The month of January is special for us Indians. It’s that time of the year, when most of country celebrates the harvest festival, in the form of Poush Sankranti (Bengal), Lohri (Punjab and North India), Pongal in South, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Bihu in Assam, and Makar Sankrant in Maharashtra. For Bengalis, Poush Sankranti is synonymous with feasting on a special type of homemade Bengali sweets known as Pithe and Puli.
I grew up surrounded by my mother’s large joint family in Shillong. Poush Sankranti was a special event for the family and preparations would begin well in advance. My cousins and I would start gathering dry twigs, leaves and hay to build a hut that was called Mera-Meri’r ghor (the ram and ewe’s home). This hut would be built in the front yard of the house and children in the neighbourhood wood compete on making theirs the tallest.
While we would be busy building the hut, my mother and her sisters would each be assigned the task (by my grandmother) to make one type of Pithe each. More often than not, my mum would pick Alur Pithe (Khoya stuffed Potato dumplings in sugar syrup) and my youngest aunt would pick Chanar Pithe (Jaggery and coconut stuffed Bengal gram sweet dumplings), which grew to be my favourites.
At the crack of dawn on the wintery Poush Sankranti day, the entire family would huddle around the hut and set it to fire, with excited children squealing, “Mera Meri’r ghore jole re hoi!” (The ram and ewe’s hut goes up in flames, ahoy!) After that the family would move to the kitchen where an elaborate meal of Pithe would be waiting for them.
My Master Chefs and their Magical Pithe
Over the years, as we grew up and shifted base from Shillong to Mumbai, the tradition of burning the ram’s hut got left behind. But gladly, the tradition of Pithe making stayed.
I bring to you, two Pithe recipes that have been handed down in our family for generations and possibly in many other families from East Bengal, present day Bangladesh. While, Patishapta and Gokul Pithe are among the more popular delicacies eaten at this time of the year, I believe that these two varieties of Pithe give the Patishapta a run for its money. I also present to you the two Master Chefs in my family, whose mouth-watering recipes are to die for.
Alur Pithe (Khoya stuffed Potato dumplings in sugar syrup) by my mother Dolly Ray.
Chanar Pithe (Jaggery and coconut stuffed Bengal gram sweet dumplings) by my aunt Sunanda Dey.