Pal therattipal is a traditional milk sweet that is said to have been first offered by Periyalvar in Srivilliputhur. This delicious sweet derives its name from the Tamil words pal (also written as paal) meaning milk and therattipal meaning the product obtained by constantly stirring and reducing the milk.
Tamilians especially Tamil Brahmins define palkova and pal therattipal to be similar with a marginal variation but the most authentic pal therattipal is made by the Palghat Iyers of Palakkad district, a district on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. According to historians, Palghat Iyers have their ancestral roots in Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and surrounding towns. Many of them were forced to leave their ancestral homes and farmlands overnight to escape relentless persecution by Muslim invaders who took up residence after slaughtering Hindu kings who ruled over these regions.
The Brahmin community headed to Palakkad that was known to be a safe haven for Hindus and settled down there, eventually creating their own customs, rituals, cuisine and language. Palghat cuisine is considered to be the healthiest diet of South India relying heavily on seasonal vegetables and fruits and a measured amount of milk, ghee, butter and curds.
Many Tamil Brahmins make pal therattipal with jaggery (gur) instead of sugar and add a dollop of ghee to the milk while preparing this dish. However, Palghat Iyers have perfected the art of making this extremely difficult milk sweet using fresh milk from the cows in their gosala and excellent quality sugar from their fields.
Though this dish has only two ingredients namely milk and sugar, it is tricky to make and requires tremendous skill and years of practice. Ideally, this sweet should be made over wood fire but a heavy-bottomed vessel will also do.
The milk is allowed to boil and then reduced to about 1/10th of its original quantity. Sugar is added and the mixture is constantly stirred till it begins to thicken. It is imperative that the mixture is thickened completely with no water in it at all.
In the olden days, it was very common to see big sambadams (containers) of pal therattipal in everyone’s kitchen. A sinfully delighful sweet that can be had anytime during the day and surprisingly healthy!
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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