My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She accomplished so much in her life and probably could have done more, had she been from this era, that I sometimes feel dwarfed in front of her achievements and her strength. In fact, right now, I know for sure that I would not be able to justice by writing about her because no amount of writing would completely express what or how she was. Let me keep her feats for another time. This time, I want to talk about my memories of Dida (She is my paternal grandmother but I chose to call her Dida) and patishapta. She passed away in 2015 and I miss her dearly, especially during Makar Sankranti, when the air smells of pithe and puli everywhere.
During my growing up years, I was in Port Blair. Our lives at Port Blair was completely different from rest of the country. We were on an island, much dependent on the mainland (that’s what we would call the rest of India), for most of the food produce. Even potatoes would come by ship and those days, the frequency of flights and ships was much less. We would even get our newspapers thrice a week from Kolkata, which would come by Indian airlines. So for us, two months of summer vacation at Kolkata, where most of the time was spent at Canning was cherished. Dida and Dadni (Dadni is my grandfather) used to live in Canning in a beautiful house surrounded by gardens and two ponds. The ponds were lined with coconut trees and a path way in between leading to Batik bari (a factory where Dida used to employ women of the area and produce batik sarees and other garments). It was my Dida’s batik bari, her work place and my favorite place to play and disturb the peace. In those two months, Dida did everything possible to make up for all the festivities that we would miss out for staying in Port Blair. She would simply do an Aam pujo and Satyanarayan pujo because I would want to eat Shinni (a porridge made with whole wheat and milk with bananas and coconuts and other fruits). She would make all kinds of pithe and puli because we had missed Makar shankranti. We would get to eat mutton every Sunday because we did not get to eat mutton in Pork Blair. I could go on and on.
No one can make patishapta like Dida and she would make them on a small clay oven in our kitchen. Coconuts were in abundance at home. In her busy schedule, I have seen her making more than 50- 60 patishaptas, all by herself in the afternoon. Normally our summer holidays would also have rest of our cousins and a lot of extended family at home. All of us got to enjoy patishapta in the evening. Till date, I am yet to taste a patishapta which would replicate that taste. My chhotokakima (one of my aunts) makes beautiful patishapta too and she has learnt from her. That’s the closest to what Dida would make. Now that I think of it, Pishimoni (my father’s sister) also makes almost a similar one. I now deeply regret that I had not picked up the nuances of pithe puli making from Dida. I remember thinking whether my mother would make as many pithe puli as her. I had doubt about my capability of making pithe puli at all and would wonder if eventually, the art of making pithe puli at home would die out. It probably will. Nowadays, the sweet shops are making quite a lot of pithe pulis and people rather buy from the sweet shops than make at home.
With motherhood, I was sure that I wanted to feed the best to my children. And I learnt to make patishapta and other pithes and pulis. I wanted to carry on the tradition of making pithe at home during makar shankranti. I actually feel proud that I am continuing the tradition and that Dida would have been very proud of me. I know that the patishapta I make is not as good as the one that Dida would make but it’s close. And I am sure, with time and experience, one day I would make 50 patishaptas at one go and they would be just like the ones that Dida would make.
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for the filling
- 2 cups freshly grated coconut
- 3/4 cups grated gur or jaggery I used fresh gur made from dates, what we call patali gur in Bengali. (see notes)
- 2 tbsp milk powder my mother's secret ingredient to make it extra sticky
- 1 tbsp Ghee
for the batter
- 1 cup Flour
- 1/2 cup semolina
- 1/4 cup gobindobhog rice flour
- 2 tbsp Ghee
- 1/2 cup nolen gur liquid date palm jaggery
- 2 cups Milk
- 3 tbsp Ghee
- 3 tbsp nolen gur for garnish or drizzling from top
Making the stuffing
- In a heavy bottomed frying pan or kadai, start by heating the ghee and adding the grated coconut. After frying for a minute on medium to low flame, add the jaggery. If you do not have jaggery add sugar. Keep stirring till the gur or the sugar melts and they all bind together. It takes about 5 to 6 minutes and then add the milk powder.
- Again keep stirring for half a minute and turn off the flame. Too much cooking will over caramelize the sugar and burn it. So keep a check over the flame and once everything is sticky, turn off the heat.
- Keep it aside to cool down a little bit. Then rub your hands with ghee and then start shaping the stuffing. Take a heaped tsp of the filling in the palm of your hand and shape it into a thin cylinder about 2 inches long. Keep them aside on a plate.
Making the batter and then the Patishapta
- In a mixing bowl, add the flour, semolina and the rice flour. Make a well in the centre and add the ghee and the nolen gur and slowly add the milk while stirring. You may or may not need the entire two cups of milk. Or sometimes you may need a little more than two cups of milk. The batter should not be thick as pancakes and not too runny also. It should coat the back of your spoon and should be like a crepe batter.
- Take a frying pan and rub a little bit of ghee on the pan. When it is hot, take a small ladle of the batter and pour it in the centre while using the back of your ladle, spread the batter into a round shape about 3 inches in diameter. Keep the flame at a low and cover with a lid for a minute for the batter to dry.
- When the batter has dried, add one of the coconut cylinders at one end and using your fingers and the spatula, make it into a roll and press gently when completely rolled to seal the end.
- Take it out and place it in a serving dish. Repeat the process with the entire batter.
- Serve it with a drizzle of nolen gur. You can have it hot or at room temperature. In winters, you can keep it outside for a couple of days but in summers, you will have to put it in the refrigerator.
- Substitute with sugar if you cannot find jaggery.
- If you do not find gobindobhog rice flour, use regular rice flour
- If you are left with some extra batter, keep it refrigerated and either make some more filling or simply make crepes with it and add whatever filling you want and have.
- It is difficult to say the exact number of patishaptas because it depends on the diameter of the crepe.