Come Christmas, home cook and culinary expert Marina Charles is busy baking her signature Orappam, a dessert that is must at homes in St. Andrews, a serene, beachside village, 14 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram.
Rice flour is cooked in coconut milk with sugar and ghee till it achieves a thick paste-like consistency. A little fennel is added for flavour. Marina recalls that her grandmother and mother would then take the mixture, close it with a lid and keep it on the embers of a firewood stove. Burning bits of coconut shells were heaped on the lid. Different versions of Orappam are cooked on festive occasions in many households in Southern Kerala. But the ones made in coastal villages in Thiruvananthapuram have a different consistency and flavour.
“The Orappam would have a nice crust on the top and bottom and a buttery soft heart. It is a laborious task. When I make it or teach my students, I bake the thick mixture in an oven. Moreover, it can be made with jaggery or sugar. I use sugar. It is my husband’s favourite dessert. Instead of cake, I usually make Orappam for his birthday as well,” says Marina.
It is the season when homes are filled with the aroma of rich plum cakes, heady wines, hot pies, cutlets and more. However, the dishes on the table at homes in St. Andrews and the coast in Thiruvananthapuram are slightly different. Once home to a sizeable settlement of Portuguese, the cuisine has integrated European cooking methods and flavours with the traditional cuisine of the coastal village. Over the years, the place acquired a distinctive cuisine of its own.
Writing about this unique culinary tradition, Lakshmi B writes in the literary journal, Samyuktha: St Andrews is bequeathed with a multicultural food heritage. …History attests to the fact that there was a sizeable Portuguese settlement in the southern coast near Thiruvananthapuram. The name St. Andrews itself is derived from the Portuguese Sandandarae or Santo Andarae which means Saint Andrew.
Marina is keeping alive the culinary legacy that she inherited from her mother Thelma Gomez. Says Marina: “For my mother, Christmas would not be complete without Orappam, Thari dosi, a kind of local scone, Rissole, pork vindaloo and bol…”
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She recalls that cooking Orappam and Thari dosi were laborious and time-taking and the preparations for vindaloo would begin months earlier. Instead of red wine used in cooking vindaloo in Goa, vinegar is used and “the garlic and red chilli used in the preparation were soaked in vinegar for at least two months,” says Marina.
Thari dosi is another ethnic delicacy made by the residents. Coarsely crushed coconut is mixed with sugar and cooked till it achieves a one-string consistency. Then semolina (rava) is added with a dash of fennel and a little ghee and cooked well till it thickens. The cooked mixture is poured on to greased plates and cut into rectangles while still hot. The pieces are dusted with fine rice powder.
Mercy Alexander, coordinator of Sakhi Women’s Resource Centre, who hails from Vettuthura, another coastal village near St. Andrews, says her elder sister Leema Das is the custodian of the culinary legacy; she makes ethnic delights such as Thari dosi, achappam (rose cookies), diamond cuts and cheepappam (kul kul) for Christmas.
“Cheepappam is made of maida and egg mixed in coconut milk. A small bit of the dough is taken and pressed on to a new comb to get the shell-like markings on it and then it is deep fried… these eats are still made in many homes,” says Mercy.
Marina adds that another delicacy made by her mother was Devil’s Curry, so called because of its extremely high spice levels. “It is a meat dish and Rissole, which resembles croquette, is made with mashed potato and a meat filling. The scone we make is not like the British scone, it is not baked. This was made with a loose batter of maida, salt, egg and a little vanilla essence. It is made in an appam chatty. I found that it is called drop scones in Scotland,” explains Marina.
Scone was an everyday food that children used to enjoy and so was Bol, a bread that is also common in Goa. Initially made with rice flour and coconut, now a days, cooks also make it with wheat flour.
“The dough is made into balls and pressed into rounds on a hot tawa. It is thicker than the orotti (a rice flour-based flat bread) and we have it with paal fish curry or pork,” says Marina.
She regrets that but for a niece, not many in family have the time or inclination to learn traditional recipes.
“I have changed some of the methods to make it easier and less time-consuming for youngsters. The taste is the same. But my mother insists that it is not the same,” she says with a laugh.
Marina plans to write a book to include the recipes handed down to her by her mother and grandmother.