Digging your hands inside a warm pocket of dry fruits, mixed and packed with love from home, it feels like winter's arrival. The tradition of meva–or mixing a variety of dry fruits– has been going on since the time of the Mughals. As the story goes, Humayun's wife, Hamida, introduced dried fruits in the royal kitchen during the nascent stages of the 16th century. Over the years, consuming dried fruits has become a significant part of Indian cuisine.
"Regardless of whether I go home or not, come winter, one barni full of dried fruits will religiously end up inside my cupboard," said Ekta Chaturvedi, who lives and works in Bengaluru. She is from Prayagraj, where her parents still live. Every winter, one mason jar with a mix of almonds, walnuts, cashews, prunes, and raisins filled to the brim would arrive from her mother. "It's not even cold in Bangalore, but that's how it has always been."
Memories of Winter
"A fond memory of me growing up was when my mom would give me makhi, honey, and almonds which was a must every winter before I stepped out of my house for school in the morning. If I created a ruckus, she would give me five soaked almonds with a spoonful of honey," said celebrity chef and cooking show host Rakhee Vaswani. Those from up North have nostalgia-laced winter memories of soaking in the languid winter sun on a charpai, with a bowl of dried fruits. Some kids love it, but the fussy ones have to have creative mothers.
"Now the trends have changed," said Vaswani. "What I do for my kids is make a trail mix of all the dry fruits like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, quinoa, and roasted oats, and add cranberry for flavour with some seeds. I keep them in a jar in their room so they can take a handful whenever they feel hungry."
Indrajit Chatterjee, a student, remembers how his grandfather used to do the trick for him to have walnuts. "This was in the nineties, and we didn't have any nut cracker tools, so he would place a whole walnut between the hinge of the door and the frame. With one slam, there will be a bone-crackling noise and out came kernels of golden walnuts, dropping into his palms. It was a fascinating sight for a five-year-old, and I would wait for it every winter."
In India Dried fruits are grown all across different states and most are imported. These are some of the most widely grown dry fruits you will find across various states of the country, each known by multiple names corresponsing to the place.
Almonds/badam: The Kasmiri badam is one of Jammu and Kashmir's highly coveted dry fruits.
Figs/anjeer/sukhe anjeer: Dried figs, as well as fresh ones, are predominantly grown in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
Apricot/khubani/lal khumani: Dried apricots are prevalent in Ladakh, Uttarakhand, and Kashmir–with the very popular red varieties found in Gulmarg.
Cashew/cashew nuts/kaaju: Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are the largest producers of cashew in India, followed by Odisha, whereas Goa is famous for its large-sized cashew nuts.
Raisins/kishmish/sultanas/kash/lal draksh: Maharashtra, Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the states where raisins are grown in India. The Nashik kishmish from Maharashtra are very popular.
The Fruit Routes
Before the constant ringing of smartphones was more than the voices of members in a household, you would have heard the tinkling bell of a bicycle with a Kashmiri man or two circling your neighbourhood in silky pathani suits carrying bulging bundles on their backs. Dried fruits from the land of the chinar, but now you will rarely find them in the cities. "We sell all speciality items of Kashmir like saffron, kahwa, honey and dry fruits," said Muhib, who owns the famous Okhla outlet, The Kashmir Hub. "We get everything from Kashmir, and our almonds and walnuts are the most in demand."
According to a 2021 report, about 85% of India's dry fruits are imported from Afghanistan. Many vendors in old Delhi's Khari Baoli, India's biggest dry fruit market, import their products from Kabul. Figs, dates, almonds, pistachios and walnuts are some of Kabul's most imported dry fruits in India.
Even with changing traditions, the benefits of meva are irrefutable, which makes them an indispensable part of the winter diet. "Including dry fruits in your diet boosts your immune system, heart and bone health," said Dr Saumya Roy, who works at United Medicity in Prayagraj, adding, "It also gives you the needed warmth during the harsh winter months." When the weakened winter sun fails to provide adequate warmth, a fistful of meva always does the trick.