Everyone I know seems to have childhood memories of pickling sessions, of mothers and grandmothers, aunts and grandaunts gathering around hills of mangoes or other seasonal fruit or veg, vast quantities of spices, acres of muslin, big, beautiful ceramic jars and glass bottles, sunny balconies and terraces, gossip, natter, and a whole lot of fun.
I had none of these memories - we didn't eat pickles in our house, my grandmother didn't make any, neither did anyone in the extended family (at least to my knowledge). If neighbours or friends gifted us some it lasted forever. Pickle was never a big deal.
Once I was older, in the last couple of years at school and then in college, I started cooking. Simple meals, basic stuff. I'd often make lunch for myself and plain rice with daal was frequently on my menu. This is where I discovered pickle. Bedekar's mango pickle became the backbone of many of these solitary lunches. Hot rice with daal, a dollop of ma's home made ghee, and spoonful of tart and spicy mango pickle. Till today Bedekar's mango pickle is my favourite mango pickle.
I first encountered chhunda when I was in college. A classmate often brought theplas with chhunda and it was a revelation for me! Love at first bite - as cliched as that sounds!
Later, when I moved to Pune for the Master's in Archaeology I discovered myriad pickles from around the country - olive pickles from Assam, more chhunda, vadu manga and avakkai from the south, Punjabi mixed veg pickle, and of course prawn pickle made by my soon-to-be mom in law.
As you can see, I entered the pickle game pretty late in life and I actually made my first pickle only after I was married. My mother in law had a slew of Parsi pickle recipes and I spent many a happy afternoon helping her make pickles at home - prawn, chicken, various mango pickles, brinjal, and quite a few others.
Then Rushina called me to tell me about celebrating Indian foods and the concept of dedicating days to specific Indian foods and food preparation. So like macaron day, doughnut day, nutella day, etc., why not have aam achaar day and a few others like that? This appealed to me at many levels and I was sold. Since I didn't have any mango pickle making experience I volunteered to make kaancha aam'er chatni, a favourite in Bengali homes in the summer.
And just like that in a couple of weeks we met at the APB Cook Studio and there we were, making pickles! We had everything - the piles of mangoes, the mounds of spices, the bottles of oil, and of course, the gaggle of chattering, laughing, gossiping women!
Small mangoes for vadu manga
Grated and salted mango being squeezed of excess liquid
Instructions, chit-chat, anecdotes, gossip!
Catch them young!
All hands on deck!
Me making kaancha aam'er chatni
You can't make pickle without tasting!
For me, it was the wish for a memory come true. I finally had my pickle making memory. I'm so looking forward to the other Indian food days we're going to celebrate...
Rushina, thank you 💖
Photo credits - Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, Suunil Murudkar, Rhea Mitra-Dalal