Milkmaid – the condensed milk, blends with Coconut and we have the delight called coconut laddoos. Find out more in this story by Shalini who is back with yet another story of Coconut the marvelous nut.
Mum knew how much we preferred homemade coconut laddoos over the strange, fibrous deathly-sweet mass sold as coconut barfi.On special occasions she’d try to take out time from her super-busy schedule to prepare them, stirring milk and grated coconut on low heat over a long period of time, cooling the mix just enough once it was done, and then shaping small roundels of goodness from this mix. The care and time that went into this process resulting in low shelf life goodies – refrigerators were still not cheap enough to be widely accessible – meant that these laddoos were a rare treat.
By the early 1980’s Milkmaid – no one referred to it as condensed milk – had started popping up in neighborhood shops; the advertisement campaigns were intense by the gentle standards of those times. Mum being the forever progressive – she was the first one in her community to get a gas stove, a single burner which a lot of late entrants had never even seen, and the more recent generations will never know about – decided to experiment with it. The tins came with recipes printed on them. Coconut laddoos were the first to be tested out.
After some adjustment to the recipe – the severe sweetness of condensed milk had to be cut with machinations of all sorts – the result was acceptable for me but two monkeys with a blissful dazed look were found jumping from one laddoo to another in unanticipated joy! It was as if A and N had discovered an immediately addictive drug, one bite and they were done for life. Gosh what a racket, couldn’t for the life of me understand all the fuss! It is not that I disliked them, they were passable, instead definitely not something that would trigger involuntary jumps of joy. Mum was relieved, she could fix these easily, more regularly as there was hardly any stirring required, and in small batches too. These Milkmaid laddoos became a regular feature at home for the ease with which nutrition could be supplied to the monkeys and me.
As an adult, I have never tried to ingest condensed milk except as a few dropsin the Vietnamese cold coffee. Mum was a little disappointed in me as my lack of enthusiasm for Milkmaid laddoos nosedived with time. But the monkey-like enthusiasm firmly retained in some other close quarters kept her afloat. Anyway, as far as food is concerned I wore the trouble-maker crown at home, and she was resigned to that. The only saving grace was that I ate little and had to be never coaxed to stop from over-stuffing myself, unlike some others.
Apart from the coconut jaggery laddoos that continue to be my top pick, I have come to enjoy the savory fresh grated coconut delicacies including all sorts of poriyal and the cool cucumber salad. The latter appears regularly on our dining table. That grated coconut has a special place in my freezer, would make mum very happy.
Back to the condensed milk laddoos. A was barely seventeen when he started to train for the Indian Army and from a monkey turned into a humming bird requiring humongous amount of food every day for his lithe structure – no he wasn’t suffering from tummy worms. Stories of 16 eggs, 2 large bread loaves with seriously large servings of butter and jam, several glasses of milk, and more just for breakfast, seemed like fantastic mammoth castles in the air. When A was home for holidays we would listen to these, cloaked in rapt attention, overtly at least. We were told that the training was extremely tough, and though he had gained height he had turned into total skin and bones. Without anyone mentioning it, we knew we had to indulge him, listening to his gargantuan food stories. The truth was revealed sooner than we expected.
As was common, cadets who for some reason were traveling between home and the training institution while the course was on would carry food stuff for fellow cadets as souvenirs from home. A had also received such packets whenever the stars positioned themselves correctly to allow for such an opportunity. However, he had a strong suspicion, nay belief, that large portions were pinched on the way – this was an understandably regular occurrence when any food was discovered by a conglomeration of whales, elephants, and humming birds! Interestingly, fate has a strange way of working in circles, A was the number 1 pincher of coconut laddoos at home.
A’s school mate B, who was a year senior to him and our neighbor, was accosted by mum once when he was home mid-term and was given strict instructions about how to deliver the big box of Milkmaid coconut laddoos. B’s prize was a separate box of laddoos exclusively for him. This time the box for A was particularly large as mum wanted to ensure that A could comfortably share laddoos with fellow cadets (you guessed it right, with whales, elephants and humming birds!) without feeling undernourished. The two boxes were packed, handed over to B, and prayers were offered for their safe journey till destination A.
Then the fervent wait began for the confirmation of receipt. The mailbox was checked twice a day, the postman was waylaid frequently, and neighbors were asked to keep all three eyes open for that letter from Pune. No sign of it in the first week, none at all even after day 10 and day 12. Mum was crest fallen – it couldn’t have been B, he had his own box, the whales must have purloined it before it reached A. But why hadn’t he sent a letter of complain about the poor handling of goods meant for him? She stopped waiting for that confirmation receipt.
Day 16. The Pune letter arrives. It is addressed to me, mum has been waiting for me to get home and reveal the contents. I am not allowed to relax even for two minutes, honestly even I am eager to get this out of my way. The mystery of vanishing laddoos. I carefully tear open the Inland letter and read it aloud.Mum is relieved at hearing that the box reached A on day 3 withpossibly all goods intact, even if some were missing they were a very small quantity that, A wrote, he was willing to ignore. He mentioned that he was lucky to get the box at a time when he was in his room alone without any other cadets in close sight. He locked the door from inside and swore not to miss a single bite of this goodness.
As he sat on his bed enjoying the fruits of mum’s labour he heard a buzzing, like that from a faraway colony of honey bees on steroids, or was it the humming of a certain type of bird? As he wondered, something became crystal clear to him. He wolfed down all the laddoos at great speed before being swarmed by the animals, through loud and persistent knocks on his door, threats and flattery, promises of reciprocation; he knew it was just a matter of minutes. As the deluge stampeded in, only 2 laddoos and an over-stuffed turkey like living being remained. The latter can’t move as his stomach needed all the energy to digest the huge entry. The 2 laddoos are devoured in less than 2 seconds, the immovable item is threatened with dire consequences by the cheated, and left alone to squirm in the satisfaction of preventing the raid of what was rightfully his. Incredulity is written large on mum’s face, her eyelids fixed at a larger distance than normal. I can’t resist laughing at this almost cruel turn of events.
Within 4 hours of this extreme event, A started his toilet visits, at some point in time he decided to sleep on the pot, he had no energy to make the trips from the room to the disposal grounds. He had to call in sick the next day, his stomach had reacted violently to the previous day’s festivity. A was weak and barely able to move around for another few days. All his free time was then spent in sleeping and eating light food to regain energy. 3 days ago was the first day when he felt strong enough to pen this account for us. He is thanking mum profusely for the Milkmaid coconut laddoo treat – his words “no pain no gain”!!! So there was some truth in those fantastic tales but maybe not the full truth.
Mum was worried now. She immediately started writing to A about medicines and protocols to follow. She silently made up her mind to only send small packets of these laddoos. Or only serve them when he is home and doesn’t have to eat like a humming bird.
Also read: The Marvelous Nut – Coconut
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Shalini learnt to enjoy cooking at a mature age by which time she had gained many other experiences particularly through her work in agriculture and rural development. Her writing is an attempt to mix lessons from her cooking experiments with those from life in general.