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June 2005

Organic Initiatives

At Terra Madre sponsored by Slow Food International, held at Turin last October, a large contingent of participants were from India .

The idea of Terra Madre is to link people who are in the 'food chain', so to speak - the producer to the vendor, the vendor to the consumer - in such an interconnected way as to realise the equality and dignity of all within the larger context of protecting health, the environment and maintenance of biodiversity.

While all such events are, to an extent, stage managed, at least some of the participants came directly from rural food communities and could reevaluate their work within a global context.

It has become increasingly evident that alternatives to the mass food production system exist, and it is an alternative many might want to pursue. Initiatives made in this direction are small but significant ones.

Vachan Shah and Srinivas Kulkarni both worked for multinationals for several years, when they met, employed as they were in distribution of products in the rural sector. They had seen and realised the effect of pesticides directly, and slowly began to make a network of about 150 farmers who used neither fertilisers nor pesticides, with a view to encourage them and to promote healthier ways of eating and living.

"Several other cities have exclusive outlets for organic food, in Delhi, in Bangalore, Hyderabad and in Chennai. We felt that such an initiative could be made in Pune.", says Vachan. Three years ago they started a shop for organic produce in Pune called 'Organic and Naturals'.

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Srinivas says "Many small farmers are organic by default, meaning they cannot afford fertilisers or pesticides, especially in areas like Nandurbar in Dhule district and the tribal areas in Bhor."

This could turn into a blessing if they can benefit by continuing to keep to traditional methods and farming practices, in the realisation that small yield does not necessarily mean lower income. However the government must help in some ways.

"The government in Karnataka has done a great deal to encourage the growth of organic produce.", says Vachan.They have done a lot to promote the concepts and thinking behind organic food among the populace. As a result, the number of consumers have grown, and they are willing to pay a bit more for such produce. "

In Maharashtra, the government has been involved mostly at the producer level. An equal effort to promote by advertising amongst consumers would do much to increase volumes and then the cost of such an enterprise would become viable.

The organic movement in India has also been side tracked considerably by the concentration on export and therefore on international certification. As P.Satheesh director of the Deccan Development Society and a grassroots worker on food security and organic agriculture says "It's a sobering thought that the farmers producing the best and cleanest food must pay extra to certify, instead of inorganic foods being certified as potentially bad for our health ".

If the focus were shifted to domestic consumers it would add power to the elbow of organic farmers. Consumers here would be content with APEDA's Indian National Organic Standards certification, as they would know the produce would be less contaminated than what is currently available to them. In the initial stages of this movement in India it would serve to revalidate traditional farming practices, especially among the small farmers, where natural ways of controlling pests and enriching soil through crop rotation have been the norm.

Many people who wish to invest in organic food outlets think the supply chain mechanism and storage facilities are the two big critical issues for the organic foods segment to grow.

For Vachan and Srinivas this is not the main problem as they have farmers in the vicinity who supply them with vegetables and fruit as well as grain. They also have contacts with producers further afield in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and of course Maharashtra.

These include Om Prakash Mor Eco Farms in Yavatmal who grows several different types of lentils, cereals, oilseeds and fruits.

Organics and Naturals also stock Black jaggeryand honey, spices, Jawar and Bajra, Nachani and Soybean flour. They sell a wide range of indigenous rice varieties such as Ambemohar, Hatsadi, and Indrayani.They have coconut jam !, a fine rock salt, tofu, seasonal fruits and fresh vegetables.

I came away from O&N with a bagful of interesting food stuffs which friends and family have enjoyed, with hope, and with the realisation that every effort counts in the marathon that is ethical development.

Organics and Naturals, 1 Kamaljia Apartments, 1306 Shivajinagar, Bank of Baroda Lane, J.M. Road, Pune 411005
Tel: 20-2553 6835, Open 10 a.m-2 p.m & 4 p.m-8 p.m, Closed on Sundays, email: organicnnaturals@rediffmail.com and vachanshah@vsnl.net

Click here for a list of organic outlets in India.


Luscious Lychee Tart

 

The lychee season lasts for precisely six weeks here, when boxes of fresh fruit are brought in from the orchards near Sanjaan or Udwadia on the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat or from further afield, places in Uttaranchal and from the foothills of the Himalayas where they grow more profusely.

When the latest IMBB theme was posted for Sugar High Friday #9  (hosted by Life in Flow) as "Tantalising Titillating Tempting Tarts!" it was not difficult to decide what the key ingredient was going to be, as bunches of lychees were a constant reminder, dangling as they are from the carts of fruit sellers. In the heat they are fragile and ripen in a day when left out, their skins turning from a deep rose pink with flecks of yellow to a dirty dark brown within hours.

