(Mr. Mohammad Shafi Ayaz, 47, was born in Anantnag, and continues to live in the same town. He studied in various state schools, colleges and universities. He has completed his MBA, and is a Certified Associate of the Indian Institute of Bankers(CAIIB), and is working on a doctorate thesis on “Non Performing Assets in Indian Banks.” He is a banker and presently associated with the Jammu & Kashmir Bank as Senior Executive. Mr. Ayaz has three publications – two in Urdu, one comprising of fictions/short stories titled as “Dard-i-Pinhan” (Hidden Pain), and the third comprising of poetry titled as “Talash-i-Sahar”(In Search of Dawn). He has also published another short book in “Interest Free Banking.” He writes on various topics in the Daily Kashmir Images, Weekly Shuhab and Weekly Sabzar. Earlier he contributed articles to two leading Urdu dailies of the Valley – ‘Aftab’ and ‘Srinagar Times’.)
The Tradition of Dried Vegetables and Fruits
HU’KH SUEN and HATTIES
Kashmir is rich in its traditions of unique flavors. It may be its handicrafts, art forms, culture, dishes, festivals or other things. Kangri (fire pot), Pheran (winter gown), Wazwan (special cuisine). Kahwa (special spicy tea) are some of the symbols of Kashmiri tradition which are still existing and are hardly seen anywhere else in the world. Even if some of the forms are found in some parts of Middle East, it differs widely from things here. Among these traditions is one rich and once common tradition of Kashmiri food preservation which is still existing on a micro level now, known as “Hu’kh Suen” (dried vegetables) and “Hatties” ( dried fruits).
Kashmir which has a pleasant summer season has to bear the chilly winter when things freeze here and temperatures dip to shivering cold levels. Without electricity, proper road connectivity, meager transport, heavy and long span snow falls, blockade of roads to valley from rest of the world for months together etc. were some of the issues faced by people in the olden times. In such circumstances the people of the valley would prepare themselves and make necessary arrangement for the winter season during the summer itself.
Warm wool clothing, coal for Kangri’s, fire wood and likewise vegetables & fruits were considered as vital arrangements when it came to preparing for fighting the harsh winters here. Not much to do, people would usually prefer to stay indoors during winters knowing that they had stored thigs of importance and survival.
During the period of scarcity or non-availability of fresh vegetables and fruits, they would switch to the dried vegetables and fruits prepared and stored for consumption during winters. The people, therefore, would be at ease even during the winters as the pile of eatables and other necessary arrangements were finished during the summers alone.
Call it global warming or changing climatic trends, Kashmir valley, nowadays, scarcely sees such harsh weather conditions while less snowfalls, compared to older times, are recorded each year. The modern times have changes many perceptions and have brought considerable amount of changes in each culture. Likewise, in Kashmir fresh vegetables and fruits are almost always available in the market in the winter too, a thing people might not have imagined would happen in previous times. Kashmir is connected with the outside world and the road link remains alive for twelve months a year, except for briefer periods during snowfalls in winter. The highway is cleared of snow in a matter of days and transportations resumes after every short interval. This ensures that fresh things are imported into Kashmir in each season.
But the changing scenarios have not been able to rule out the centuries old traditions of dried vegetables and fruits in Kashmir. The graph might have come down, but the old tradition of drying fresh vegetables and fruits is still in practice in some remote parts of the valley and among the people of certain communities.
Kashmir is a good producer of vegetables and fruits during the summer season. There demand in the market during summer season is less and there seems a vast difference between demand and supply. This economical factor results in low price of these commodities in the market and if these are not preserved or stored for future use, there is every apprehension that a huge quantity would be wasted, thereby resulting in loss to the cultivators of these produces. So the best and environmentally feasible way or option to make good use of them is to preserve them by drying and storing them for winter use. Some of the most common vegetables which are now a delicacy in Kashmir and are preferred dried during winters are ‘Hu’kh Hauk’ (green leafy vegetable), tomato , Kad’doo, Binjel , Spinach besides fruits including apple, pear, apricot etc. Even fish are also dried and stored and are locally termed as ‘Hu’kh guarde’.
Other vegetables including radish, turnip etc which have somewhat longer life would, traditionally, be stored underground pitches commonly known as ‘Khaeu’. This tradition however seems loosing ground and is found only in a few remote villages. Dried pear from Charisharief area of Central Kashmir and dried apricot from Ladakh region of the state were famous all over. Even at present these are very much available in the market.
The dried vegetables, fruits and fish are still considered delicious dishes. Even when the common Kashmiri’s have to go for a long journey like pilgrimage to perform Hajj they take these dried vegetables with them for use during the journey. Whenever a special guest visits during winter, the dried fish is served in a cooked form as a specialty. These dried vegetables or edibles are very tasty when cooked and served hot. Some people prefer to take cooked dried edibles than fresh vegetables during winter suggesting that the traditional manners have better hygienic and nutritional value.
For the last three to four decades it is observed that the tradition of preserving fresh vegetables and fruits by way of drying them in sun light or storing them in underground earth pitches is vanishing mainly for the reason that fresh vegetables and fruits are available throughout the year and people have become somewhat lazy to get involved in the preservation process of these food items. This change in the mindset of the people of valley is however not a positive trend as we are losing a rich and tasty traditional cuisine.
As for as the merits of this tradition are concerned, I believe that it has been more than a simple arrangement for winters and was basically a more profound way of self-reliance. Infact, the whole process of preparing these dried vegetables and fruits was such that a single woman could do it and, if necessary sell it to others as well. It involved least labor and needed no natural or chemical ingredients to be mixed to the fruits or vegetables. Sunlight was the only source need to prepare the winter stock.
Even in today’s times, when our highway is blocked for any amount of days, we see the restlessness among the masses who feel frustrated by the absence of vegetables etc in the market. It is not because we don’t have an option but because we don’t want to avail the option laid down for us by our ancestors.
When we are talking about preserving our culture, heritage and language we must also preserve our traditional food preserving methods which are applicable in every sense of the term. It has an economic
value for the state and would be a step towards food independency besides creating employment opportunities to so many people who can be engaged in the process of preservation and trading of these edible food items.
Our state has rich traditions in all spheres of life which are need based and meaningful but unfortunately we are ignoring them or discarding. We should realize their value for our livelihood and try to give them a novel and innovative shape so that they can become more useful and fruitful. People of the state in general and the Government agencies in particular should give it a wholehearted thought. This ignored tradition may give us more than our expectations. Don’t ignore it, encourage it. This tradition awaits attention of all.