When I think of childhood summers, I can still smell and taste the distinct flavors of my grandma’s mango pickle: pickle oil slathered on a roti rolled into an afternoon snack, pickle oil mashed with potatoes and onions to go with rice and dal, pickle straight up. My grandma, who wasn’t fond of cooking and took up every other menial job in the house to be spared kitchen work somehow made the best pickles ever. It’s a shame that she left us before she could pass on her recipes. But more than the recipes, I miss the sight of her draped in her snow-white crisp cotton saree made resplendent as she sat in the sun, and delicately sprinkled a turmeric and salt rub on what appeared to be a ton of green mango cubes. The smell of mango mixed with turmeric wafted off the balcony letting the neighbors know that we were going to have a happy and bountiful year.
The formative years of our lives in India were peppered with piquant fruits and spices. The seasonal process of pickling taught us to be responsible as we stood guard over big white sheets spread with green mangoes, chilies, and tamarind fruits, scorching in the sun, ready to pickle, to protect them from curious birds and unpredictable kal baishakhis.
It taught us love and bonding as we tiptoed to the roofs with cousins and siblings after the women in the house had dozed off after a day of hard work. We dip our hands into the not-yet-ready mason jars and inevitably ate way too much to leave a conspicuously empty space in the jars. It taught us life hacks as we learned to extort cousins and siblings into sharing candies, cassettes, and movie posters by threatening to divulge their pickle-stealing tales.
But I worry about the generations after us. How will they learn to share, to keep secrets, to bond over secrets, or to form lasting summer memories without the mango achaars? We are the last generation standing between those who knew the art of food preservation and those who probably will grow up to love and respect the planet more than we did. Will they forgive us if we don’t teach them the most important and basic art in food preservation? Will we? Are we doing enough to keep alive our culinary traditions? Are we learning the magic behind the various famous and loved but almost dwindling recipes (the traditional Bengali recipes like dhokar dalna, narkel naru, nimki, pithe, potoler dorma, tel koi, paturi, taler bora, bori, koraishutir kochuri, shukto, aam boal etc. come to mind)? Do we talk to the generation of recipe protectors? I fear not because I have yet to meet someone from my generation who makes their own pickles, and I think it’s time to change that.
Let’s do this. Let’s talk to our parents and grandparents and aunts and neighbors and source the most loved achaar recipes, the most prized recipes we can find. Let’s all share them here with everyone. I will try each recipe and document them with videos and with detailed instructions so no desi has to forget the masterful art of pickling ever. And it is so important to remember our ways of cooking and eating at a time of growing food uncertainties and shortages.
- 1 green mango
- 3 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 whole dry red chilies
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp panch phoron
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 1 cup mustard oil
- 1/2 tsp asafoetida
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Cut the greenest mango you can find into bite-sized cubes. The one I found wasn't the greenest but it works. Reserve the mango pit for tok dal or mango dal.
- Sprinkle 1 tbsp salt and the turmeric on the cubed mangoes, rub and let sit in the sun for a day or two. You basically want the mangoes to be as dry as possible before making the pickle. Water is the enemy of food preservation. I don't get a lot of sun where I live, so I skipped this step. I will tell you what I did instead in the next steps.
- Dry roast red chilies, cumin seeds, panch phoron, and mustard seeds and grind into a coarse powder.
- If you dry the mangoes in the sun first, heat all the mustard oil in a pan, temper with asafoetida, and then add the mangoes. If you don't have the option of drying mangoes in the sun first, heat half of the mustard oil in a pan. Temper with asafoetida, add marinated mangoes, and fry over high heat until the mangoes are slightly scorched. You want the mangoes to be touching the bottom of the heated pan to get that sear. You basically want to get as much moisture out from the mangoes as possible.
- Add the ground spices and give a good stir.
- Add sugar.
- Now add the remaining 2 tbsp salt. This may seem like a lot of salt for 1 mango, but remember salt is essential for pickling. Salt provides a suitable environment for lactic acid bacteria to grow, which gives the pickle the characteristic flavor and preserves the fruit. You want to taste the saltiness at this stage and add more salt if necessary.
- If you had added only half of the mustard oil in order to scorch the mango cubes, you want to add the remaining mustard oil now. Allow all the spices to cook for 1-2 more minutes before removing from heat.
- Once the mangoes have cooled down, transfer to a mason jar. It is important to store the pickle in a glass jar because glass is inert. There’s is no chemical interaction between the acidity of pickle brine and the container. Glass can be recycled by melting down into new jars without deterioration again and again.
- Let the jar sit in a part of the house that gets the most sun. This will keep for a year but should be ready to taste after a month or two.
- This recipe is for one mango but multiply/adjust the ingredients depending on how many mangoes you are pickling. You have to use your judgment, though. For example, you won't need two cups for mustard oil for 2 mangoes.