Winter really occurs in the North of India, and in hill stations, where the temperature sometimes dips below 0 .Usually winter here is the best time of year, like a toasty Mediterranean summer. At least 28 degrees centigrade in the day, outdoors.Temperatures drop at night,when most people are tucked in bed and nobody really notices.
But we have our cooler days here in Pune too.Enough to warrant a change of wardrobe. Out come the shawls and cardigans. In fact, with the cold wave in the North a couple of days ago ,we reached a low of 3 degrees centigrade .
Now unless you are partying and moving around on a two wheeler. you do not need more protection from the cold than a sweatshirt.
But when it gets to the zeroes the 'Terrorist Look', sported by many pretty young things, ostensibly to hide their faces from the harsh environment, but really to protect themselves on a date, from family spies and prying eyes, is not enough to protect you against the cold.
You need a windcheater, an anorak or a wool sweater, with, perhaps, a balaclava, the last 'de rigeur' amongst old gentlemen, from Deccan Gymkhana, out on their early morning walks.
We look forward to our change of season too, a season which is pleasant, rather than a misery of cold, grey and damp. In fact it is the wedding season now. Luckily, auspicious and cool days seem to coincide.
No wedding feast ends without gajar halwa , preferably with a dollop of icecream on the side and a sliver of beaten silver on top.
Some years ago vegetables like carrots,cauliflower and beans were 'winter vegetables ' available only during the cold season and something to look forward to. Now , because of genetic modification we see them all year round.
But carrots, GM or not, are something that really flood the market now. They are a real treat. Different from 'English' carrots with their orange colour and rounded shape, these carrots are very long,quite thin, very red, sweet, juicy and perfect for making 'gajar ka halwa'.
Last year for the first time I did not make the mounds of halwa I used to. There was a rumour going around the market that the carrots stocked by some of the vendors were artificially coloured. Thinking this a funny way of dealing with the competition, I did not make much of it ,but thought twice about making that halwa.
Now the rumour is confirmed! The Food and Drug Administration, doing the rounds of Gultekdi, the local wholesale market, said there were Jodhpuri carrots which were being artificially coloured in Bombay. Jodhpuri carrots are large in size but are not always red. They are usually pretty inexpensive in winter , now going for around Rs 7 a kg. The coloured ones were being priced at Rs 14, double, because they look far more attractive.What is more, the colours used were probably not edible, as food colouring is much too expensive for such use.!!
Darn it . Am I going to have to use English carrots to make gajar halwa...No and no again.
I shall buy the carrots at the door from the trustworthy baskets of the two bai's (women) who take them around every morning. Mother and daughter, they haul them up and down stairs, and the sheer physical effort involved makes the vegetables cost twice as much as at Shivaji market. So one pays the price and gets those old carrots, sweet and long and tasty and uncoloured.
Try this for a winter treat:
Gajar Halwa / Carrot and Milk Dessert
2 litres milk
1 kg carrots, grated
2 heaped tablespoons sugar
5 green cardomoms
Bring milk to the boil, add the grated carrot and bring to the boil again.Add cardomoms. Reduce heat and cook on a slow fire till half the milk has boiled down. Add sugar and continue to simmer till the carrots are slightly red in colour and very little of the milk remains.Remove the whole cardomom.
(You can also fry the halwa in 2 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter) which makes it more authentic but terribly rich.Sprinkle some slivered pistachio on top and serve.)
This is the taste of winter in most of India.Except where it is summer in December.