Posted 19 June 2004 - 03:24 AM
My pickle audit of what's currently available at home. The selection is influenced by the fact that I don't really like most mango and lime pickles. I think most commercial pickle manufacturers make their pickles too acid to begin with, and when you combine this with the natural acidity of green mangos and lime, the result is too mouth puckering for its own good.
Perhaps the problem is that I don't get homemade versions of these often. My family makes other kinds, of which more in a minute, but not these two, so I don't have nostalgic memories of them. The only mango pickle I ever really fell for was a dark stick mass on sweet-sour mango pulp that a friend's grandmother in Himachal made. She died last year and since no one else in her family is able to make it, I'm going to have to resign myself to never eating it again (unless Rushina can find something that matches in her trip to the hills...)
(Madhur Jaffrey has a nice passage about pickles and how certain varieties vanish with their makers in her Introduction to Indian Cooking book. She was talking about a lime pickle her grandmother, and only her gradmother could make. After the old lady died, the remaining batch was carefully doled out among her descendants. One interesting point here was how she says her grandmother always insisted that only one of the servants was entrusted with the job of turning the pickles in their crocks with his hand - apparently only he had the right hand for doing this. And apparently when someone else's hand was used, the pickles did go bad. A coincidence, or could some quality about someone's hand really affect the pickle?)
Back to my pickles. The other problem I have is that many of my favourite pickles are made from ingredients that are either too local or hard to get. For example, for ages I have been longing for a Coorgi bamboo shoot pickle that was available in Nilgiri's in Bangalore, but is no longer seen. It was wonderful stuff, that seemed to use more pepper than chillis, as would probably have been traditional in that region before chillies came. This also prevented the slightly starchy sweet flavour of bamboo shoot from being drowned out. From my point of view, almost the only benefit of Episure moving to Bangalore was that finally there was someone who could track it down, but it doesn't look like he's had much luck.
Similarly there a wonderful mussel pickle made in North Kerala (kalamakai pickle) which had this marvellous tang of the sea to balance out the sour and hot flavours. My great grandmother in Tellicherry would make them from big orange mussels and ship them to her family, who would treat it with reverance. To eke out the flavour my mother would cut carrots into sticks (only because of the orange colour, I think) and dunk them in the pickle, to eat when the mussels were over. Getting this pickle here in Bombay is almost impossible - Goan mussel pickle is available, but the overuse of vinegar, I feel, drowns out the mussel taste.
Anyway, finally coming to my audit:
- stuffed green chillies, from two places. One, slightly more pungent, from Motilal Masalawala, old and reliable Bombay store. The other, slightly fresher and should be refrigerated, from a small shop outside the Jain temple on Malabar Hill which serves excellent Jain pickles and savouries.
- Rushina is too modest to say this, but her mother makes an awesome sweet and hot pickle (well chutney is more like it) from a whole bunch of ingredients that Rushina says she doesn't know or is trying to keep secret. She gave me a bottle that is now almost empty...
- Curry leaf thokku, a south Indian sort of pickle. This is interesting, as almost the only dish where curry leaves are used in themselves, and its quite good. Also, I'm told, very healthy. I have a brand from Madras, Sri Ganeshram's.
- Onion pickle, from Priya Pickles, using those small Madras onions that either are, or double up as, shallots. Not bad, though too acid like most commercial pickles and I don't think I'll be buying it again.
- Carrot and dry fruit pickle, from Motilal's. This is the great Parsi pickle, the one that's served with crisp puffy fried sago papads at all their weddings. Its the first item of the lagan-nu-bhonu, the wedding feast, and I always OD on it then, even when I know that there are innumerable dishes to come. Its sweet and fruity and just faintly hot. But I have to note that having bought this months back, I still haven't opened it, which goes to show that some pickles are perhaps best enjoyed only in context.
- Ginger thokku, from MTR. This is EXCELLENT. Hot, but not too hot, and with just the right amount of ginger burn. I have four jars which is an indication of how much I like it.
- Tomato pickle, from MTR again. I bought this with big expectations, after the ginger thokku, but while its not bad, its not that exciting either.
- OK, big drum roll for the real pickle de resistance, and the only reason its still in the fridge is because I've just come back from Madras, otherwise between the bf and me, it doesn't last too long. Its the prawn pickle made by Vijayan, our resident genius cook in Madras. Its in the North Kerala style and is HOT, with no over use of vinegar to conceal the taste. Its made with the small strong tasting prawns so their flavour just makes it through the eat.
Eating this is agony (especially the next morning), but it is a delicious and irresistable agony, especially when eaten plain on bread with a few fresh tomato slices on top to balance the taste, and slightly cool things down. Today morning I went into the kitchen to make breakfast and found the jar was already out - at 9.00 am! - and the bf with a half-ashamed, half-defiant face.
Vijayan makes this in industrial quantities to send out to all in the family (for some reason, all sons-in-law particularly love this), and we all dread the day when he can make it no more. My sister has extracted the recipe from him and one of these days I will have to try it, but I need to get a proper grinding stone first since one of the secrets, apparently, is that the spices have to be ground coarser than you can do in an electrical grinder.