As a kid, I loved Sankranthi for 2 reasons, the first was the delicious ellu bella made at home and the second was the actual distribution of ellu-bella. Ellu (sesame seeds), bella (jaggery) is a dry mixture of fried ellu, bella, dry coconut, peanuts and gram dal. There is no recipe to this but the process involves some patience, effort and lotsa love:-). Nammamma would make this mixture in huge quantities and we used to go to all the friends in the neighborhood and distribute the mixture along with fruits, sugar cane and sugar candies. You would see colorfully dressed girls along with protective brothers going from house to house to distribute the ellu bella. Leaving home we would count the number of ellu-bella packets, sugar cane pieces, fruits (bananas or oranges) and the little figurines made from sugar to make sure we had enough for the houses we planned to visit and didn't have to come back home again until our rounds were over :-).
Making the sugar figurines is a tedious process and the sugar syrup has to be the right consistency before it gets poured into the wooden moulds. Nammamma makes the best, melt-in-mouth and snowy white acchus and her friends used to come over to our house the previous week in the afternoon to make the acchus in bulk.
Preparation of ellu-bella is time consuming, there is no recipe or long cook time involved. What I remember most about this from childhood is how my parents used to become a team starting from the selection of the best ingredients, frying them individually and slowly to the right perfection. Anna (my father) would go to his regular store in Mysore and buy large quantities of sesame seeds(had to be real white in color), peanuts (small nuts and uniform in size), bella (fairest of the jaggery blocks), dry coconut and kadle (gram dal). They would both work on it diligently every day starting about 15 days before the festival and painstakingly clean, fry, deskin, separate, peel, cut the ingredients and sun dry them. Both were very picky about the quality of the raw material and also the fact that all the pieces had to be uniform in size & shape. Nammama used an Indian nut cracker (called 'adike kattari') to cut the jaggery pieces. I remember their camaraderie as they went through the steps every year and feel fortunate to have seen it from close quarters. Now all of us kids are grown up and in our own homes, nammamma doesn't make ellu anymore..
We started helping in our small ways as we grew up, and since our 'help' usually made the quantity reduce drastically :-), nammamma used to ban us from going near the ingredients unless we promised to behave. She would mix it all together the night before Sankranthi and we would get the first taste of the mixture the next day after bath and pooja along with hot pongal usually made with avarekalu (lilva beans) that would be in season.
My in-laws also celebrate Bhogi in addition to Sankranthi and I love the practice of the early morning bonfire, roasted sweet potatoes and the heavy breakfast afterwards. Bhogi happens to be a big deal since it is also my FIL's birthday. Infact, they shared their 2012 Bhogi manta with us on skype earlier this evening.
Here is a pictorial of the Ellu-bella we made this year, with a lot of 'help' and involvement from both R & N. The proportion I use is: 1 cup each of peanuts, gram dal and dry coconut pieces, 1.5 cups of jaggery pieces and 3 Tblsp of fried sesame seeds.
Day 1: Jaggery pieces, kept in the open for them to dry and firm up a little
Day 2: Kadle being cleaned, all broken and 'ill-fitting' pieces are removed
Day 3: Peanuts dry roasted on slow heat so they don't get charred, these will be deskinned
Day 4: Dry coconut, skin scraped and cut into small pieces
Day 5: White sesame seeds, dry roasted on medium heat
Day 6: All ingredients mixed
May your new year be filled with the bounties of freshness, Happy Sankranthi to all!