Neatly cut and sun-dried raw mangoes mixed with salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, ‘methi dal,' pounded mustard and oil are getting cured at Sumithra A. Jain's house in Purasawalkam.

The early morning shopping to the vegetable market, the many rounds to the terrace and the slow aroma coming from porcelain jars are indications enough to neighbours and relatives that Ms. Jain is back to her annual ritual – preparing ‘keri ka achar' andgunda ka achar.' This season she prepared five kilos of mango pickle. On the other side of the city, at M. Bhanumathi's house in Thiruvanmiyur, the arduous process of preparing ‘avakai pachadi' is over and the family has started relishing it.

“By mid-May you must complete the process as during April-May the raw mango is tender and available in plenty. Otherwise, due to the heat, it will ripen faster,” says 70-year-old Ms. Bhanumathi, who along with her daughter-in-law M. Padmapriya engages in the process of making pickles year after year.

Summer is the ideal time when most homes prepare jars of pickles to last them a year. Although it is no where close to how extensively the procedure was decades ago, a good number of families still prepare at least some quantity, thanks to the easy availability of raw materials.

Bhanumathi bought around 15 kg of mangoes, 50 lemons and 10 kg of tomatoes to make the pickles. Sometimes, they procure chillies from Guntur or Warangal for that special Andhra touch.

“In the olden days, we shared the work such that a relative in Triplicane or Mylapore would get the spices pounded from the local mill. Today, sourcing the items is much simpler with Ranganathan Street, Mylapore and Mint offering cut mangoes, but the only issue is people have no time to prepare. Making pickles is like a project work,” she says.

Although most of these recipes use a standard set of spices and ingredients, each community comes up with its distinct flavour of pickle. It is the way things are done, say homemakers, adding that the satisfaction is in seeing others savour it.

Round the year Lakshmi Rajyam of Valasaravakkam prepares ‘alam' (ginger), ‘amla' (gooseberry), lemon or ‘gongura'pickles. “For the first time I had a family visiting their relative abroad ordering 10 kg, two kg of which was ‘avakai,'” says Ms. Rajyam.

For those pressed for time, there is always a friend or relative returning from their hometown with a few small jars of pickles. Kanni mangoes (delicate mangoes spiced with chilly powder and hing) and fish pickle are safe enough to last for at six months are a must-relish in Kerala homes.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012

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