Thursday, March 25, 2010

In An Instant, Pickle & Fiction Both

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.


  1. yummy pickle to have with curd rice.

  2. I was thinking of the genre until the last para, I should have guessed :-) :-)

    I am sure Sra, you must have done something like this :-) Lovely story

    Thanks for taking it up

  3. Tasty and mouthwatering pickle!!

  4. Sra, haahaha. You have really good sense of humor and style of writing!

    Pickle is great too :)

  5. Really enjoying these nuggets of life written in fiction form or is it the other way around?

    These instant mango pickles with chili powder are to be enjoyed and finished instantly.

  6. I am for this instant pickle anytime and your story reminds me of my Aunts who pampered me to the core and fed my stomach full every time I visited them

  7. I was reading this post and through I could not control my mouth from watering. YUM.

  8. LOL.....Is the kumkum part fiction or real???

  9. I love to read fiction laced with food and yours made a fun read - My granny would regularly make this to eat while the real pickles were in their 'do not disturb' period - I used to call them 'square mangai' as they were cut in a small dice - it was my absolute favourite with thair sadam

  10. I envy you for your expertise with words!!!!

  11. A beautiful write Sra! And I must confess that inspite of coming across the word "paisley" numerous times, I never ever bothered to actually look it up. Thanks for the link describing it. :-)

  12. Mmmmm lovely story but the bowl full of pickle made me drool literally and I could hardly take my eye off of it! Had brought some curd rice for lunch and imagining it with this pickle...Sra why don't you send me some immdiately ? Well done on the fiction part :)

  13. You must be that niece!!!:) But love this fiction, so true of the pickling tradition. Keep the fiction coming, the pickles too!

  14. Hi hi kukum instead of chillie powder, i would also react same ;-) your description of eating mango with chilie and salt reminds me of when i was kid too.
    This instant pickle mom made them always when it was mango season.

  15. Hi
    My favorite instant pickle. Your story took me to my childhood.

  16. Kumkum in pickles..Thats so funny. We make this pickle often at home to go with yogurt rice..quick version of avakkai (cant even call that but will do I hope)..

  17. Ficton or not, it was a good read and throughly enjoy your style of writing Sra.

  18. Enjoyed ur write-up thoroughly with a wide grin. Memories brought alive with ur picles. Lovely.

  19. Sra,
    You have a great sense of humour and loved reading it..and the pickle looks so so mouth-watering.And I like both the fiction and non fiction part "mango ,red pepper powder and salt" :)..
    hugs and smiles

  20. I usually just eat my mangoes plain (they are so delicious!) but I'm intrigued by the idea of pickling this. Thanks for sharing!

  21. yummy pickle combi wth curd rice...and nice stories too

  22. Funny story. ;-)

    I love green mangoes. Would love to taste this dish.


  23. I never reject any comments in my blogspace. I do not know how urs got deleted or never reached me. Anyways, thanks for the lovely comments.Even I felt it resembled the kiwi fruit:):)

  24. My sis and I would not wait for curd rice, we ate it just like that. Nice story SRA :)

  25. I am drooling out here! I love pickles, esp with mangoes! The fiction ... real cool!! :)

  26. Love the pickle..and the post!

  27. Thank you all for your comments.
    Yes, there is quite a bit of truth to it - the characters are different, and the truth, ah? Then it wouldn't be fiction at all, would it?

  28. My favourite favourite thing for the summer :)

  29. Brought back memories of trips to my grandmom's home and the bottles of pickles which would be fermenting in the terrace. I wanted to get back some during my last trip home. Mom said that it would be 'inauspicious' to carry pickle on a flight. Fodder for another story perhaps.

    What if the niece was grown up, was feeling shy to break the news about her boyfriend and used the kumkum/ sindoor as an ice breaker.

    Too corny?


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