The question was what to combine with the fruit, as the flavour is so delicate and easily overpowered. It had to have a spice, but nothing as strong as cloves, ginger or cinnamon would do. Toying with the idea of saffron, N and I sniffed the saffron threads and decided it would be too strong as well, though the colour would be nice. Finally hit upon it...cardamom!

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While tarts and pastry are not 'Indian' food most people here love baked goods and bakeries , especially the Irani ones in Pune, which do a roaring business every day.

Shrewsbury biscuits from Kayani are famous throughout this part of the country, butterflies (otherwise known as pig's ears ) and jam tarts from City Bakery , Ragi bread, five grain bread , brown bread and cashew biscuits from Persian Bakery, plum cake and sweet buns from Royal Bakery and many more. Enough.This requires a blog of its own!

Most Indians love sweets and each region has it's own special varieties. One thing remains common...the use of milk solids in all of them. Barfi, milk cake... you name it, its got something lactose about it.

That's why this recipe has a particularly Indian feel to it, sweeter than most cheesecakes with a pate sucree base and elaichi (cardamom) which is  often used in Indian sweetmeats.

So here is the recipe: For a nine inch tart.

Peel 1 kg of lychees, take out the seeds, and marinate the fruit in 4 tablespoons of brandy.

Make a Pate Sucree base of:

  • 250 gms flour
  • 125 gms caster sugar
  • 150 gms butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • A pinch of salt.

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the caster sugar, the butter cut into tiny pieces and the egg yolks. Flick flour from side to side over the well containing egg and sugar. Incorporate the butter into the flour with finger tips and gather the whole together to form a ball as quickly as possible without handling dough too long. Refrigerate covered for an hour while preparing the filling.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180 C for 7 minutes  till lightly brown. Remove and cool.

Filling:

  • 450 gms cottage cheese
  • 8 brandied lychees
  • (1/2 cup water)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200 gms fresh cream
  • 3 small cardamoms peeled and ground into a fine powder.
  • A stir of vanilla bean or a 1/4 tsp of vanilla essence

Blend the cottage cheese into a smooth paste. Add water as required to do this especially if it is shop bought Indian paneer ( a heavier hard cottage cheese) . If the cottage cheese is homemade you do not need to add much water. If you are using tinned lychees substitute the syrup for the water and cut out the caster sugar.  Now add the lychees and blend till incorporated into the paste.

Add the sugar and egg yolks and whip again till smooth. Stir in the cream and ground cardamom. Give the batter a quick a stir with a vanilla bean pod (or add a drop of vanilla essence). Pour into the prepared tart base.

Bake in preheated oven at 150 C for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then refrigerate for a couple of hours or more. Place the brandied lychees on top of the tart along with any juices.

The tart turned out very well though I cheated and baked the first one very fast on a high heat setting, base and all for 25 minutes . The decision to bake it quickly was partly because we had limited illumination (candles) due to  interminable local power cuts,  and the kitchen must have been a good 40C. It was like being in a medieval sauna and cooking by candlelight is quite different from the romance of eating by candlelight.

Its a risky thing to do as the filling might have split and I would not suggest repeating that.

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But the cardamom was a good choice...hope you like the result as much as we did.


SBDP at the Ram Krishna

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Where in the world can you get a full plate of Sev Batata Dahi Puri with all the trimmings, a beautifully served Dahi Khichadi, valet parking, attentive waiters, a clean large restaurant with plenty of elbow room and enough time to chat without a bill being presented every minute, all for the equivalent of 1 Euro for two.

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Nowhere but at the Ram Krishna, opposite the West End on Moledina Road, Pune.

Once a family mansion with high ceilings it is now decorated in a wonderfully entertaining style.Something from Renaissance Hindu i.e. Ravi Verma's Radha and Krishna, painted on wood with the lustre of Rembrandt, to wrought iron grills out of Florence, etched glass windows a la Vienne, and murals of scenes in the style of Botticelli's Birth of Venus all set in the RK corral.

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Despite the con-fusion of art influences in the decor, the food is generically Indian, albeit from different regions. Plenty of choice and all vegetarian.

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The dahi khichadi was very tasty with a touch of kari patta, a couple of curd chillies and a dollop of ghee. As for my SBDP...suffice it to say I have never ordered anything else here. Just love it.