Friday, June 7, 2013

The religion of pickle-preparation

The Telugu-speaking need no introduction when I speak about pachadi or avakayi ( chutneys and pickles). We live and die by them.
Now that the season of pickle preparation is on, my mind goes back to my childhood days when pickle preparation was almost like a ceremony. Summer would bring raw mangoes into the market. We would start the season with mamidikayi pappu (raw mango-mixed dal) and mamidikayi pachadi (raw  mango chutney). Further, before the right mangoes for pickle preparation hit the market, mother would make something that she'd call the temporary pickle which would be prepared like the conventional pickle but with much smaller pieces so that it was ready to eat as soon as possible.  
The pickle preparation would start with elaborate planning. How many varieties of mango pickles to be prepared? How many varieties of mangoes need to be bought? But even before buying the mangoes, more elaborate preparation awaited. Transfer last year's left over pickles, if any, into smaller jars and wash and keep all those big glass and ceramic jars out to air in the sun. Buy mustard seeds, buy red chilies and dry them out in the sun for 1-2 days. Once the chilies were dried and crisp, mother would pound these in the mortar with a long wooden pestle.There was also a belief that unless mustard powder was quickly mixed with salt, it would turn bitter. Salt used then was the crystal salt. These powders were then sieved through a cloth to ensure that the finest powders were used for optimizing the tastes. 
After the jars and powders were ready, father bought the mangoes. Different varieties of mangoes were used for different types of mango pickles but the first and the sourest ones to hit the market were used to make 'Pachi Avakayi' (Raw mango pickle). Other varieties would involve the sun-dried and other varieties of pickle.
Cutting and preparing the pickle was a family affair. Mother, and sometimes father would cut the mangoes into halves. We kids would sit around with screw drivers in hand to remove the 'jeedi' and the 'pora' (seeds and the thin plastic-like layer surrounding the seed) carefully from the halves and then the mangoes would be cut into smaller pieces, each mango yielding about 15 pieces. Mangoes with any kind of scratches or cuts were declared unfit for pickle. We kids would hang around just for that opportunity and quickly grab those pieces; a small portion of salt and chilly powder in our tiny hands and the sour mango pieces dipped into and eaten with great gusto. 
Once the pieces were cut, then the process of mixing would start. Mother would measure and pour out a mound of red chilly powder. On that would come the green mustard powder, followed by the white salt, the yellow turmeric and then the creamy brown asafoetida powder. I would watch with wonder as she would hand-mix these colors together. The colors would slowly blend with each other till they formed a uniform reddish-brown texture. The huge jars were brought out. Handfuls of the mango pieces scooped up with mixed powder and shoveled into the waiting jars. When the entire amount of the mixture and the mangoes disappeared, mother would pour out the thick dark mustard oil all over the pickle. We would want so eagerly to taste it  but were asked to wait for a week while it got ready.
Most of the time, this whole thing was done after lunch. Remember, there were no excuses saying that I need to do so much today and hence," let's get food from outside" business in those days :) Mother had to cook, we had lunch, dishes cleared away and then the process would start.
Mother would mix the contents of the pickles a couple of times to ensure uniform pickling. And the day she declared it done, we used to eagerly wait at the dining tables to savor the first taste of the season's pickle. Hot white rice, a dollop of avakayi and hot ghee mixed together, eaten while biting into the mango pieces still crunchy and  relishing each mouthful of the great spicy, aromatic experience...heavenly!

My tribute to the tradition this year: a mini ceremony with 6 mangoes


RamaWish said...

I want to taste it

RamaWish said...

When will i get to taste it?

Beautiful World said...

Hi Rama, you are welcome to taste the pickle any time...but I must warn you...a first-time your own risk :)