|Nolen soufflé (right) and abar khabo (left ) at
Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick.
Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
A layer of finely ground kheer, a yummy mound of kanchagolla topped with a creamy layer of rich gur — if the Western Disturbance and the snowfall in north India did any good, it was to ensure that the nolen soufflé melts in your mouth even after mid-March.
“This is a rare year. Till last week, we had gathered date-palm sap and prepared nolen gur for mishti producers in Calcutta,” says Saijd Topadar of Purbasthali in Burdwan, one of the main nolen gur suppliers from the districts to Calcutta.
“The seulis (those who tap the tree trunk for the sap) were climbing trees till last Friday while last year, they had stopped by mid-February.”
The jaggery that goes into the making of the finest gurer mishtis flows from mid-December when the date palm trees produce the best quality sap.
By mid-February, as the Celsius starts rising, the sweet trickle from the tree trunk dries up and nolen gur gradually bows out of the markets.
This year, gur producers say, the seulis could gather sap worthy of producing quality jaggery well into March because the evening and night temperature stayed below normal. The overnight sap collection has stopped this week but what was collected till last week can be used for another fortnight, which would mean availability of quality nolen gur mishti till April.
“The quality of the sap will now deteriorate and the gur from it cannot be used to produce good sweets. But the gur we have can be used for another fortnight,” says a dealer from Majdia in Nadia.
Juice collected from 100 trees usually yields 50kg of quality nolen gur, which is prepared over hours of slow boiling over diffused wooden heat.
“Quality nolen should have the golden yellow look of mustard,” explains Sajid.
Calcutta’s sweet makers admit they had never had it so good in recent times.
The flow of nolen gur till Holi has only made it better for an industry that is always on the lookout for a way to make nolen gur available round the year.
Synthetic varieties of nolen gur are available throughout but these lack the rich aroma of the natural.
“You can’t afford to play around with the taste of your customers,” says Prasanta Nandy of Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy, the signature sweet shop of north Calcutta.
“We will do away with gurer monohora that has a layer of molten nolen on the top and the jolbhora once we realise the nolen is over for this year.”
“Items like nolen gur rabri malai or even the sweet curd made of nolen gur wouldn’t be usually available at February-end. This year though, we are producing them till now,” said Amitava Dey of Felu Modak, the centuries-old sweet shop in Rishra that has been churning out traditional mishtis for generations.
“Another week and all this would be gone.”
Rise in temperature robs the sap of its sweetness and the gur, which need expert hands to prepare, looses its taste and colour. The late liquid from the date palm is usually used for preparing paatali by vigorously boiling it for hours before it is moulded into hard cakes with a strong caramel flavour.
“The hardened paatali has a longer shelf life but it can never replace nolen gur,” said Sudip Mullick of Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick.
“Sweets like gurer kanchagolla and monohora are still there because nolen is available.”