The famed 'red blood' Malta of Punjab, which has become a rare commodity these days, will once again make its appearance in the markets of the state with the horticulture department deciding to revive and popularise the cultivation of this citrus fruit.
In fact, the horticulture department is not just planning to revive the cultivation of the 'red blood' variety but will also lay stress on bringing back the other malta varieties. Malta, once a very popular citrus fruit of Punjab, gradually disappeared from the fields after farmers took to the cultivation of the kinnow, another popular citrus fruit.
There can be no better place for the revival of the 'red blood' malta than the border village of Attari, along the NH-I that touches the Wagah border with Pakistan. This is because Attari is the only place in the entire country, where the 'red blood' variety can still be found. In fact, a number of VIPs, including chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, gets his quota of the 'red blood' malta from here.
"Though a horticulturalist of Pathankot has a couple of 'red blood' malta trees, Attari is the only place from where this variety makes it to the market," said Amritsar district deputy director, horticulture, Dr Baaz Singh.
Giving details of the malta revival project, Baaz Singh told HT that the horticulture department has a 100 acre orchard located along NH-I at Attari.
In this orchard there are mango, plum, peach, pear, jamun and malta trees. Some of the mango and jamun fruit trees date back to 1935, when the orchard here came into existence as a fruit research centre.
"In fact prior to independence, this was the only research centre for fruits in the then undivided Punjab, with its first two directors being British", said Baaz Singh.
MALTA REVIVAL PROJECT
The horticulture officer pointed out that of the 100 acres, 23 acres are occupied by malta. Other than the 'red blood' variety, the other varieties that grow here are Daisy, Hamlen and Early Gold.
Baaz Singh pointed out that malta was a very delicious fruit with the 'red blood' variety being the most popular among fruit consumers. It got its name as the fleshy portion of the fruit had a reddish tinge and even the juice had a slight tinge of red.
"The red blood was not only juicy but tastier than the other malta varieties. But the fruit disappeared when the kinnow made its appearance in Punjab in the eighties," said the horticulture officer while pointing out that the kinnow had its origin in California and made its way to Punjab from there.
The kinnow replaced the malta as its yield was much better, so it gave better returns to the grower. Moreover the kinnow fruit was juicier and more fleshy, though it was not as tasty as malta.
"The malta remained popular till the late seventies. Another reason for replacing the 'red blood' variety was that growers always wanted quick returns and they did not have the patience to wait till mid-January, which is the most suitable time for harvesting this variety as it is in January that the fleshy portions begin to acquire the red colour due to the extreme cold conditions in Punjab," explained Baaz Singh.
The process of planting malta saplings, prepared by the horticulture experts has already begun in the 23 acres occupied by citrus varieties. The old malta trees are being cut and are making way for new saplings. Hopefully in the next few years, the malta, particularly the 'red blood' variety, will once again find its rightful place in the homes of Punjab.