A popular member of the pantheon of Bengali sweets, the Lady Kenny or ledikeni, as it is locally called, is a unique variation of the the delectable gulab jamun that is innovative and ingenious in many ways. It also has a great story behind it.
First it is important to understand the difference between this sweet and its more famous cousin the gulab jamun. Lady Kenny is made from chenna or split milk, unlike gulab jamun which is made from khoya or reduced milk.
– The ledikeni has a great story behind it
The Lady Kenny is named after Lady Charlotte Canning, wife of Lord Charles Canning, the last Governer-General and first Viceroy of India. The reason he holds both titles is because a year after he became the Governer-General, the Mutiny of 1857 broke out and in 1858 the Indian dominions came under the British Crown and the Governor General’s post was amended to Viceroy and Governer- General.
So how does Lady Kenny and the sweet named after her come into the picture? To understand this you have to understand Lady Canning.
To quote culinary historian Michael Krondl in his book Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert ‘From her published correspondence, Lady Canning emerges as no wallflower. Her stay in India coincided with a precarious time for the imperialists but despite the considerable danger and discomfort, the Victorian aristocrat traveled all over India, folding her voluminous Victorian crinolines into carriages and palanquins in order to spend time with her husband instead of hosting tea parties at her Calcutta palace. Her letters show much more interest in war and politics than in the frequent entertaining she had to do as the Viceroy’s wife.’
Lady Kenny was a frequent traveler and someone who obviously caught the imagination of the local people, so much so that a sweet was named after her.
– The Lady Kenny is named after Lady Charlotte Canning
It is widely believed that the Lady Kenny sweet was invented by Bhim Chandra Nag, a local confectioner whose sweet shop went on to become one of the most legendary sweet shops in Kolkata, and is run by his family's sixth generation even today. There are different versions on what triggered off this new innovation. While some believe it was created as part of a feast to welcome Lady Canning to Bengal in 1856, others believe that it was made for her birthday, in 1858, probably at her request.
Whatever the reason may have been, it is said that she liked the sweet so much, that it was named in her honour! Over the years, the name became muddled from ‘Lady Canning’ to ‘Lady Kenny’ and eventually, ledikeni.
In A Glimpse of the Burning Plain: Leaves from the Indian journals of Charlotte Canning, British historian Charles Allen says, ‘Most curiously, Lady Canning’s name lives on in Bengal, in the shape of an Indian sweetmeat known as ledikeni, a ball of flour, sugar and curd deep fried in syrup, to which she was supposed to have been rather partial. It is a strange little accident of history that Char would have found highly amusing.’
It is only fitting that the lady who has left this lasting legacy in the sweetshops of Kolkata, remains there. Lady Charlotte Canning’s grave and memorial lies adjacent to St. John's Church in Kolkata.
Cover Image by: Ankita Choudhary