Doodh Peda, also called Milk Peda, is a soft, fudge-like dessert that’s often made to celebrate festivals in India. Traditionally, these sweets are made using Mawa or Khoya (dried, evaporated milk). We’ve used Condensed Milk and Milk Powder to simplify the recipe and still give a delicious flavour. The sweets may be flavoured with a generous pinch of Saffron strands or even a teaspoon of Cardamom Powder. When a new batch of these sweets is made at home, the first Peda is offered to the Gods and the rest is then shared with family members and friends.
Summer heat cloaked the spacious aangan (courtyard) and the sun-scorched forest nearby hummed with the sound of crickets, chirping insistently in wait for the first monsoon showers. Mounds of red chillies glistened in the blazing sunlight, having been arranged on large cloth sheets in the aangan to dry. The Areca nuts, resting on the thatched roof of the house, crackled in the heat now and again. The plantation workers in the fields nearby would be resting beneath the shade of the large Banyan Tree, it being far too hot to work during the peak afternoon. The mid-day meal having been served, most members of the family sheltered from the heat indoors, indulging in an afternoon nap. All lay still and quiet in the Nayak household.
But young Urvashi raced angrily down the steps and hurried out into the courtyard. She scowled, as the hot aangan floor scorched the delicate soles of her feet, adding to her already sour mood. Quickening her pace to escape the heat, she ran up the shallow steps to the varaand (veranda) and entered the large kitchen. The dark, quiet kitchen provided some much needed shade. Only the old, sweet-tempered housekeeper, Susprasha, would come in and out of the kitchen during the afternoon hours. She would roll up her sari and sing softly to herself as she cleaned the vessels used for preparing the mid-day meal. Urvi drew cool water from the clay matka (pot) and sipped gently, breathing in deeply to calm her temper.
“Would you bring me some water to drink as well?” came a voice from behind. Startled at the presence of someone else in the kitchen, she whirled around to see Aai (grandmother)seated on a chourang (stool) near the chul (stove). Handing her a pelo (tumbler) of water, Urvi gathered her sari pallu (edge) and sat cross-legged on the floor, by her side. “What are you making Aai?” she said in a soft voice, hoping the elder lady hadn’t noticed her sour mood. But Aai, the matriarch of the Nayak family since many years, knew every member of the large family as well as the back of her hand. “It’s been a long time since we’ve all had a sweet treat. Would you grind some yelchi (cardamom) for me while I stir the milk?” she said, in a soothing voice. The two women sat in comfortable silence as Urvi grabbed the heavy brass khalbatto (mortar and pestle) and began to pound the fragrant cardamom seeds.
Aai discreetly looked at the young girl, lost in her own thoughts as she pounded away angrily at the fragrant seeds. As per the prevailing custom, Urvi was married to Aai‘s grandson at a very young age. Aai remembered her own youth and the early days of her marriage, having to leave one’s own family and home behind to enter the folds of an entirely new clan. She knew her grandson and his bride got along very well most of the time. But a few clashes of will were bound to arise now and again between the young couple.
Giving the thickening milk in the aidan (vessel) a good stir, Aai said, “Do you know the story of the milk and the cream?” Urvi looked up, trying to remember the stories she’d been told as a child and slowly shook her head. “Well, one day, a matka full of the best creamy, white milk was put on the chul to boil. As the milk began to simmer, little bubbles appeared along the edges of the pot. The cream realised, with horror, that the precious milk was evaporating with the heat. And so to protect the milk, it formed a thin skin over its surface, hoping with all its heart that the milk wouldn’t boil over. As the aidan continued to heat, the milk bubbled more violently than ever, beginning to rise up in the pot. The cream, in its desperation, formed an even thicker layer over the surface of the boiling milk. Eventually, the milk and the cream realised that the only way they could survive the heat was to work together. Thus, the milk began to solidify and thicken while the cream mingled with it. This wonderful mixture, would eventually be used to make the most delicious sweets that would be offered to the Gods. And that was the strength of love of the humble milk and the tenacious cream.”
Urvashi looked puzzled at first but soon, the true meaning of Aai‘s story dawned upon her youthful face. Having added goda (jaggery) to the aidan, Aai took the yelchi powder from her and stirred the fragrant mixture till it all came together. Smiling, she took small portions of the mixture and rolled them between her palms to form the most delicious sweets. Urvi began to help roll the peda while Aai slowly got up and arranged some of the warm pedas in a small, beautiful silver vati (bowl). Making her way to the Devachikud (prayer room), she placed the vati before the Gods, praying for the happiness and prosperity of the family.
Returning to the kitchen, she filled another small vati with warm pedas and offered it to Urvi, holding her hands indulgently and smiling at the young bride. Urvi adjusted the pallu of her pretty sari into neat pleats and then smiling at Aai, rushed out the door as the early evening Sun streamed into the kitchen. There never were any sweets better than Aai‘s pedas to sweeten one’s mood. “Did you just cook up that story Aai?” asked Susparsha, placing an aidan on the chul to boil the family’s evening tea. Aai, full of wisdom and secrets, merely looked at her and smiled.
(Makes 16-20 Pedas)
- 200g (1/2 tin) Condensed Milk
- 1/2 tbsp Ghee/Butter
- 3/4 cup Milk powder
- A pinch of Saffron strands
In a wide, heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, combine all the above ingredients, stirring well to break any lumps. Cook on low heat, stirring the mixture continuously so that it does not burn. Continue to cook on low flame, until the mixture evaporates, thickens and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Do not overcook the mixture at this point as that would make the Pedas hard and chewy.
Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool a while until the mixture is bearably warm to the touch. Breaking off marble-sized portions, roughly form 16-20 small balls and place the Pedas on a plate lined with greaseproof paper. Roll them once more, between your palms, to refine their shape as they cool. The Pedas having cooled completely, may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.