When my father was stationed in Barreilly Cantonment the Government bungalow we resided in was huge, with a sprawling lawn in the front flanked with mango and jamun trees on two sides, and with trimmed hedges along the driveway upto the main gate. To one side of the house was a garage, an outhouse and sheds. We had a cow, Meena and her two babies, Premi and Lakshmi in the cow shed. There were large open fields in the backyard that my father later planted wheat and rice on. I have been lucky in terms of having had a very rare kind of home schooling that exposed me to a large variety of native fruits, grains, simple and rustic lifestyle, regional birds and animals in large and small towns and cities during my father’s tenure in the Government. The priceless nuggets of information received first hand from people who had spent their lives in those regions, and who fed us with folk lores have kept my imagination alive even at forty!
It was in Barreilly when I was five that I first saw a bael fruit. It was large, almost round and hard as a stone, and that is why it is also called ‘pathhar bael’ or ‘stone apple’. The outer covering of the bael fruit is tough and woody. When I spoke to my mother this morning she said it wasn’t exactly ‘large’ unless a fully grown apple is considered large. I am not very sure about the size of the ‘large’ bael I had held as a child. Did the bael seem large then because I was five? The gardener told my mother about the many benefits of bael that was in abundant supply during Summer. It is ages since I had set my eyes on the fruit. Chance led me to search and we found many thanks to a kind friend. G says he did not know it was edible and it was one fruit no one ever plucked from the bilva tree in front of his Society. Compared to the North Indian variety the ones G found are smaller, more ovoid, and rounded at the bottom – in fact, a slightly larger version of a pear! When I spoke about the bael fruit to my friends at work, it surprised me that no one knew about this rather exotic looking fruit.
Bael, known as maredupandu in Telugu, vilvam in Tamil and as Patthar bael in some parts of North India, is a fruit of the ‘bilva’ tree. The bilva tree itself is very famous as every part of the tree offers medical solutions to common ailments. The roots and leaves of the bilva tree are used for treating skin infections, cuts and digestive problems. The fruit is considered an effective treatment for heat or sun strokes. In mythology bilva is often referred to as Lord Shiva’s favourite tree and the fruit as well as leaves are offered to the Lord with prayers. During Mahashivratri the markets are flooded with the leaves and fruits of bilva.
The hard covering of ripe bael fruits bear shades of pale green with yellow, brown or light orange hi-lights, and are speckled all over lightly in brown. If you saw along the center of the fruit to halve, the seeds form a pattern similar to that of an apple but the pulp is extremely fibrous and the seeds are tangled in them. The area around the seeds and the seeds themselves are gummy. I used a stone pestle to lightly bash the fruit along the center, turning it all around, and pulled the halves apart as evenly as fate would allow. The perfume that emanates from the fruit is the same as the flowers carry and it is both unique and subtle. The pulp inside can be easily scooped if ripe. It is best to use a spoon. The pulp can be separated from the seeds and eaten as such. The juice is not as sweet and is usually compensated with sugar. I prefer jaggery. There is a typical South Indian and North Indian version to the juice. Today I used the North Indian method. The amount of sweetener varies according to taste and I like just a hint. Add more if you think it is necessary after tasting.
Recipe: Bael (Pathhar bael) ka sherbet | Woodapple / Stoneapple Sherbet | An Indian Coolant | A Summer recipe
Yield – 2 glasses
Diet: Vegan | Paleo | Gluten and Dairy-free
Health benefits: A rustic cure for heat and sun strokes
Medium sized bael / woodapple – 2
Powdered jaggery – 2 tablespoons
Powdered black or pink salt – 1/8 teaspoon or to taste
Roasted and powdered cumin seeds / jeera – 1 teaspoon
Water – 1 to 2 glasses
Break open the fruit using a pestle or if you are adventurous, strike it against the floor or a platform till it splits open.
Using a spoon scoop the pulp and place in a large bowl. Pour a glass of water and using your palms gather and squish the pulp to separate the seeds and juice the pulp.
Press the juice through a soup siever to strain the fibres and seeds from the thick pulp. Scoop the pulp remaining in the sieve into a vessel and add more water. Repeat the squishing process and strain till all that remains is the fiber.
Add jaggery to the strained juice and season with salt and cumin powders as per taste. Run the juice in a mixer. Pour in tall glasses and serve.
More than taste, this recipe is about using the bael fruit for the health benefits it offers. This juice is not something you might find on a mocktail menu. Maybe if I owned a juice bar one fine you will find it listed. I am sure you must be familiar with bael or beel sherbet if you have roamed along the streets in Delhi on a hot Summer day. If you have seen it but never had it before, you must try it once.
Sugar instead of jaggery is considered the tastier option, but like I said, this is about health. Maybe you would like to have this on Mahashivaratri next time.
Like many stories that surround fruits in India, the bael fruit has one associated with it too. My mother informs me that elephants are said to have the unique capability of consuming the pulp and throwing out (expelling) the kaitha fruit as a whole! What do you think of that?!
[Soon after the post was published I received a lot of feedback. S, a friend, corrected me as bael is not the same as kavath in Marathi. She said the two were different fruits. Another friend in one of my fb groups suggested checking the names used. So I checked. And this is what I gathered (mostly from wiki). The English names are confusing as both varieties are known as wood apple as well.
The fruit I used (Bael) is described below, and is known in various languages thus:
Bengal quince, stone apple or wood apple, bilva or bilvapatre in Kannada, bael or sirphal in Hindi, beel in Punjabi, bael or kaveeth in Marathi, maredu in Telugu, vilvam in Tamil (while the plant is called koovilam)
“Bael [Aegle marmelos] is the only member of the monotypic genus Aegle.
It is a mid-sized, slender, aromatic, armed, gum-bearing tree. It has a leaf with three leaflets (trifoliate). This is why I am sure I used bael.
The bael fruit has a smooth, woody shell with a green, gray, or yellow peel. It can reach the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo, and some are even larger. The shell is so hard it must be cracked with a hammer or machete. The fibrous yellow pulp is very aromatic. It has been described as tasting of marmalade and smelling of roses. Numerous hairy seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage.” [Information courtesy – Wikipedia]
The other fruit is kaitha, kath bel or kabeet, in Hindi and is the Limonia acidissima.
It is known in English as wood-apple, elephant-apple, monkey fruit, and curd fruit, belada hannu in Kannada, vilam kai in Malayalam, kavath in Marathi, vilam pazham in Tamil and vellaga pandu in Telugu. The link lists other regional names as well.
The leaves are pinnate, with 5-7 leaves and these are bigger than the leaves of the bael tree.
The fruit is a berry 5–9 cm diameter, and may be sweet or sour. It has a very hard rind which can be difficult to crack open, and contains sticky brown pulp and small white seeds.
The gum produced by the bark of the kaitha tree is used for many purposes. The fruit is more gummy than bael. The fruit is similar to the bael fruit but has even harder cover (that can be carved and used as a vessel), and the pulp is brown in colour. The seeds are more gummy than the bael fruit. The raw fruit of kaitha is used to make chutney and raita. The ripe fruit can be used in the same ways as the bael fruit. The raw pulp is bitter, while the ripe fruit is sweet-sour.” [Information Courtesy – Wikipedia]
I have not altered the original post except for replacing ‘vilam pazham’ with ‘vilvam’. From what I understand the names do not make any difference to the recipe. The fruits – bael and kaitha – can be used in this recipe interchangeably.]