Believe it or not, but summer temperatures in Lahore and other inland cities were not as high as they are these days. The reason, perhaps, is the mindless commercialisation that over a period of time, has taken toll of the magnificent shade-laden trees and parks that had given the Punjab metropolis its coveted title of the ‘City of Gardens’.

Reflected heat from the ever-increasing concrete structures and broad asphalt roads traps this once environmentally beautiful city, inside a heat and pollution bubble that bakes all living things.

Nonetheless, the indomitable Lahori spirit lives on, finding comfort and pleasure in some traditional antidotes that help to reduce the effects of heat. It is to these summer treats that I am dedicating this week’s column.

As May turns into June, a snake-like, light green vegetable begins appearing in shops, on hand-pushed carts and tokras in and around Lahore. To botanists, this is the Armenian Cucumber (Cucumis Melo), but to the teeming millions of the subcontinent, it is Kakri or Tar.

The versatility of this product is evident from the fact that it can be eaten raw (after sprinkling with chillies and salt), served as part of a fresh salad or mixed in yogurt to make raita.

My mother often told us that a hissing sound could be discerned emanating from tar patches at night as this vegetable grew at an unbelievable speed. While not privy to the ‘hissing’, I can vouch from personal farming experience that tars do grow at a phenomenal rate - even up to six inches in a single night.

Kheera or cucumber is another item that adorns shops, push carts and tokras side by side with the tar. While this is a vegetable to us in the subcontinent, it is fruit in some parts of the world. I was quite taken aback, when during a professional trip to Iran, the fruit basket in my hotel room contained cucumbers along with apples, bananas and peaches.

Like the tar, a cucumber can be eaten raw, served as salad or turned into a raita. Some recipes in Chinese cuisine feature this vegetable in stir-fried form. Diced cucumber slices when applied to the eyes and temples generate a wonderful cooling sensation to ward off heat.

Tarbooz or water melon is another summer remedy that appears on fruit stalls and in piles along roads. This fruit is full of water content and ideal for a breakfast menu. It can be eaten peeled and sliced or crushed to make a sweet, wonderfully flavoured beverage. It seeds can be dried, salted and then munched as a snack.

My paternal grandmother made a point of caching large quantities of purple-black berries known to experts as Grewia Asiatica, and to all and sundry as Falsa. This sweet and sour astringent fruit is found on shrub-like plants that grow up to eight feet tall. It is eaten as it is, or mashed and mixed with water to make a tangy drink with cooling and soothing properties.

Snakes are said to have a particular affinity of resting under falsa plants, due, perhaps, to the fact that its foliage-laden branches grow umbrella-like from the main stem close to the ground and offer shade and refuge to these reptiles.

The appearance of Jaaman or Eugenia Jambolana (aka Java Plum) is a much sought after event as the summer sun blazes down in all its fury. This popular summer fruit grows on tall, shady trees. The ideal method of enjoying this ‘gift’ is to put it in a container after adding some salt and then giving it a thorough bruising by vigorously shaking the container.

It is said that this fruit is an effective treatment for diabetes and also helps to keep one’s cholesterol in check. There was a time when wood of the jaaman tree was used to fashion drinking cups for patients suffering from hyperglycemia.

It is these and many other gifts of nature that mitigate what would otherwise be a season that tests human endurance.

Nonetheless, life would be colourless without summers and its annual showstopper - the monsoon downpours, but then this is stuff for another column.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.