What makes an Indian summer better? Jamuns!
Jamuns (aka jambuls, jambun or java plums) are fruits that are exclusive to the subcontinent. And for once, I’m happy to say I’d have these over any of the berries (or rather the lack of them) I’ve been crying over. No, I don’t need raspberries,cranberries and blackberries, I’d much rather have jamuns.
Jamuns are fruits with a blackish-purple skin. They can be white inside with a purple seed or deep purple all together. Come to think of it, they look like large black olives. When they’ve just begun entering the market they’re usually quite tart, but as they mature, they still have the characteristic zing but are much sweeter. They’ve got an astringent after taste that will keep reminding you of the flavour and you will end up eating a lot more of these than you intended!
Jamuns start making their appearance during early April and are found through June on every other busy street with women selling them by the kilo. There are a few jamun trees in my apartment complex as well, but I’d need a huge bamboo stick and a taller person to help me get those down! Each time I see the fruits on the tree I’m reminded of the summers of my childhood. All the girls in the neighbourhood would come out with their bicycles and run amuck though the sunny days. We’d pluck jasmine flowers to make tiny garlands, we’d make tents with bedsheets between two trees, we’d play with the turtles that resided in the fountain (well, here I’d just be watching) and we’d run around with vessels picking up jamuns that some of the older boys would pluck with bamboo sticks. Jamun picking was my favourite part. After collecting as much as I could, I’d run back home to show mum my new found treasure. Mum would then rinse them in running water, drain them and then put them in a saucepan with a little rock salt and shake it up together with the lid on. This way, they become nice and mushy, with the salt beautifully rounding off the tartness. No sooner were they laid out in a plate than I’d be on a marathons of sorts – eating up as much as I could, and in the process not just staining my fingers and tongue a shade of deep purple, but also my clothes (much to my mum’s chagrin).
Even today, that is exactly how I enjoy my jamuns – pounded until tender with a pinch of salt. Jamuns are used to make preserves, sauces, tarts and jams as well. I haven’t tried cooking the fruit but I’m curious to know how it would taste. Maybe I will give it a shot sometime. They can also be made into sherbets, sorbets, syrups or pulpy drinks. I recently discovered that the jamun fruits are even fermented into wine in some parts of India!
I’m sure most of you would have never heard of this fruit, but when you’re travelling to the subcontinent during the summer, keep your eyes peeled for these.