Come summer and raw mangoes, the king of fruits are all around, saliva gushing out at the very sight of them! They are handpicked from the local market after much bargaining about the price. The big and fleshy ones are carefully selected, turned around in the hand to see that there are no signs of decay or insect bites before weighing them. This is a routine exercise with my mother every summer when mangoes flood the markets.
At home they are washed clean and each mango dried with a towel. Huge sheets are spread out and the mangoes are cut to pieces placing them on pieces of wood and with the help of a hammer to drive in the knife through the hardened seeds. These pieces were then put out in the sun for days to dry, when we children had all the fun of pilfering a piece now and then. After the moisture evaporated my mother used to mix them with salt, powdered chillies, fenugreek, asafoetida, mustard and oil in her proportions, which nobody knew better. Thoroughly mixed pickle were filled in huge ceramic jars, oil poured on top to act as a deterrent to fungus as no artificial preservatives were used. These were neatly tied with a cloth on top and securely stacked away from moist surroundings until next summer, meanwhile the jars of pickle made the previous year were taken out for current use.
Bottles of pickle was doled out to relatives and friends visiting us and sometimes even taken to their houses when on courtesy calls. My mother always stocked ready to use bottles on the dining table which would vanish in a jiffy once my friends came over. In our childhood when I was all of about ten, this was a very girly affair and was refrained by the more boyish group of friends of my brother. I vividly remember the astonishment on my mother’s face when she found the bottle nearly empty on her return from office on our holidays. Friends who came to play had a lovely helping, not to speak of my cousins who came home.
Those days we used to learn Carnatic music on weekends from a teacher who lived near our house. My cousins would come over to our house, play around, have music lessons, a grand helping of mummy’s ever famous pickles and go back usually after spending the day at our place. There was never a Saturday that mummy forgot to replenish those pickle bottles, coz that was the main intention of my cousins dropping in. Even to this day there is a joke going in family circles that we spent weekends hogging mummy’s pickles and not learning music. The joy was that we never ran short of pickles. Mangoes were pickled in summer, lime in winter and other seasonal stuff whenever they were available abundantly. Our so called music lessons came to an abrupt halt when our teacher moved away giving an untimely end to our pickle sessions!