Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Make Mango Pickle While The Sun Shines

A sure sign of summer - tiny green mangoes, with their raw, resinous fragrance have been falling off the trees the last few days.  Miraculously surviving their perilous fall, they lie in small clusters where I spot them during my morning walks.  Somehow they escape the monkeys, the cleaning staff, the students and other morning walkers.

It's a wonderful way to begin the day - walking over to the mango trees and searching below them.  I can smell the mangoes even before I see them and I have now mastered the art (almost!) of distinguishing perfect, whole fruit from the damaged ones.  My pockets are deep and can hold a dozen mangoes on each side!  However the tell tale signs are always there for those who notice - the strange, uneven bulges and patches of resin stains.

If Holmes were here, he would immediately catch me.  "Pocketing raw mangoes again - hand them over!" he might say sternly (though with a flicker of something in his eyes).  I would reluctantly empty out my pocket.
"Ha!  Note, Watson - Mangifera indica, the descendant of a wild mango tree that still exists in north eastern India.  Mangoes are grown in many parts of the world, but the Indian species is undoubtedly supreme."
"Yes, yes," Watson would reply.  "Had a good many of them back in India.  Quite hard on the digestion you know.  These are too raw to eat."
"Perhaps you have heard of chutney...   You might not have observed my use of the word 'again' in the first sentence, Watson.  This is not a first crime.  The resinous stains on her pocket tell me that she has been doing this for three days!"  Then, looking at me, he might wave a dismissing hand.  "Off with you!"
"Jaao!  Jaldi!  Jaldi!" Watson would add, in remembrance of days of the Raj and I would run like the wind (well, almost).
"Notice the crab like gait, Watson."
"Hmm - polio at birth?  Rickets?  Maybe just a thorn in her shoe," the good doctor would reply.
"Nothing of the kind!  She has another pocketful of loot hidden elsewhere on her person.  Mark my words!  She's going to rush home and make pickle!"
And he would be right, as usual.

However, in the absence of such discerning observers, I just saunter down and calmly do the job.  I have been gathering mangoes in this way over the past three days and I now have a basketful.  They stain my hands, fill my nose with a tangy freshness and make my mouth water the way all sour things do.  These mangoes are too tiny to eat, not plump enough to be grated into green mango rice or ground into fresh mango chutney.  Pickle, then it shall be.

I open my tomes for recipes - and once more am surprised by the range of options (each state seems to have its own sweet (and spicy) way of dealing with these fruit and, as always, I find just a recipe or two that seems to satisfy me.

The critical thing about mango pickle (as I learnt the hard way!) is to dehydrate the mangoes.  It's amazing how much moisture these hard, green objects contain.  The summer sun does the job efficiently, but two days after sunning, it begins to rain!  And the rain brings with it another windfall.  So, I snatch all those moments of sunshine to make pickle.  I wash and dry the mangoes, cut them into bite sized pieces and rub them with rock salt.  Then they lie innocuously outside, slowly drying out.

I am now in the midst of getting together the spices - I have decided to make two kinds of pickle.  A sweet pickle with jaggery, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and cumin (a combination I have never tried before).  A tangy one with seeds of mustard, fennel, fenugreek and onion, coarsely pounded with a pinch of asafoetida and red chilly and dunked into mustard oil (it sounds harsh and sharp but melds into a wonderful mix on maturing).

So as I clean out bottles, weigh ingredients (difficult because many recipes begin with "a hundred small green mangoes" or "twenty five large, perfectly shaped mangoes") and pound away, I also keep an eye on the sky and hope to catch the mangoes before they get drenched in the next summer shower!

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