The travel itinerary remained the same. The last day of March. Every year, without fail. The Canada geese came first. The Trumpeter swans and the Mallards touched down a couple of weeks later. All are busy marking their territories, house hunting. A new season, a new chapter in their lives. The buds in the Willow trees are growing too. It feels as if someone has waved a magic wand. There will be flowers and fruits. The birds will start their families soon. Slowly, imperceptibly, nature is getting ready to wake up. There is the occasional flurry, a little tease from mother nature.
With this change of season came the 14th of April. The Bengali new year. It was my husband N’s birthday too. We always celebrate it with Payesh, not cake. Birthdays and Payesh go together as hands and gloves. I remember Ma ordering extra milk from the milkman the day before. The washed rice spread out on the old newspaper to dry. The Patali gur was available only during winter, so she would lovingly hoard some to be taken out on special occasions. Once the Payesh was done she would always make an offering to God first. A prayer would be said for a long and healthy life and then individual bowls would be served.
“Aajke kar jawnmodin Boudi”?, Whose birthday is it today Boudi, Aaroti kakima our tenant would enquire as she saw Ma patiently stirring the milk on a slow fire. It didn’t matter that we had moved away from home, Ma would not forget to make the Payesh offering for each of our sibling’s birthdays.
Unlike in the Prairies, April in India would be warm. The Krishnochura ( Delonix regia ) and Radhachura ( Peltophorum pterocarpum ) in full bloom. The mature trees on either side of the road with their red and yellow flowers would almost form a canopy. The Mango trees laden heavy with fruits. A rainstorm would bring down a few of these small green tart fruits, much to the delight of the neighbourhood kids who would waste no time in collecting them to be devoured later with some salt.
Different times, contrasting climates. The caramel like taste and smell of ‘ Patali gurer Payesh’ evokes the same sense of anticipation as it did many many summers ago. I served N in heart shaped ramekins. As for everybody else they got theirs in tulip glasses.
Shubho Nawboborsho ( happy new year ), friends. The greeting is late but the wish is as good as it was on the day.
Friends how do you prefer your rice pudding? Just sugar, cinnamon or any special flavours? I’d love to hear from you.
Homo milk 1 Litre
Basmati rice Half cup
Sugar One cup ( or to taste )
Ghee One and half Tbsp
Patali Gur ( jaggery ) Cut in small pcs, half cup or to taste
Bay leaf Couple
Wash the rice with water. Spread it out on kitchen towel to dry. Smear the dried rice with ghee and set aside.
Take a deep bottomed saucepan. Rub the inside with a layer of Ghee. Pour the milk and heat it on a high flame. Throw in the bay leaves. When the milk comes to a boil, lower the gas to medium. Add the rice. Keep stirring the milk continuously so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. This step takes around half hour or so. The milk will reduce about an inch from the side of the saucepan. The rice will be done by then.
Now add the sugar. Keep stirring until the Payesh thickens. Once the sugar has been added the rice won’t cook anymore.
Turn off the gas. Add the jaggery and mix well. Let it cool down before you serve.
Add the sugar only when the rice is done. Remember once the sugar is added it would stop the rice from cooking any further.
I wouldn’t slack on stirring, if the milk sticks to the bottom, it will add the burnt milk odour . The only option then is to start fresh again.
Boudi Term used to address elder brother’s wife.
Kakima Aunty in Bengali.
Patali Gur Special jaggery extracted from the sap of Date Palm trees. Available in winter in West Bengal, India or in Asian stores here in Canada.