It was just about a year ago when a few of us happened to have a chat with the nungu sellers who set up shop under the plush tree lined roads at Ambarampalayam. The start of summer is when the tree climbers are hard at work picking ripened fruit off the female palmyra tree. This then provides short term employment for the rural folk who arrange temporary make shift shelters under which they operate from for the entire duration of summer.
We don’t really be told about the health benefits of eating fresh seasonal produce ! Nevertheless the palmyra fruit is loaded with health benefits and is highly beneficial in replacing minerals and salts,keeping the body hydrated during the scorching summer months. A glass of the pathaneer, though an accquired taste, keeps hunger at bay and is a nourisher. In fact, that’s how these sellers are able to peddle their wares without being affected by sunstroke!
As kids, I can’t remember any of us complaining about the heat.But,to come home after a hot day at school to a bowl full of cool juicy nungu was quite heavenly. To this day I prefer the more tender fruit rather than the mature ones that have a hard centre.It’s fun to scoop up the slippery flesh while ensuring that it lands directly into the mouth and not on the floor!It never failed to refresh along with satisfying our hunger pangs.
Due to large scale felling of the palmyra trees the nungu sellers had dwindled greatly over the years. Thanks to the increase in awareness of natural sugars like palm sugar candy and karupatti ,(caramelised palm sugar blocks) folk who are dependent on the palmyra tree for their livelihood have reason to hope.
Along with selling this gelatinous fruit ,the nungu vendor will always have a large vessel strapped to his two-wheeler. A gunny bag containing long strips of palmyra leaf fronds poking up skywards is also hard to miss. The vessel contains the un-fermented nectar otherwise known as pathaneer that is derived from the male palmyra tree. It has a very short shelf life and must be tapped fresh daily. While a small portion of it is consumed as a summer drink, the rest of it is boiled down over an open fire for a few hours to make the palm sugar. Like the fruit,this too has a cooling effect on the body. The palm fronds are deftly folded in a trice to resemble a canoe making it the perfect bio degradable container to slurp up this natural drink.
We chanced upon a couple of men who had found refuge under some shady foliage and were deftly going about their nungu slicing. Vellingiri has been selling this ice apple (as it is known in English) in Coimbatore for the past 2 years,from his usual spot ,opposite Valankulam. His customers have 2 choices.They can either have the fruit on it’s own or sliced and added to the pathaneer. A few minutes later a school girl and her mother stopped by for a nungu-take-away. Seeing that I was chatting with Vellingiri about not using plastic bags, they whipped out a cloth bag and were happy to wrap their buys in leaf parcels ! If only all customers were as accommodating.
Another huge haul of the ice fruit was spotted opposite the INS Agrani quarters. Samudhram ,the vendor has been in this trade for the past 15 years. Apparently he has always operated only from the same location and sources his fruit from farms in Pollachi.According to him it’s the best food to combat the summer heat.
Keeping in mind a nungu drink recipe that I had saved for a hot summer’s day, several extra pieces went into my basket,much to the seller’s delight. With plans firmly afoot to indulge in a cold nungu payasam ,the nungu binge seems good to go!