The Devanahalli Pomelo-An UnForbidden Fruit

The fruit `mandi’ or market near Fun World on Jayamahal Palace Road is where one usually scrambles around for prized mangoes in the late summer. Vendors set up tents and literally squat here all through the season.But it continues to show off some seasonal flavour or the other through the year, albeit on a smaller scale. Some time ago I stopped to haggle and suddenly spotted a large, round, green fruit hidden among the tiered pagodas of local oranges. It seemed familiar. Memories of summer garden salads from my childhood resurfaced as I slowly rolled the `pummelo’ or chakotta (chakotra) as we called it into view. The vendor said they had got one by chance. Cultivation was now relatively low. Not many people in Bengaluru ate it or even knew of it these days.  I carried it home with the same nostalgic affection accorded to a rediscovered long lost friend.

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Growing in our backyards.Pic credit: Aliyeh Rizvi

Around the time it was making an appearance at the Café des Beaux Arts, New York in the `Forbidden Fruit” (a famous citrus-brandy liqueur based cocktail in the early 1900’s) this significant member of the citrus family, the Citrus grandis (also called Batabi lebu and jamburi elsewhere) occupied prime position in Bengaluru gardens. Old Bengalureans will remember growing Pummelo trees in their backyards and I remember eating it just like we did the gooseberry and star fruit; with a sprinkling of chilli powder, pepper and salt. Sometimes, it was even ground into a chutney or the rind was candied in sugar.

Slicing open the thick, leathery smooth skin was always quite a ceremony. Almost a coming of age ritual.You had to be old enough (and strong enough) to handle the knife, because getting through was tough. Hidden inside were pink, white or red segments arranged in a beautiful flower shape. We were taught how to pick the pith out of each and shred the chakotra carefully into a bowl. We treated it with grave respect. The weighty medicinal fruit (rich in Vitamin C and other good stuff) was also the botanical progenitor of several other citrus varieties like the much exotified grapefruit, sour and local oranges.

We sometimes take what we have known long or well, for granted. Like so many other things we seem to have lost now, the `pummelo’ and several other fruits were closely connected to my memories of growing up in Bengaluru.  So I decided to get reacquainted with this childhood companion. Turns out, no one knew much about it either! And the little that I discovered was quite a complicated story! The Citrus grandis or Citrus maxima arrived mysteriously on the world scene somewhere in the 1700’s from Barbados in the West Indies where it had been cultivated for some time. Local stories say the seeds were brought to the islands by a certain Captain Shaddock from the East Indies. But with no shipping records pointing to his existence, this theory was debunked by historians. The closest they came to it was Thomas Chaddocke, Governer of the Bermudas (1637-1641 AD) or a Captain Philp Chaddock who is believed to have traded in the West Indies some eight years later. The West Indians in turn tried to plant orchards of `pummelo’ or `Shaddock’ (as it was called) from seedlings, only to end up creating a hybrid called the grapefruit in the process. The Grapefruit continues to be mistaken for its parent species, the`pummelo’ even today.

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Sliced, shredded, ready to eat.Pi Credit: Aliyeh Rizvi

I’d always known it as the Devanahalli Pummelo because the `pummelo’s’ of my childhood were grown in 13 villages around historic Devanahalli. It was once the domain of the 15th century chieftain, Malla Baire Gowda and birthplace of the Mysorean ruler, Tipu Sultan but is now the location of our Kempegowda International Airport (KIAL).  Large scale development around the airport resulted in escalating land prices, the selling of agricultural land and a change in climatic conditions in the area.The famous Devanahalli Pummelo (GI) orchards have now disappeared. Experts say the soil conditions and rainfall around the airport were perfect for growing the fruit, and therefore, it does not seem to thrive in large numbers elsewhere.

The fruit also disappeared from old Bengaluru the years, along with our bungalows and their extensive gardens. Efforts are being made to revive it in cultivation centres around the city, and I fervently pray that they succeed. The `chakotra’ was very much a part of the unique flavour of my city.I sliced it open and shredded it when I got home.I was suddenly twelve years old all over again.Somethings can take you back in time, effortlessly.

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This story was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror on March 14th 2016.

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5 comments

  1. Dr John A Thomas · · Reply

    A very nice write up on a fruit that has been almost lost to Bangalore. The slice of history adds to the flavour that vies with the bread-fruit.

    1. I agree 🙂 we have lost so many local flavours in just two decades.

  2. You can still get it near Devanahalli Fort area. I have seen cart vendors selling pomelos there.

    1. That’s great to hear! Its not extinct, just sold less and not grown the way it once was.Will keep a lookout for it when next in the area.

  3. Nostalgic. Till I read this, I din’t realize this was grown extensively around the Devanahalli area. No wonder (like Arun has mentioned), we always pick it up near the Devanahalli fort area when we are returning from either the airport or Nandi hills 🙂

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