Have you heard Superstar Rajnikanth uttering the word ‘Jujube’… Do have a faint memory of eating a Ber phal, Bore hannu or Jujube in your childhood… Passing through a roadside vegetable market, have you seen someone selling this fruit these days… Does the sight of this dull brown or red fruit bring a rush of saliva in your mouth… do you get a sudden urge to stop your vehicle and buy a handful of this tangy fruit…
Oh! Really, then you have a classic case of ‘Rustic Retro’ symptom. This is a rash like itching symptom of a dreaded disease called ‘Nostalgiphilia’ that afflicts mainly those urbanites who are above 21 years, artistically inclined and who have a lot of free time to feel nostalgic. Too many films, poems, paintings have been melancholyed on this disease. Once someone gets Nostalgiphilia, there is no cure. The disease can only be controlled with a daily dose of harsh reality, but otherwise it is a bleak scenario of the rest of the family members who have to endure the pain. More about Nostalgiphilia can be found in a separate link.
Coming back to Ber or Bore or Jujube (why do I have to repeat the fruit’s name in Hindi, Kannada and Tamil? It is an attempt to induce Nostalgiphilia in the readers. If you do not feel nostalgic when you hear the name, then you are immune to the disease and you can read further. Others please stop right now and take your daily dose of harsh reality!
Wondering why I am digressing from the main topic… that is yet another symptom! Meanwhile, the fruit named Ber or Bore or Jujube is mainly found in rural towns and semi-urban cities. Rarely you may come across an old man selling this fruit in a market on the outskirts of a metro. Go ahead and make an effort to taste this dull unglamorous fruit which has a slimy pulp and a hard seed. The seed is so hard that you can use it as a catapult bullet and crack somebody’s skull. (Now, do not ask what a catapult is? I will have to digress again and let loose another downpour of nostalgia!)
Image – Zehawk
The pulp is so tangy that if you have tooth decay or weak gums, your bones will rattle and your spine will chill. You feel I am exaggerating; great, then go ahead and taste it yourself. But once your body stops rattling and you swallow all the saliva, you start savouring the fruit. It does have a strange taste and some of us might acquire a liking for it. Again your liking has a direct connection to the symptoms described earlier.
In the countryside, you will find short shrubby Ber trees on the roadside. The fruit ripens in winter and after December, you will find a carpet of fruits strewn around the tree. While picking them up, be careful not to pick a too ripe or rotten one. (Remember bone rattling!) If you are the adventurous kind, you can climb the Ber tree which is normally 10-30ft tall. But beware of the thorns. Smarter way is to stretch a wide cloth and shake the tree!
Ber leaves are alternately placed and are oval shaped. Branches are quite thin and the tree bark is really hard. The fruits begin to ripen at different times even on a single tree starting from early November till late February. The fruit’s skin is smooth, dull glossy, thin but tough. The fully mature fruit will be brownish red, soft, juicy with wrinkled skin and has a strong aroma. (Intoxicating is the right word)
The tree is mainly found in semi-arid regions of Deccan Plateau; which means all across the heart of India leaving aside the Himalayas, the Thar desert and the coastal regions. Naturally grown roadside Ber tree might bear (check the pun!) 5,000-10,000 fruits in a season. Superior grafted trees which are commercially cultivated may yield as many as 30,000 fruits.
The fruit is eaten raw or pickled or used in beverages. It is quite nutritious and rich in vitamin C. In India, the ripe fruits are mostly consumed raw, but are sometimes stewed. Slightly ripe fruits are pickled by a process of pricking and immersing them in a salt solution. Ripe fruits are preserved by sun-drying and a powder is prepared for off-season purposes. The dried ripe fruit is a mild laxative. The seeds are.
With all these great qualities, why is the Ber fruit so neglected… Nostalgiphilia victims will immediately react, “see the ill-effects of globalisation!” However, it is because of its low shelf life and strong aroma, which discourages storage, refrigeration and transport. So while you can enjoy an apple from the Washington state in the US, you cannot sell these fruits to them. The whole container will stink and the US authorities will come down heavily penalising you for selling arrack!
— Fact-file —
Name: Ber phal in Hindi, Bore hannu in Kannada or Jujube in Tamil
Scientific name: Ziziphus mauritiana
Native: Central India
Nutritional value: 20-30% sugar, 2.5% protein, 12.8% carbohydrates
Medicinal value: Fruit – mild laxative; rich in Vitamin C | Seed – powdered and consumed to stop nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains in pregnancy
Photo location: Brahmapuri near Nagpur