January must be special. Not only does it herald a new year as per the Western calendar, it also brings cheer on the faces of farmers across many Indian states, mostly coastal. For this is the harvest season for paddy. In the middle of the month, farming communities in many states along India’s coastline celebrate the fruits of their labour, quite literally. These include states from Eastern, Western, and Southern India.
I have my roots in the Eastern Indian state of Bengal, and although I was born and bred in a city, I grew up hearing tales from my grandma about how she and her siblings would celebrate poush sankranti (as the festival is known in Bengal). She would tell me of the special types of desserts, called pithey and puli in Bengali, the older womenfolk of the house prepared to celebrate sankranti. The same desserts which titti (that’s what I used to call my granny) made with loving care for us. Patishapta pithey (rolled pancake stuffed with milk and coconut filling), shajer pithey (pancake steamed in moulds), gokul pithey (coconut pastry, dipped in flour, fried and dipped in sugar syrup), ranga alur puli (fried sweet potato dessert) , muger puli (made of moong dal or yellow moong lentil)…Notably, most of the preparations use the harvest produce—rice, coconut, date palm juice and jaggery.
Food is vital to our sustenance, and a good harvest is always reason for joyous celebrations. And so even in urban India, and indeed in Indian households across the world, the traditions are still honoured and these delicious specialty sankranti items prepared with reverence and joy.
Patishapta pithey is a personal favourite of mine and I am glad I can share the recipe with you. It does require a bit of home grown skill, but don’t let that daunt you. With a bit of practice and a lot of passion, you can master the craft of making this wonderful sweet dish.
I For patishapta batter:
Flour: 4 cups
Rice flour: 2 cups
Milk: ½ litre
Sugar: ½ cup
II For Filling:
Milk 1 litre
Coconut: 1 freshly grated
Sugar: 4-5 tablespoons
To make the filling:
Bring the milk to boil. Add the sugar and coconut and reduce the milk to about one fourth the quantity. Now add the raisins and stir some. Keep aside for cooling. The filling should be dry.
1. Make a batter using ingredients of I. The batter should be smooth, of an even consistency, neither too thick nor too thin.
2. Grease a griddle or tawa with a drop of oil. Swirl the griddle around for the oil to spread.
3. Spread 2 tablespoons of the batter on the griddle and swirl the griddle again to spread the batter evenly.
4. When the patishapta starts browning a bit around the edges, place a teaspoonful of the filling lengthwise at one end.
5. Fold the patishapta with the filling carefully from one end to the other.
6. Remove from griddle.
7. Serve hot or cold—it tastes equally delightful. Although when hot, the pithey has a softer texture and tastes just heavenly.
A slice of tradition; a moment to celebrate the tremendous hard work farmers put in round the year to bring us the food we so take for granted. Hats off to all those sons of the soil!