Thursday, March 25, 2010
Aunty and her friend were chatting in the back garden, the long lines of drying clothes ensuring they couldn’t be observed very well from inside the house. The niece came out and called to them. Aunty’s brow furrowed in irritation but when she separated a skirt and a sari and peered through them, her gaze softened - her niece had come bearing a plate of green mangoes along with a knife for them to enjoy.
The mangoes had been downed from the tree just a couple of hours earlier with a tall stick to which a hook was attached. The backyard was home to several trees - mango, gooseberry, coconut, sapota/chikoo and banana. Ammamma would get the mangoes and gooseberry plucked and pickle them, pickling day being an event to remember. And even though the pickle would mature only after a few days, a little bowl of it, pungent and somewhat bitter with unmellowed mustard and fenugreek, would always be scooped out into a gleaming steel dish and set on the table with some homemade butter to be enjoyed with some soft and steaming hot rice.
“Oh, why did you bring the knife? You could have hurt yourself!” said Aunty.
“No, Aunty, Ammamma said it wouldn’t hurt because the knife is on the plate and I’m holding it properly. Eat the mangoes.”
“But she forgot the chilli powder and the salt, go, get us some, will you?”
“Ok, Aunty!” said Niece and bounded back into the house.
Aunty began cutting and slicing the mangoes. Funny, she and her friend are wearing saris with a paisley motif. Nice coincidence, that!
Friend and Aunty continued to converse, about History classes, exams and the merits of an MA versus a B. Ed. What could be taking Niece so long? “Sra …!” she called. There was no answer, but she could see her mother moving about in the bedroom facing the backyard. After a while, she called again, exasperated. Ten minutes had passed, and no sign of Niece. What on earth could she have got up to? Resigned, she prepared to walk inside and look for Niece, and get the salt and chilli powder herself, when Niece came out.
“Aunty, here’s the chilli powder and salt.”
“Why did you take so long?”
“Ammamma went in for a bath, and she told me where to look for them in the storeroom.”
“Oh, ok! No, don’t go away, sit and chat with us …”
Aunty smeared the chilli powder and salt on to three slices of mango, handed her friend one and took another herself. Niece refused.
The next moment, an odd look crossed the faces of the adults, and they yelped. And spit out the precious, homegrown mango. Because what the beloved niece had fetched was not red chilli powder, but kumkum.
I knew what my next post was about, but not how it would be written. When Bong Mom mailed me this evening suggesting I also try my hand at Food Fiction, I responded enthusiastically, little knowing inspiration would be in low supply. But determination overtook that weakness and I’ve dipped my toe in the water. Like Sandeepa’s, only a part of this is fiction. The mangoes, red chilli powder and salt are not.
Here’s a recipe for an instant mango pickle. It’s an old, old favourite, one I've tried my hand at, but better guidance came from here, and happily, tasted just like the one made by grandmoms and great aunts.
Raw mango, chopped unpeeled: 4 cups
Red chilli powder: 4 tsp
Salt: 4 tsp
Roasted fenugreek powder: 1 ½ tbsp
Gingelly oil: 8 tsp
Mustard seeds: 2 tsp
Garlic: 5-6 cloves, peeled, bruised
Marinate the mango pieces with a tsp of oil, the chilli powder and salt for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the fenugreek powder to the marinated mango and mix again.
Heat the rest of the oil and pop the mustard. Add the garlic and let fry till it’s sated with oil. Cool a little and add it to the mango. Mix well and cover.
I know it’s supposed to keep for a few days but I’d rather store it in the fridge as I’m no expert in pickling. I just know enough to tell you that everything used during preparation, mangoes, hands, vessels all, should be squeaky clean and squeaky dry.
Mango pickle Mango chutney Food fiction Humour Nostalgia