Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Journey to the Center of the Jamroll

A jam-roll is a jam-roll is a jam-roll. 

What could be so exceptional about it at a time when every variety of jam and cake is available in the market? When my cousin requested me to get Kunjus jam-roll from Kanjirapally, little did I know about the nostalgic yearnings furled into its spongy sweetness. Sure we have our local favorites too like the multi-colored faluda at Sangeeth Coolbar which comes with a generous topping of home-crafted vanilla ice cream. Then there's the classic mango duet! I still slurp dreaming of the mango and vanilla ice lolly I loved as a kid. But what could have pushed her into craving for something as prosaic as a jam-roll, especially when she didn't grow up with it? Curiosity got the better of me and I ran a google search to get some insight. What I found titillated my inquisitiveness even more. It was covered in the news! And why wouldn't it be? The recipe was formulated more than 80 years ago by a gifted baker named K.K. Kunju aka Kunju Ashan who founded his own bake-house in Kanjirapally. On his return from training in Ceylon, he attempted to create his own version of the Swiss jam roll to appeal to the refined tastes of the British-inspired food connoisseurs of the time. Now strawberry doesn't come cheap in India. That's when he looked around and saw the ripe and raspy floral beauties - pineapples! He juxtaposed the fruit preserve with some sponge cake baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven called the borma and offered them as one long bundle of goodness called the jam-roll. And that ingenious idea has continued to attract customers for more than three quarters of a century!

It was time to get the cat out of the bag. Off we went in search of the legendary pineapple jamroll, driving through the inside lanes of the rubber 'capital' of India. At the market junction of Kottayam-Kumily road, standing vigil to all the noise and commotion, stood an ageless, unassuming outlet named S.A.C bakery.

Nothing about it, neither the age-stricken wooden shelves with their clear glass exterior nor the sleepy middle-aged manager who sat at the bill desk,  gave even a hint of its glorious history. We asked for the jam roll and out came an elegant, white, cylindrical cardboard box about the length of an arm. The package said that each roll could be cut into 32 slices and it would go best with ice cream and custard. Each roll costed Rs. 300. We bought four of those and took leave from Kanjirapally, but not before savoring some local coffee, beef roast and porotta from a roadside thattukada!

Back in our own kitchen, we opened the box and carefully unwrapped the butter paper to reveal the golden brown jam-roll. And how did it taste? At the outset, it was soft and mellow, then it exuded a strong fruity punch and before giving a sugar rush, the spongy cake came in and conquered the sweetness. That may have sounded dramatic but I was intently looking for reasons behind the popularity of this product. I concluded that it wasn't really out of the world. Well, it could have been delightfully extraordinary when it was first introduced back in the 1930s. A couple of days passed and I found myself munching on a slice of the roll every time I opened the refrigerator. That's when the idea of combining it with some Vanilla and Alphonso mango ice cream occurred. After that there has been no looking back. I fell in love with the sugary sweetness of the jam-roll which is unlike that of any of the mass-produced baked products you can easily lift off a supermarket shelf. 

Kunjus Jamroll (branded so by K.K. Kunju's son due to the immense popularity of this one product) now has an exclusive outlet in Kochi. You can also order it online and they will deliver the jam-roll at your doorstep, wherever you are in India. 

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