Our country has vast repertoire of traditional pickles. Meat, chicken, vegetables, fruits all have been pickled in India. the word achaar derived from Portuguese- ‘achi’-means chilly/ peppers. Indian meals are incomplete without achaars, it is through pickles that Indians discovered preserving techniques.
Best part of childhood was going to grand mom’s house during the vacations.. The pleasant memories associated with spending time with the cousins, playing hide and seek, gazing the stars on the moon-lit night, sleeping on the terrace and listening to stories of ghosts. In the day time sitting on the jhulla (swing) hanging from the mango tree and during mango season eating raw mangoes with salt and red chilly powder under the same tree was my favorite past time.
From summer to winter vacations, the food ingredients changed, if summers were about kadi-chawal, then winters was about the sarso ka saag and maki ki roti, but one thing which was available and same throughout the year was the presence of pickles, the faithful companion going with all kind of foods, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner , the pickle complimenting all.
The tangy smell of raw mangoes still evokes my emotions and taste buds, there is something nostalgic about it, taking me back to my childhood.
The thought of home-made pickles still reminds me the open spaces, the courtyard of the ancestral house, the raw cut mangoes being dried in the sun, after applying salt and turmeric.
Travelling by bus during long journeys my amma (grandmother) always carried a small glass bottle of mango-pickle, and kept licking the small piece during sharp curves and turns, as there was no avomine ( tablet for stopping vomitting) available in those days and her pickle was her only saviour during such tiring journeys. It had therapeutic effect then.
While returning back from Summer vacations when we boarded the train, amma always use to hand over a bag full of goodies along with a huge martvaan (jar) of mango pickle. How can I forget her nicely wrapped paranthas in a newspaper with pickle inside it.
Aloo-poori, was our favorite lunch-box item with aam ka achaar during picnics.
When the food tasted bland or during Sunday brunch, if any body cribbed about the tasteless food, a spoon full of pickles would raise his or her morale, relieving his taste-buds.
Amma would generously put pickles for her five son-in-laws according to their tastes , from mango to turnip and lemon to carrot-cauliflower. The porch of her house proudly displayed huge jars with all kind of pickles, soaking the sun, in regular intervals she would, add mustard oil to the pickle jars, except the sweet lemon pickle. Every pickle had its unique ingredients, some had feenugreek seeds, some had jaggery added for sweetness and some mustard seeds, each pickle tasted so different from the other.
Amma made special arrangements when any of her daughters or daughter-in-law was on the family way, to suit their tastes.
As a child when i was busy consuming those pickles i never realized that it was not easy but a tedious job to prepare the pickles, but now as an adult i realize that in those times it was not at all easy for amma to make those pickles, , as it is now, when every thing is ready made and readily available, but that taste is no where to be found. So effortlessly she prepared it, despite of the fact that it required hours of preparations, arranging for the ingredients, months of saving it up for years of consumption. She would herself cut the little mangoes with a sickle, the handle of the sickle would be firmly held by the toes and with her hands she would swiftly with great speed would cut the mangoes and dexterously removed the whitish thing encasing the young guthli. Further she would spread a cotton cloth on the ground and at times on the terrace, and would spread the mango pieces on it. Still remember how we as kids were assigned the duties of guarding the pieces against the birds, dogs or cats otherwise it would become unfit for consumption.
With great effort amma would mix the roasted and ground ingredients to the pieces in a shallow container or thali. Finally after addition of copious amount of mustard oil, the stuff was transferred to the large martbaan with wide mouth and it was then placed in the sun for next 15 days. Whole day after basking in the sun the jar would return to the shelf in the evening and again the next day it was put in the sunlight after giving it a rigorous shake for uniform distribution of mustard oil. Her pickles lasted for more than five years, if consumed in bits but that was very rare of an occurrence.
From dhabhas to hotels, trains to planes all serve pickles, though factory made with extra oil and salt, that may trouble our blood pressure if consumed in huge quantity but that is the traditional way of preserving it, and pickle should be consumed as ‘pick-a-little’ and not as proper meal, then it work wonders.
I miss amma ke achaar, her handmade pickles spiced with love and care have been replaced by factory-made pickle bottles, which are no match to amma ke achaar. Though i have her traditional pickle recipes, but neither i have her patience nor perseverance. Her pickles have been a holistic expression of home-made food for me.
Her pickle making process was a meeting point for many ladies of the village, who always wanted to know the reason behind her great tasting pickles and with rapt attention observed her making it.
My childhood is still intact in that jar of aam ka achaar.