Appams at last
Ever since we set up our own household, mum pestered me to make appams. She'd make them whenever she came to visit my family, and even packed an 'appachatti' amongst her sarees in her suitcase so she had the correct pan to make them in for us.
The appachatti she left behind sat in the back of my saucepan drawer, and got faithfully packed and moved each time we moved city. I never used it.
Since the Covid19 lockdown, I've been writing down my food memories, and thinking of appams again, and how this suspended time has provided the best possible scenario for cooking experiments.
The funny thing about mum's appam mission was despite the steady encouragement over the years, she never in fact provided me with a proper recipe.
I actually do have a few faded, crumpled scraps of scribbles for appam recipes from her. None of them add up. Some are made with yeast, others without, one includes cooked rice, another is with sugar, but not others. One uses coconut milk, another has freshly grated.
There is no denying that we all fiercely love appams in my family. My husband was initiated into my Malayali family with a steady stream of fresh appams that arrived at his plate one after another. Our little girls toddled around their grandparents home, nibbling on the end of a soft appam- much better than a cookie or a rusk.
Appams are made from coconut milk and crushed rice. That's as much as we knew or cared about their make up. Just give me some more.
Appams are a cheery round, about the size of a side plate. The perfect appam should consist of a crispy golden outer rim, and a little spongey mound in the centre. It should taste mildly coconutty and a little yeasty. No better combination in my opinion.
Appams are happily eaten in South India and Sri Lanka at all times of the day.
You can start a breakfast with an appam or three, and some left over dhal. As a child, I'd always have my morning appam sprinkled with castor sugar. Dad would sometimes dollop some marmalade on his. Others would have an egg broken over the centre. A special treat I didn't care much for.
Lunch or dinner is perfect when it's appam with some fresh fish curry or a mildly spicy Kerala ishtu, or stew.
I finally soaked some short grained rice in water the other day and knew I was committed.
With a soaking time of about four hours, I had to get my act together and find a definitive recipe to continue with.
I looked at about half a dozen youtube videos. And then I shut my laptop, channeled mum, and jumped in.
The first appam I made looked great in the pan- it was crisping up nicely round the edges, and the mound in the centre was rising gently. But it stuck stubbornly to the pan, refusing to dislodge.
I remember mum reassuring me that the first appam off the cab rank often did this, and one should not be put off by the false start.
Okay, scrape that out and start again ....
The second was...... a winner in size and shape and central dome sponginess. I did the no-no and roused my deep in work-at-home spouse who hurried into the kitchen to attest to this amazing feat.
I cooked up all the batter, about eight appams in all, and it was a moveable feast of morning tea which morphed into lunch, starting with the sugar sprinkle, and ending with an egg appam for delighted husband.
My heart is full and also wrenched. I am bursting with joy for finally bringing into our family what mum so determinedly left behind for for me. I want to call her and tell her about how it all happened. The recipes I looked at, the ones I compared, the variety I finally made ( just to be sure, I used the handful of cooked rice, the yeast, and the sugar). But you're not here any more, mum. I just wish I'd made the time when you were here to make them; you'd have been so happy!
And my dearest girls, who grew up eating appams at your table, and at ours when you visited. Always our favourite. When you grew feeble and sick and there weren't any more appams, we never mentioned them, as if we didn't even know what they were. It was so painful for you not to be able to make them for us, and I hope you didn't think we missed them terribly. We just didn't want you to fret that you couldn't make them for us anymore.
I cannot wait for the Covid lockdowns to lift, so I can gather the girls here at home and pull out the appachatti and swing it in to full use -finally.
This story is dedicated to my girls Isabel and Claudia. Thank you for helping me keep these memories alive, for always asking about, sharing with, and reminding me about the food I ate growing up.