Her name was Anna. Most people added a suffix ‘cheduthi’ (elder sister) while addressing her, as an expression of respect. She was rather thin, fair and with aristocratic looks.
Anna cheduthi and her children lived quite close to our house. I don’t remember her husband. He had died when I was very young. I think he was a descendant of one of the men our family had recruited to fight Lebba Pokker Moosa (see: A unique prayer.).
They had an oil expeller made of wood, which was operated either manually or by a bull. It was good business those days. Cherthala and Allepey towns had big mechanized oil mills. But small land owners mainly depended on wooden expellers like the one Anna cheduthi had.
In our case, the regular copra was sold to the mills. For cooking, special copra was made by cutting the coconut kernel into thin pieces, drying them covered by a net so that crows and other birds wouldn’t mess with it and the oil extracted in the wooden expeller. For medicinal and special uses the oil was obtained by boiling coconut milk – the wet process which produces the purest oil.
Anna cheduthi’s forte, however, was making traditional palaharams (savouries and sweets). During those days everything had to be made at home even for big functions like marriages. That is, everything except items like cakes, bread and buns, which were supplied by Pachico’s, a bakery run by people who were of dutch or Prtuguese strain.
A few days before the event, Anna cheduthi would make her grand entrance and take over. I believe that a critical part in making some items like churut (which I have described briefly in Weddings, then and now) is the thin, crispy outer and this lady was an expert at it.
There was a long list of palaharams. It included ovulos unda, ari unda, Achappam, cheeda, kuzhal appam, and more. She also ventured into 'diamond cuts' and burfi, as a concession to changing times.
A favourite, however, was malar churut. This was made with crushed popped rice (like popcorn) and sugar, packed in an outer layer, folded and fried.
A team of women would be assisting the lady in preparing everything. Sometimes Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) would briefly join them, but clearly, it was Anna cheduthi’s domain.
Once, back home from college for summer holidays, I asked Anna cheduthi’s son who was in our service, how his mother was. He gave me a perplexed look and responded, ‘Didn’t you know? She died two months back’. I felt so bad.
But the feeling passed and the memory of her faded. That is the way of the world. Only yesterday when there was some talk about savouries did I think of her again.
Anna cheduthi’s great-grandson is a priest, at a