. My mother and aunt would reminisce about their childhood and home, and though we had heard their tales many times, we hung on every word. (Funny how most women are fiercely proud of their ancestral homes, especially after marriage, and nothing else feels so perfect.)
After getting off the bus, we would walk to the house, with my mom pointing out trees and birds, and telling me their names. Having spent many years of my childhood in the gulf, I used to be filled with wonder at the way everyone else could name a bird just by hearing its song, how every family in the area seemed to have hens and even cows, at the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet and how calm and quite the place was. Even today, the hustle and bustle of the nearby towns has not completely infiltrated this charming village.
There was a long flight of stone steps leading up to my mom's house, and we would announce our arrival, standing on the bottom step, by shouting out for our grandmother or Ammachi. My earliest memory of my Ammachi is of a beautiful old woman (was she always old? I can't imagine a younger version), dressed in a white chatta and mundu (a long blouse and a full length wrap around 'skirt' with pleats at the back). After a few exchanges with her, we would disappear to the kitchen, where amidst preparations for a lavish lunch which included chasing a plump hen for making chicken curry, platefuls of pineapple, jackfruit, guava and banana, lots of stories and gossip were exchanged. Visits to my great uncles' houses were part of the routine, and they invariably complained that we did not visit them often enough :).
Post lunch, we would relax, though Ammachi would already be making plans for tea. It would mostly be boiled kappa (cassava) with a spicy onion and green chili chutney (a relish), or kappa or jackfruit cooked along with grated coconut and red fish curry, or ettakka appam (banana fritters). But sometimes, she would make pidi which was my brother's favourite. My mom and aunt would instruct us kids to help her. So we would settle on the kitchen floor (the luckier ones would get the korandi or low wooden stools) and make small balls with rice flour, while Ammachi would extract coconut milk and do whatever else was required. And what would my mom and aunt do? I don't remember very well, but I think they used to tell us that the balls should not be too big, that we were not making them fast enough, and wondered out loud how we would manage a family once we were married (;))
Those were the good old days which are never to come back, what with most people in my Ammachi's generation gone, and siblings in my generation scattered around the globe. But a few years down the line, I think some childhood memories may be all we have and all we need, which is why I write this post, as a reminder of a bygone era.
The last time my brother came home, my mom and aunt made pidi for him, more for the sake of Ammachi's memory than anything else. I don't know whether it was as nice as the one she used to make, but here is the recipe:
3 cups rice flour (You can use pre packed Idiyappam rice flour)
1/2 cup thick coconut milk and 8 cups of thin coconut milk extracted from one coconut
Sugar, as per taste
3/4 tsp cardamom powder
A pinch of cumin seed powder
1) Make soft dough by pouring boiling water into the rice flour. Add water little by little, and mix well with a spoon, so that you finally have dough which will keep its form when shaped into small balls.
2) Keep aside 4 tbsps of dough. Once the rest of the dough has cooled down, shape it into small balls of around 7mm diameter.
3) Boil the thin coconut milk with sugar. Add the rice balls into the boiling coconut milk, and continue boiling on a low heat till the rice balls are completely cooked. Alternately, you can first steam the rice balls till they are cooked, and then add them to the boiling coconut milk.
4) Mix the dough kept aside with the thick coconut milk, and pour it into the boiling pidi.
5) Remove from fire and add powdered cardamom and cumin seed.
You can adjust the consistency of the pidi by mixing in more coconut milk (if the pidi is too thick), or boiling for a longer time (in case you find the pidi too runny).