Landour, in the district of Dehradun, Uttarakhand, is perhaps India’s only Anglo-American town. A convalescence centre for British soldiers, it was Captain Frederick Young, a young Irish soldier in the British Indian Army, that built its first permanent building, his home, on a hillside here in 1825.
American missionaries, let into India by Lord Macaulay at around the same time, also left a mark on Landour’s culture. What remains of this mix are old laws that permit no construction in the Cantonment area except for government buildings; the architecture of a Raj-era town (pitched roofs in private homes fronted by huge verandahs); five churches; and the skill of turning local fruit into preserves and jams, and gallons of milk into breakfast-cheese, evident in the produce of a shop on a Landour hilltop.
‘Prakash & Co – Since 1928’ is both the name of a shop and a brand that sells the famous Landour jams, preserves (10 varieties made the American way) and the English-style Cheddar.
“My grandfather, Shobharam, started the shop,” says its proprietor, Anil Prakash, 63. “It sold timber, leftovers of departing British soldiers such as rucksacks, anti-malarial drugs, electric generators, furniture. The British and the American missionaries were eventually gone, but by that time they had left their tastes behind at Landour. My father, Indra Prakash, started to sell the food products with the brand name in 1955-56, the recipes of which had been taught to him by the British and Americans; one of the latter in particular, a Miss Seaman.”
At the popular Landour Bakehouse, the shopfront menu says, under Crepes with Fillings, ‘We use only Prakash’s homemade peanut butter and jams…’ (HT Photo: Vinay Santosh Kumar)
Rows of jams and preserves line the shop’s shelves. Customers walk in and around the different sections and ask for their favourites. Some prefer the crunchy peanut butter; some, the smooth variety. Some want the gooseberry preserve, others like it as jam.
“When the Gandhis would stay with the royal family of Kapurthala at Mussoorie, people going over to visit them would buy a pot of blueberry jam as it was their favourite,” says Prakash.
As for cheese, Prakash says his family was taught to make cheese by Westerners and that’s the tradition they continue. Landour’s resident writer Ruskin Bond gets his cheese from Prakash’s.
Americana is a strong component of the legacy of this town, contiguous with the well-known hill station of Mussoorie. While Mussoorie was where the British had their dance halls, skating rinks and cinemas, American missionaries had the run of the place in Landour. Even Indian Maharajas were not allowed to build in Landour; they had their summer residences in Mussoorie.
For his own breakfast, Prakash favours his orange marmalade; his wife likes their apricot jam.
The first edition of the Landour Cookbook, dated 1930, full of American recipes, must have also been an influence on Prakash’s products, says Mussoorie-based author and photographer Ganesh Saili. “The Prakashes certainly broke through the barrier in being the first to make jams locally – Druk and Kissan were all we had until then.”
Saili’s favourite product at the store is the cucumber relish that goes with hotdogs. Prakash says he had discontinued it but plans to start making it again.
American missionary children were educated mainly at the Woodstock school here; young Americans still flock to the Language School in Landour, set up in the late 19th century to teach Hindi to the newly arrived missionaries, not too far away from Prakash’s shop. American writer Stephen Alter and his cousin and Bollywood actor, the late Tom Alter, who were students at Woodstock, would no doubt have sampled Prakash’s peanut butter. “Till 2004, we would directly supply 40 to 50 kg of jam and 100 kg of peanut butter a month to Woodstock. Now we sell through their canteen contractors,” says Prakash.
Most of the well-known hotels and restaurants in Mussoorie and Landour such as The Savoy, Rokeby Manor, The Landour Bakehouse and Ivy Café, use his products. The shops at the tourist-hangout of Char Dukan (a cluster of four shops) serve Prakash’s honey and jams with the Landour staple – honey-ginger-lemon tea with bun-omelette.