Did you know why Plum cake and Kerala are synonymous?
How did something so British become a Kerala staple?
In 1880, a young man named Mr. Mambally Bapu returned from Burma where he’d learned to bake biscuits and set up the Mambally Royal Biscuit Factory in Thalaserry.
In 1883, a few days before Christmas, Murdoch Brown (a British planter) got off his carriage and walked into Bapu’s bakery with a rich plum cake he had brought from England. “Could you please taste this cake, and bake me ten just like it?” he asked.
Bapu tasted the cake. It was like nothing he had eaten before! Rich, fruity, nutty and moist! He was hooked. “Yes, sir,” he said, “I will do my best!”
The young baker had no clue that he was about to create culinary history!
Before leaving, Brown gave Bapu a 10 minute overview on the basics of cake baking. He then handed over a sundry bunch of ingredients (that included cocoa, dates, raisins and other dry fruits) and suggested a French brandy from Mahe, for the Christmas cake.
But Bapu had his own ideas about how he would go about this novel project. He procured a mould from a local blacksmith, sourced the spices from farms along the Malabar coast and introduced a desi flavour by using a local brew made using cashew apple and banana.
Bapu’s efforts bore fruit. With his first bite Brown declared, “This is the best cake I’ve ever tasted!”
Today Kerala has more than 20,000 bakeries. And, 130 years after Bapu made India’s first Christmas cake, Thalassery remains a trendsetter in India’s cake industry.
Every year, thousands of plum cakes wing their way from Thalassary to more than 30 countries across the world. Both Bapu and Brown would be very proud of the tradition they began….