The practice of tenants and workmen presenting onakazhcha (offering for Onam) to their landlords continued in our place till the 1950s. The offerings by the lower castes were, invariably, bananas of the type known as nendrakka or ethakka (see photo). One cannot of course think of Onam, then and now, without these bananas. The return gifts for those who bring the kazhcha were a measure of paddy and a dhoti.
The offering given by those who ranked higher in caste set up was sugar. It would be packed in a cone made of newspaper and tied with bast fiber from banana plants. During my childhood, cotton thread and cords were not so common. Sometimes jute strings were used.
With all the kazhcha we would have heaps of bananas of different stages of maturity. A group of women would prepare them for making different food items. They would sit on the eastern veranda of the nalukettu, gossip and attend to the work on hand. Sometimes Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) would join them for a while. What happened finally was that most of the bananas would be given to the servants.
Of the many preparations made from bananas, I remember a few. Chips of course were on the top of the list. There were four types of them – the regular thin round ones that are most popular in the market now, thick half pieces which were eaten with meals or used to make sharkarapuratti (coated with jaggery), small cubed pieces, and the last, cut into small batons. Though all these were of the same material and fried in coconut oil, the bite varied in each type and there was a subtle difference on the palate.
The skin of the unripe banana cut into small pieces and sautéed with pepper powder was a favorite with meals. I once heard a joke about a Nampoothiri (Kerala Brahmin) telling the tenants to take the fruit inside and give him only the skin as kazhcha.
The bananas which were smaller in size were allowed to ripen to the full and then sun-dried, first with the skin on and then without the skin. If properly done and stored, these would keep and provide an excellent dessert either with honey or syrup or grated coconut and sugar, or even plain.
Those days Kerala was self-sufficient in nendrakka. Today, I believe, most of it is imported from the neighboring Tamil Nadu.
Photo acknowledgement: F. Kakkassery. Click on image for enlarged view.