There are many stories swirling around the origin of the legendary Dharwad pedha. One story suggests that the Jahagirdars (zamindars) of Hebballi, a village near Dharwad brought Ayodhya Prasad Mishra from Varanasi back in 1895. The Jahagirdar used to visit Uttar Pradesh frequently to buy horses and thus, along with Ayodhya Prasad, started the migration of the Thakurs to Dharwad.
Another story suggests that the Dharwad pedha is an improvised version of the famous Mathura pedha but with its own distinctive brown colour and unique taste. However, credence can also be given to this version that in the early 19th century, a few Thakur families living in Unnao moved down south to escape the deadly plague that was spreading rapidly in Uttar Pradesh.
Initially, they made pedhas for their own consumption and started on a commercial venture on a small scale as its popularity soared. Ram Ratan Singh Thakur, a first generation confectioner started preparing pedhas from the local supply of milk. It is said that when the Governor of Bombay visited Dharwad in 1913, he was served the Dharwad pedha made by the Thakurs. So impressed was he with the taste, that a certificate was issued to accord Dharwad pedha offical recognition. Now, Ram Ratan Singh Thakur’s grandson Babusingh Thakur has a modest shop in an area called Line Bazaar that attracts long queues and is also called the Line Bazaar pedha.
Dharwad pedha is now mostly sold in a few shops run by a handful of Thakur and Mishra families originally hailing from Uttar Pradesh. The production is actually quite low as it is highly perishable. This soft, sweet and melts in your mouth Dharwad pedha is a delicious dessert with its taste singularly attributed to the quality of the milk used.
As milk and sugar are the main ingredients, the high fat content in the milk is imperative for superlative taste and milk of exotic breeds of cattle is not recommended. Locals say that there are seven types of pedha. The Babusingh Thakur pedha is made of raw milk and is very soft in nature and taste and also has limited shelf-life.
The famous Mishra pedha is also extremely tasty and stronger in taste and lasts longer as it has lesser moisture content. There is the granular variety as well which is aromatic but not quite tasty. The ones made for export are creamy, soft and have very high fat content. Pedha made with saffron is also quite popular but the dominance of saffron changes the taste of the pedha. Nowadays, pedha is made with dried fruits and a version for diabetics with low fat and sugar is also available in the market.
As the preparation of pedha is a closely guarded secret passed down generations, one can only speculate on the actual ingredients that are used to make this delightful milk sweet. This family run business is highly labour intensive and as the success of the pedha depends on the recipe, only the family members prepare the pedhas to ensure both the quality and taste. This mouth-watering Dharwad pedha with more than a 100 year-old history was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2007.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)