Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sakkaré Achchu: Sugar Figurines That Hold Memories

Sakkaré Achchu (in Kannada for "sugar moulds") is the mainstay of many a South Karnataka festival. Celebrations of Sankaranthi and Dussera, and family rituals such as weddings and housewarmings are incomplete without the sugar figurines.

Beautiful to look at, the figurines are used to embellish puja displays, are part of the gifts to the guests and are, most importantly, simply delicious to eat.

The ingredients are few and the process is painstaking, but pretty straightforward. The first step is to purify the sugar so that there are no impurities and the figurines turn out white instead of a dull shadow of white. The sugar syrup is boiled with curd and stirred constantly to separate impurities from the sugar. After two or three iterations of this, the resulting sugar syrup is simmered on a slow flame in a round-bottomed steel vessel until the syrup develops a thick consistency.

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Simmering sugar syrup

The moulds need to be soaked in water and must be damp so that the figurines loosen up easily when they are ready to be removed. Moulds are two wooden slabs with various shapes carved into them, each half a mirror reflection of the other.

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A banana-bunch shaped mould

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A bird-shaped mould

Just before the sugar syrup reaches the right consistency, moulds are readied by tightly tying together the matching pairs with rubber bands.

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Various moulds ready for the syrup

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Syrup being poured into the moulds

In a couple of minutes, the moulds are ready to be opened.

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Half-open moulds

And this is when you hope and pray that the figurine is weak in some spot and breaks apart so you get to eat the broken one hot off the mould. If you're desperate enough, you try to jinx it by rubbing your index finger the floor, counter-top or your grandma's hand. Trust me (and my gut), it works.

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Fresh and still warm figurines. Yummmm

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Homemade sugar figurines (with my grandma's and now my aunt's recipe) are the best. The purification process imparts a slightly tangy flavor and balances out the sweetness of the sugar and the constant stirring of the syrup turns out soft figurines that literally melt in your mouth.

No matter how delicious the end result is, the best part of the whole process is the family getting together to make them. Usually one member of the family takes on the onus of making the figurines for the entire family. My grandmother made it for all her daughters and shipped them off to wherever they lived in the years they were not with her to make them. Now, my aunt, my mother's younger sister is the family sugar goddess. She uses the same moulds that my grandmother did (some of them are losing the sharp outlines and so we have figurines that look like elephant shapes, only sort of).

Yesterday, as we made the figurines for a family function this weekend, much of the talk revolved round my grandmother and how she used to make them and how we used to pester her for the broken pieces (ever the frugal lady, she used to put the broken pieces back in the simmering syrup when we kids weren't looking). I'd asked my aunt to come over to my house to make them so my son could see how they are made. Every Sankaranthi I remember the sakkaré achchus and am glad that my son has some idea of what they are all about.


Cuckoo said...

Nice post. Apart from marriage functions, we north Indians make the sweet figurines at the time of Diwali also.

The method is similar. These days people just go out & buy them instead of taking pains of making at home.

Anonymous said...

Wow!..Just Wow! I will never cease to be amazed by how much of almost lost traditions are revived because of blogging!
Thanks a lot, Sujhata!

Priya Arun said...

Beautiful! so I can actually eat what I make ;-) [as opposed to Art Class products made of glitter and glue which are not quite edible]

Jokes apart, any place where I can get the moulds? or any easier replacements for the wooden ones that's probably your ancestral heirloom? :-)

P.S: Here via DesiPundit

Taz Snow said...

Yummm! This brings back tons of memories

Sunita said...

Looks Yummy!!! Where caan we find thoes moulds?

Anonymous said...

Wow, how lovely they are and what a painstaking process!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Cuckoo, thanks for visiting and commenting. Somehow we've never been able to go out and buy these figurines. The quality is worlds apart from the ones that are homemade. :)

Vee, you're welcome. Glad to be of help. :)

Priya, the best moulds, ironically, are those that are available in Chennai (ironic because these figurines are famous in the Mysore/Bangalore area of Karnataka). Apparently there is this one shop near the Parthasarathy Koil Street in Mylapore in Chennai that is the place to buy them. In Bangalore, they are available in Gandhi Bazar.

Taz, :) Lots of trips down memory lane, eh?

Sunita, tastes yummy too! :) Please see my response to Priya for where to get the moulds.

MG, yeah, it is painstaking. My aunt's fingers were cramping by the time she finished making them.

Anonymous said...

Hope the poonool went off ok. Meant to email you, wish N and all that but missed it! Sorreeee!
Anyways, pls share the pix with us when you can. Saw your babies over at BC - awwww!

Anonymous said...

Did you guys ever fight over your favourite figurines?? I always did :), didnt matter that they all tasted the same.


ps: wanted to comment on your feminism article, its really well written, but its such a heavy subject, I couldn't find words to get my point across.

Sujatha Bagal said...

DG, went off very well. :) Thanks for asking.

Vinay, yeah! We did! The pineapple was my favourite because it had a thick center and so more sugar-packed punch!

And thanks for your comment on the feminism article. I agree it's a heavy subject and no amount of writing can capture all the nuances. The bottomline is, How can any one group hope to do well at the expense of the other groups?

Sherry said...

Wow, I am learning a lot from your blog. Is there any chance that you could share the recipe? I would love to try this, and I have a lot of time now.

Unknown said...

Hi Sujatha,

Great post! A detailed recipe would be welcome... we have the molds, but don't know the details for preparing the Sakkaré Achchu.

Great photos, by the way.
Happy Dipavali!

JOHN :0)

Sujatha Bagal said...

John, Thanks! How's your book coming along? Haven't heard from you in a long time. Thanks for the deepawali wishes. I'll get the recipe from my aunt and put it up here.

Sherry, sorry. Missed your comment somehow.

Lakshmi said...

Sakkare achu maading holds special memories in everyone's (all K people) life I think. It used to be a big day for us when mom prepared those sugar figurines. We sat down and the watched the entire process curiously. We were being rewarded by sakkare achu of our choice for not making noise and disturbing mommy!

Unknown said...

I am so impressed with the figurines and they are such a beautiful white color too. I tried them with sugar and milk and they didn't come out very good. SO can you please post your recipe with sugar and curd?
Thanks and Happy Sankramana!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Vani, I'll call my aunt this weekend and put the recipe up. Thanks for reading!

LG, your comment took me on a journey to find other Kannadiga bloggers. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Hi Sujatha,

Can't remember the order of our communiques... it's quite odd having a conversation within various blog comment boxes. :0)

I really should just email...

Anyways, the book 3 Knights in India was finished some time ago, and I am on to other projects. It was good fun to work on. :0)

Now, about that recipe... :0)

JOHN :0)

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hello John and Vani (and Sherry), finally got the recipe. Will put it up!

John, glad I found your blog. Looking forward to following your adventures now more closely.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much Sujatha!
Look forward to trying your recipe.

Anonymous said...
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Average Jane said...

Neat! Came from a link that Chox posted. We have the same acchus back home and I have been hinting to amma that I want to inherit those. LOL. :)