A time for Pickles

Ramaben Mulraj Joshi in her shop for pickles and masalas in Mattancherry. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Ramaben Mulraj Joshi in her shop for pickles and masalas in Mattancherry. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Come March-April the mango tree blossoms. It sprouts tender fruit and the air turns redolent with rawness; the sun grows hotter ready to sweeten the mangoes, but just before it does so the fruit is harvested for pickling. It is this time of the year that Diwia Thomas, who now buys pickles off the shelf, remembers nostalgically - a time when loads of raw, green mangoes, from the orchards of her ancestral home, arrived at her grandmother’s veranda. As custom, she says, the first flush of the harvest went to the daughters’ in-laws, the second lot was sent to aunts’ and uncles’ homes, the third set was for friends and the rest, “there was still plenty”, was pickled at home to be savoured for the rest of the year. These months witnessed a seasonal, participatory, annual activity of pickling mangoes, something that has lost out to factory-produced bottled pickles, the labels declaring romantically their intricate sources - grandmother’s recipe or family recipe.

And yet, thankfully, the tradition of preparing pickles for family, friends and even as small enterprise continues.

In our city there are many stalwarts, the pickle matrons, who have been doing so for years together, in different styles - Gujarati, Konkani and the naadan Kerala style.

Ramaben Mulraj Joshi has a small pickle store, Sriji, on Gujarati Road in Mattancherry. The 66-year-old has been running her little shop for the past 10 years pickling 300 kilos of mangoes every year. From half the amount, 150 kilos, she makes chundo, a sweet and spicy pickle. With the rest she makes different kinds, one a quick salad with raw mango, called keri ka aachar . “This is my main season. Raw mangoes are in plenty and the sun is hot, just right for pickling.” says Ramaben. Chundo made from grated mangoes is mixed with salt, sugar, jaggery, masalas and placed in the sun for forty days wherein it stews and matures. “That’s how the syrup is made,” says Ramaben who earlier made pickles for friends, family and the neighbourhood, until they coaxed her into beginning a venture. “I am not educated,” she says shyly but immensely pleased that her non-literary efforts are bringing repeat customers. “Earlier, I used to give pickles for free,” she says with credulity. Her store is lined with jars of sweet, sour, hot, spicy and tangy pickles.

Susheela T. Bhat has made mango pickles for the last 50 years, an art she says she learnt from her mother. A retired teacher from Cherai, she speaks almost lovingly about the tender mango, called anguri meaning grape.

In the Konkani community 73-year-old Susheela is known for the matchless taste of her pickles. This season she has made pickles and sent them to her daughter and sister-in-law in Mumbai.

For 62-year-old Gowri Vasudevan, this is the season. She pickles about 50 kilos of mangoes, which she purchases from wholesale vendors who pluck it off trees and not from the market. Last season she faced a shortage of tender mangoes. Her clientele lives abroad, families from Kochi who reside in West Asia and Australia, she informs with pride.

Sunila Sunil ran her enterprise Suni Pickles for ten years, before slowing down due to shortage of assistants and rising cost of ingredients. Her speciality, she says, is not adding preservatives or food colour. Sunila too learnt these recipes from her mother and later honed her skills from experience. When in business she used to sell as many as 100 bottles of pickles a month. Sunila innovates with mangoes. One of her recipes uses olive oil as against the commonly used gingelley oil. A popular recipe, she says, is a combination of cut mangoes, bird’s eye chilli ( kandhari ), sliced ginger in vinegar and olive oil. Like Ramaben, Sunila too dries cut mangoes in the sun to remove moisture from the flesh.

Prema Menon finds many changes in the traditional methods and ingredients of Kerala style mango pickling. She says that traditionally garlic and vinegar were never used but that has changed. Kanni manga, uppu manga and the cut mango pickle were made during this season and lasted the year. Uppu manga was made with whole mangoes with their sap rich stalks and preserved in brine to be savoured during the rainy months of karikkadam. Jars or bharani full of maturing pickle, their mouths wrapped with cloth is an endearing image of any household of yore, she says.

“Pickles were all made from dry raw mangoes. From the ripe ones, we made the traditional manga thira ,” says Prema.

Preetha S. Menon has taken to this “delightful activity” only recently. She finds making pickles, “fulfilling.” Having access to mangoes from her ancestral home in Chelakara and the family recipes she is headlong into pickling only the ‘ moovandan ’ variety, which is most commonly used.

She makes pickles for her small circle of family and friends and proudly retails them at the annual college fair at St. Teresa’s.

Mango pickling does not bring the women either big money or fame but in this activity they carry forward a tradition, an activity their mothers and grandmothers indulged in, finding joy and offering some to others. Kanni manga

Tender whole mangoes- 200gm


Chilli powder- 50 gm

Mustard seeds, pounded- 3 tsp

Asafoetida- 2 tsp

Method: Add salt in one-and-a-half glass of water and boil for at least 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Allow to cool properly. Wash the mangoes and dry well, using cotton cloth. Place them in the salted water mix. Pour into glass bottles or jars. After 2 -3 days add chilli, mustard and asafoetida to this and mix well. One can add 2-3 tsp of heated and cooled gingelly oil on top.

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Printable version | May 15, 2022 3:30:16 pm |