“Don’t be afraid. Pluck the flower properly. Yes, very good.”
The young boy dressed in a dashing black leather jacket and jeans seems like an anomaly in the field, but he follows his father’s instructions diligently. He plucks a flower with tender, but firm hands and shows it to his father who nods in approval.
He won't decorate his mother’s hair with it. Nor will he press it in a book. It’s too precious to be trifled with. In fact, it’s more expensive than gold. He dutifully deposits it in a bag and walks to his father who thanks the farmer.
Welcome to the Saffron Town—Pampore.
As Chinar leaves turn brown and lose their sheen, Saffron flowers yawn and stretch lazily towards the sky. For them, it’s just the beginning of a vast purple canvas that brings the quiet town of Pampore to life.
Locally known as Kong Posh, Saffron harvesting lies at the heart of Pampore. Several families rely on it for their income and thus, the process is almost sacred to them.
Fields are ploughed twice to prepare the soil for Saffron—once in June and then in August. Flowers bloom in October and farmers have a brief, two-week period to harvest the delicate red-gold strands that are dried and packed for sale. It’s a long and tedious process—one that leaves their hands tinged with a golden hue and intoxicating aroma.
However, none of this is easy.
Every October, farmers enter a sea of purple flowers with great trepidation in their hearts. Will the yield decrease this year too? What if we can’t make ends meet? Is it even worth the effort?
Saffron requires a certain moisture level in the soil and cannot withstand harsh heat. The butterfly effect of climate change is so immense that it decreases the yield of Kashmiri Saffron every year. Family tradition and reverence towards Saffron are the only reasons for some farmers to not give up on cultivating the enviable Crocus Sativus Cashmirianus.
The leather jacket apprentice returns with another flower and looks closely at it. The flower petals have medicinal value and are sold separately. Nestled in the cozy embrace of these petals lie red and yellow strands. The latter isn’t of much use but three red strands in the middle are separated and guarded with great precision and care. Don’t be deceived by their small stature. Each red filament is a potent reserve of flavour, aroma and colour that spreads slowly but strongly.
15 days and 1,50,000 flowers—that’s what it takes to collect one kilogram of Saffron.
No wonder it’s the most expensive spice in the world!
Most of the world’s Saffron comes from Iran which is considered to be an inferior variant. This has also paved the way for distributors to mix Kashmiri Saffron with the Iranian variant. Some even try to sell the latter as “pure Kashmiri Saffron” to gullible customers who don’t know much about the spice.
At Kanz and Muhul, we partner with farmers who produce Saffron in its purest form and conduct thorough quality checks to ensure your kitchen has no room for pale or inferior Saffron strands.
After all, if the Saffron isn’t perfect, how will a Sheermal get its subtle yellow hue? How will the Phirnis come to life? Most importantly, how will you serve Kehwa to guests? In a Kashmiri household, adding Saffron to Kehwa is a luxury reserved for guests, to show respect. A sprinkle of Saffron transforms it from a regular cup to one that befits an atithi (guest), another form of God.
Saffron is not just a spice. It’s a cultural tradition—one worth holding on to.
SCRIPTED BY PRAKRITI BHAT for K&M.