Monday, June 29, 2009

Pickles, pickles

An email conversation started by Vikram Doctor (latest piece) created this post by Gaurav leading to this post on pickles.

As first generation migrants from Kerala to Bombay, we carried our culture alongwith us. And that meant pickles, karuvadams and quite a few other things.

Around March end and April, to serve these first generation immigrants, a horde of Kutchis (or Marwaris perhaps) would descend to certain suburbs of Mumbai (read, Chembur, Matunga, Mulund etc.) selling tender, unripe mangoes to be used for Vadumaanga pickle. And then, unlike now, even though we lived in apartments, doors and gates were only symbolic. Hawkers like them would walk in, offer a good discount and all the maamis from ground floor to third floor would buy off all the mangoes. These kutchis knew how to sell. For them, once they convinced one customer in the building, they knew that selling the basket (and their family members baskets) was not too far. They used referrals from one building to another (and in those days without telephones, sometimes they asked for a small chit to use). But I digress.

A little later, these same folk would arrive with the larger, unripe mangoes that would form the basis for avakkai. I am not very familiar with the pickling process, but since I was an "important" hand during this process, I can somewhat recall it.

It involved taking the stalk off them, cleaning them and then soaking the tender unripe mangoes in brine for some time in porcelain jars (bharani, originally purported to be of Chinese origin), then add chilli powder and keep shaking it every now and then and checking if the mango is tender. At a high level this is how the pickle gets done - dont trust me on that though - these are the processes where we were involved.

Then, it was the turn of the avakkai. Avakkai involved cutting the mango into big byte sized chunks typically with an aruvamanai (sometimes, the sellers did that as a value add) and then marinating it in a salt, chilli powder, asafoetida (and one other particularly aromatic powder - don't recall what). Then somebody came up with a process improvement - drying it in the sun a bit gave it better texture and then was the accepted practice atleast in our part of the world. Then again, it was about shaking and checking over a few weeks after which like the other pickles, it went into big glass bottles to be stored and used till the summer came up once again.

(There were other variations like the cooked thokku, the almost instant "kari". And then the Gujjus taught us to make Chundo and we added that to our repertoire of pickles. And the Punjus taught us their variant, so all in all, it was a nice happy pickled world minus the mustard oil, which, true to tradition, we hated.)

But then while the world goes for de-nuclearisation, we were nuked and today we have no time to make pickles. In any case, my favourite remains the Avakkai, followed by the kari and then the thokku. (The Vadumanga was never my favourite). So, my current favs are a Rajasthani Sweet lime pickle and a stuffed chilli pickle from Mothers, the Sweet ginger and shallot pickle from Priya.

But yes, give me Avakkai, any time...


Mohan said...

I was just talking about pickles with my wife yesterday, after enjoying a heavy lunch. She makes pickles at home (mango, lime, amatekayi - sour oval shaped fruit, not sure what it is called in English, nellikayi, etc). In addition we get some from my mother too. So we are heavy pickle consumers. I was telling her I don't think any other food item can beat pickles for return on effort. The amatekayi pickle we have been enjoying for the past two months probably didn't take more than a couple of hours to make.

niti bhan said...

ayo neelakantan, shut up already, by the time i reached the end of the post I had to swallow so many times and my mouth is still watering... ;p