Friday, March 7, 2008

PPP in a pickle!

When the leaves of the mango tree in our frontyard turn that exquisite brown-green and the yard is covered with rustly dead leaves , I sigh: I know it is pp time again... No , not pillpopper time but pickles and preserves time.My aunt was a great pickler and preserver and March would always see the beginning of frenetic activity. Pickle jars would be cleaned and dried, plastic sheets washed...

First to make their appearance would be the curd rice accompaniment- the vad mangai.Vadumangais alas, were not available in Hyderabad and were imported via obliging relatives.The best vadus I have ever tasted were from Kutralam, my aunt's 'maika'.. where the vadus ,she assured us ,were from special trees. The vadus could not fall to the ground and were collected in nets tied under the trees. The vadus were just a single bite size , a lovely lime-green and absolutely yummy with curd rice ,the staple food of Tambrams. Remember this famous song.
Next in line would be an assortment of light pickles.....thokkus redolent with the flavours of methi powder, hing and gingelly oil, Ennai mangai with the right blend of salt, pungency and tang , morabbas with an exquisite sweet-sour taste....
Then simultaneously we would be into the vatrals and vadams. In the scorching heat of April , my aunt would create huge mounds of dough speckled with green chillies and seasoned with hing, with a liberal spray of lime juice. All the under 16s ( only girls mind you, no women's lib here) were sent scurrying to the terrace to get the arena ready for the great fat indian vadam spectacle. The sun would be a fierce orange blob and I would immediately start on a migraine.. but my aunt would be unfazed. If I had a headache .she would be having a worse one, and would tie a towel like a bandit queen around her head and carry on.I believed for a long time that my aunt was the reincarnation of some spartan general who would have willingly let the weaklings die ,believing in the survival of the fittest.
Suddenly May would be upon us, and it would be Avakkai time again. Avagai, the queen of mango pickles.Everything had to be right for this queen.. Previously all the spices would be made at home, but fortunately now we get everything readymade. The time had to be just right. The agni nakshatram had to be over but the thunder showers with hailstones shouldn't have ruined the mangoes. The mangoes which fell due to hailstorms were considered unfit for pickling, much like fallen women! My aunt would drag us to the market and haggle endlessly. We were the official tasters to check if the mangoes were sour enough. One bite and the tang would make our dendrites tingle.We would arrive home withe cut mangoes , half dead from the heat, but there was more work to be done. The mango pieces had to be wiped, the salt and chilli powder mixed.. Atlast it would be over. Three days later we would have a taste of the Avagai.. and it would be "If there is a heaven on earth, it is this ,it is this!'
Then I had made a resolution . I would never ever torture myself to make vatrals and vadams, But fate willed otherwise. But that is another story.

When my workaholic hyperactive aunt had a crippling stroke when she was 78, I wondered how she would cope with a sedentary life. But true survivor that she was , she switched to watching mega soaps and dispensing free advice to all and sundry.Now that is what I call a true survivor.

PS: The red monstrosity guarding the vadaam is thanks to my older daughter.For those who fail to recognise it , let me enlighten you here. It is the big bad wolf (Of red riding hood fame) in Grandma's clothing.

The Murabba recipe

2 Cups grated raw mango , Grated
2 Cups Sugar
a pinch of salt
4 sticks cinnamon
2 Tbsp chilli powder

Remove excess water from the grated mango , add sugar , cinnamon and chilli powder
Spread thinly on a plate
Cover with a muslin cloth
Leave it out in the sun for 2-3 days (bring it in each night :D) until the Murabba becomes syrupy
Store in air tight containers