Summer time is ideal for pickling especially with the glut of spring vegetables and of course, raw mangoes in the market.
Apart from being the best supporting act in a meal, the pickle with its tangy taste always pulls on our emotions.
The small dab - that we mix with our rice or pluck with chappatis on our dining plate - talks of our own family’s diet through the years.
The choice of fruit or vegetable used in a pickle tides us through the leaner seasons.
The mainstay however of a good pickle, is what the taste conjures up in our minds, despite the brand name, packaging or price.
I associate pickles with summer reading, an odd combination.
It started with visits to my maternal grandmother’s home in Goa.
She would cook up the best pickles made from every day vegetables like brinjals, ivy gourd, carrot, lime etc. into delectable sweet, sour or spicy bites, depending on the time of the year and the ripeness of the fruit.
Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted forest came alive to some sweet chewy raw mango bites, Nancy Drew sleuthing prowess was amplified with a bite of sweet-sour carrot sticks, even the Bible stories were read with a bit of salt and spice.
Obviously, my parents tried hard to keep my unhealthy obsession with pickles in check.
The pickle jars stacked on higher kitchen shelves, but I managed to have myself an adventure, seeking out the jars, making sure I used a dry spoon and doled out enough pickle in a ceramic bowl, that would last me till the end of the day’s reading.
The terrace was my favorite reading-eating ground.
The raw mango slivers kept to dry out and then tossed with chilli and salt, were like a carpet of umami goodness.
I would like next to the mat sunning myself with these lovely tiny bites at my arm’s length.
Decades later, there are new habits and old loves.
The pickle stock still commands a shelf in the fridge, and on the kitchen counter top.
I have phone reminder on when to go shop for Ram kela, perfect raw mango to make aam-heeng achar.
Then, there are the pickled meat and fish pickles.
There is a jar of Goan Para, made of marinated dried mackerels/ sting rays stored in a spicy vinegary mix.
The pickled fish can be pan-fried for an instant tangy accompaniment to any rice dish.
The other staple is prawn balchao, for the distinct sweet-hot-sour flavor.
A forever favourite is the Andhra Avakkai pickle made with a strong red chilli paste, the Gongura pickle is another eternal love.
The Kadumanga or simple cut mango with curry leaves, garlic and ginger, pickle from Kerala is another must have. The list, as you may have guessed is long.
We all have our pickle favourites, because the pickle is more than just an amalgamation of sunlight, salt and spices.
My grandmother never made a note of her recipes, and I still hunt for that same sweet-sour flavor of her carrot pickle.
There are few moments when I can almost taste it again, but it is never the same.
It is amazing how a simple dish, means so much more, and the image of that the ubiquitous ceramic pickle jar reminds us of old summers.
With our favourite pickles, we savour memories. Entire lifetimes preserved and relived from time to time.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.