05 January, 2012

Of being pickled .......

(Image courtesy : indianfoodsco.com via Google)

Pickles !!

What memories does that one word evoke ?

To me, it is not just a life saver, not just a virtual necessity, not just one of those palate cleansing, tongue tickling condiments that adds a whole new dimension to food. To me, the word pickles evokes many more memories from my childhood.

There are some memories from childhood which I distinctly remember and then there are other memories which are rather fuzzy around the edges. There are many memories that are as sharp as a colour picture taken at a time when photography was not so abundant and at the same time, there are many other memories that have been tinged with tones of black and white or a more earthy sepia. Pickles are something that evoke those distinctly clear memories. My childhood memories related to pickles are unblemished even at this age. I guess I was a foodie even back then – just that I didn’t know it !!!

Come summer, the mangowallas would be seen walking around the building compound, big baskets deftly balanced on their white capped heads. These baskets would invariably contain a veritable treasure – small, tender mangoes, mangoes which are plucked from the tree in infancy.

I still remember how the mangoes would be carefully inspected by my mom and how she would buy the smallest and most tender mangoes for pickling. Though I was never a part of this (almost sacred) process of making pickles, I always used to hover around the sidelines – feasting my eyes on the ingredients and soaking up their aromas. I can still remember the sharp tang of the turpin from the fresh mangoes, the fresh odor of a newly opened packet of salt, the tongue numbing fiery smell of the red chilli powder which promised to be just as fiery on the tongue when tasted. There were other muted odors that I do remember – the sharp pungency of the mustard seeds being ground, the wafting aromas of other spices being roasted, the seemingly unique aroma of asafoetida.

In the winter, it would be lemons or gooseberries being pickled. If we had been on a trip down South of India, it could be the Mahani root pickle. Every season had its own specialty and it would be difficult to judge which pickle was the best. Each one had its own distinct flavor, its own defined personality. Each of these had its unique, distinct aromas and flavors which are etched on my mind and my palate and I guess these are one of those things that I will remember with distinct clarity for a long time.

Unfortunately, time has indeed left its mark on pickling too – or rather, the heritage of making pickles. In this fast world that we live in today, it is so much easier to just buy a bottle of pickle off the shelf in the stores, is it not ? We have done this too, a few times. But it was never as fulfilling as a bottle of home made pickles. Not just the taste factor, it is the fact that there is something so innately about the whole process of pickling. There is something intensely gratifying, something inherently rewarding about pickling. No questions about it – it is an art. Pickling is an art in itself.

It is, however, an art which is slowly being eroded, an art which is slowly being lost as home made pickles are replaced by the store bought ones. Over the past few years, we have been making our pickles at home – we have tried pickling lemon, lime, mango, ginger, tomato and some other vegetables. The first time you taste those homemade pickles, when a whole range of tastes tantalize your palate, when that balance of sourness, saltiness and spice (in some cases, sweet too) are in perfect balance with each other – the feeling is not unlike nirvana J

Here’s to pickles, then ….. those tangy, spicy, lip smacking, tongue tingling accompaniments to an Indian meal …….. may pickles continue to seduce palates the world over.

2 voice(s) said so:

Sumana said...

Ahhh you just spoke my mind. I used to miss all this back when we were in the US. From the past 3 years i see my mom back in action again pickling away and transporting some to her daughter's place as well. But it is definitely a process that should not get eroded away. Main thing is the store brought ones are so full of salt, it just cannot be had sometimes.

MyGrahak said...

Pickles reminds me of lot many things. I remember when I was small I used to steal fruits that were laid in the Sun to dry up. Now I have moved to a place where no one can lay fruits in open Sun. This shows how different our lifestyles have become. Pickles are tasty and bring back memories of my grandmother. I think every Indian family have someone who is an expert in pickling. For me it was my grandmother. Thank you for such a lovely post.

Divya Bhaskar