Sunday, April 28, 2013

A pickle by any other name is STILL a pickle.

"I'm in a pickle," said the cucumber from it's jar on the shelf.
"You're in a pickle', retorted the lime.  "You don't know what you're saying.  Try being in some salt and chilli powder and other stuff and then you'll know what it's like to be in a REAL pickle!"

 Here in the States a pickle is a cucumber in brine, eaten with sandwiches, hotdogs, burgers or as the precious 8 and 6 year old grandkids tell me, "By Itself!"
They look at me with hope in their burnt caramel gazes, wondering if I'll bring out the pickle jar and let them have a pickle party!

As far as history goes, here's an interesting source to catch with the places and people who have used and loved pickle for centuries.
The early Egyptians, the Jews and the English included pickles in their diet regulary.

How much Indian pickles differ can best be illustrated by this story.  I notice the older I get, the more interesting stories I have collected.
An American friend came over and as I was putting food on the table, she saw the bowl of lime pickle I had put out and asked, "What's this?
I had barely finished saying lime pickle and was embarking on an explanation of how must it differed from the pickle she knew, when her actions cut me off.  She'd picked up a fork, speared a bit of lime pickle and put it in her mouth.  It was interesting to see the shades of red that her complexion and even her neck deepened to, while I gave her a napkin and said, "Spit it out, don't swallow."
It took 3 glasses of water, a trip to the bathroom to washout her mouth, followed by a chocolate to make her comfy again.  It took the rest of the evening for her mouth to unpucker and she approached every dish with the caution of a soldier in a mine field.  Her loud pronouncements warning other guests to beware of the pickle had us all hiding grins.  By the time dessert came around (gulab jamuns) she had forgiven me and herself.  She fell in love with what she called the 'thingummyjigs' and when she called to ask/tell me she was coming over, she would say, "And may I have some thingummyjigs?"
It was interesting that every time I mentioned the word pickle her face would redden.

Pickle has been a part of Indian tradition forever.  I could challenge the source above and research when they were first used in India but the answer is, "Forever."
The traditional South Indian meal has to have a little pickle on the banana leaf, next to the salt.  Omitting it is a culinary faux pas.  For those in Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka a traditional meal is finished with yogurt or buttermilk, rice and pickle.
Every state in India has it's own variety of pickle but though we generally start out with mixing rock salt and the vegetable in general, after a few days in the sun, this mixture gets treated to chilli powder, seasonings, oil
and different spices in different parts.  Contrary to popular belief that all are hot, some are sweet.
Some cultures in India pickle pork, fish and meat and of course shrimp.
The states in India that were very dry, pickled whatever they could in season to have the vegetables year round.  At a Gujrati friend's house I was once served three different pickles with the meal and loved them all.
They told me their grandmother pickles just about anything and makes a new pickle each week.  As pickles are generally stored for a year in big earthen jars originally and now in glass bottles in the refrigerator, I imagined a room filled with these jars.

In our home, lime pickle was the traditional pickle made every year.  My mother would rely on her relatives or friends to give us some Andhra mango pickle as she said she couldn't make it well.
My mother always said, lime pickle needed a special hand.  She had the hand and so did my dear sister but not I.  To this day my lime pickle goes bad.  Luckily for me the MTR brand makes pickle close to my mother's and I am content.
Here are my favorite pickle recipes, tweaked through the years.

Last year some friends visited us bringing with them another couple.  One look at the other lady and I knew I was meeting an Indian Master Chef.  It's just a certain look about the older ladies in India that sets the experts apart.
She watched quietly as I served the first meal, joking about how my MTR pickle was running out and I needed to conserve it.   In the evening while I worked on dinner she said, "I can make you some lemon pickle."  Wondering if I should tell her about my jinx with pickles, I said, "what will you need for it?"
"These lemons on your counter and some things every kitchen has."
It was an instant pickle and we are ate it before they left, as it was so delicious.  The next day she asked for limes and made a lime pickle before we went out.  By then, so impressed by her prowess and her quiet insistence to override my objections that I didn't want to put guests in the kitchen, I couldn't get her the things she needed fast enough.  Not since my mother's visit had I had someone so talented and so willing to make things in my kitchen, visit me.  My friend cheered on,"Let her make whatever she wants.  She is a pro!"

So I am starting with Mallika Arasu's lime pickle and instant lemon pickle with a very grateful heart and thanks to our friend Jessie for bringing her here.  Come visit again soon as I need to learn more.  Just writing this brings the happy memories back.

Instant lemon pickle...

1 lemon chopped small
1 c water
(cook lemon in water with 1 Tbsp salt)
2 tiny spoons (1/3 tsp) rai and methi (mustard seed and fenugreek seeds)
Roast separately and powder
Heat ½ cup oil
Add 2 tiny tsps rai (2/3 tsp.)
Add ⅓ level tsp hing.  (if it’s the strong 303 brand reduce this to ¼)
Add 1 ½ big Tbsps chilli powder and powdered rai and methi

Add cooked lemon with water and simmer one minute.

Remove, cool and bottle.


Lime pickle...Mallika Arasu

10 Limes, quartered.
1 Tbsp each rai and methi
Fry till brown and grind to a powder

Heat ¾ cup til oil
Put in methi & rai powder and ⅓ tsp hing.
Switch off stove
Add limes
Add 6 rounded tsp chilli powder
Add 1 tsp haldi and 2-3 Tbsps rock salt

Mix well.Store in a glass bottle in refrigerator
Shake every day till soft. 

(This is the traditional way of picking up the bottle or jar and shaking it in an up and down motion so the pickle gets tossed/mixed. It can be done with a dry wooden spoon.)
Ours was ready to eat in three weeks.
(Ready to eat is when the rind is softened but it can be eaten earlier too).
I still had this pickle in the refrigerator nine months later, enjoying it on hot days with curd rice!
Thanks Mallika and Jessie.


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