Can we ever forget the taste of the first morsel of hot steaming rice mixed with that delectable rich red concoction dunked in aromatic ghee hand-fed by grandma? How fondly most of us walk down the memory lane reliving the nostalgia of dozens of cousins gathered together, eagerly waiting for our turn as grandma patiently fed the season’s first serving to each one of us! The satisfaction of that meal is unparalleled and indelible.
The very mention of ‘Aam ka Achaar’ not only triggers a physical response of lips puckering at the recall of brine and teeth teetering on its tanginess but also evokes a plethora of memories: of courtyards filled with women hand-pounding the red chilli in rhythmic motion with long wooden poles, exchanging gossip and news over heaps of raw mangoes chopped into even pieces with a handheld knife over a chopping board, of ceramic jars in which they are stored, of children running around, of laughter, of happiness, of togetherness as a community. The sight of fresh pickle indulge in the aromas of yesteryears and sharer in the joy of community cooking.
Call it Avakaya or Aam ka Achaar, mango pickle has been a part of our precious childhood memories as well as our staple diet as we grew up. The slightest smear on the tip of your tongue is an instant pick up for a bland meal. Almost every Indian family usually stocks a range of ‘achaars’ made by their grandmother or by someone else’s grandmother. If the store-bought version makes it to the table, then we consume it whilst reminiscing about our grandmother’s original version and the affection with which she served us the season’s first serving. Over centuries, the mango pickle has evolved in households across the country, with each region adding its own special touch to the preparation from the marmalade-like ‘chhundo’ in Gujarat to the fiery avakai of Andhra.
For most people in South India, it’s an annual affair that begins in summer and lasts for the rest of the year. In fact, when made with cold pressed oil and freshly ground ingredients, pickles have natural probiotics and aid digestion when you begin a meal with the first morsel of pickle rice, much to the contrary belief that the fiery red delectable concoction is unhealthy.
Obviously, our forefathers knew the nutritional benefits of pickle and therefore, every meal began with it. With time, pickles bought across the counter in supermarkets may have taken the place of homemade varieties but still evoke memories of beautiful days gone by.