Alijrajpur district has traditionally been an important agricultural hub for maize, cotton, soybean, black gram, chilli, tomato, paddy, cauliflower and mango, sweet lime, lemon, guava, pomegranate, papaya, amla and custard apple. In fact, as small and marginal famers of this district are wholly into organic farming, food processing industries have been lining up to directly purchase a bulk of their annual fruit produce.
Perhaps, their most famous kharif crop is custard apple that is cultivated in a sizeable area in this district as a cash crop. Known locally as sharifa, this district boasts of an average annual production of over 37.24 tonnes.
This delicious fruit attributes its name to Sita Mata who used to eat this fruit during her exile. Sitaphal derives its name from the Sanskrit words śīta which means cold and phala which means fruit and custard apple is known to have a cooling effect on the human body.
Farmers state that the agro – climatic conditions prevailing in this district (deep soils, medium deep soils and shallow soils rich in micronutrients and hot summers, cool winters and adequate rainfall in the monsoon season) has helped them produce excellent quality fruit every year. This hardy plant of immense nutritional, medicinal and healing properties can survive in the harshest terrain and climatic conditions making it hugely popular among the farmers.
The native and high – yielding varieties (Arka Neelachal Akshay and Arka Sahan) grown here have high TSS (around 24 Brix), Total Sugar (around 18 to 19 percent) and reducing sugar content (15 – 17 percent), good pulp recovery and long shelf life.
Sitaphal is rich in carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and copper. As custard apple is highly perishable with an average shelf life of 24 hours after harvesting, farmers have now started storing custard apple pulp to initiate processing of custard apple powder, beverages and ice cream.
Custard apple pulp is used in desserts like basundi, rabri, jams and jelly.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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