Reminiscing about the good ole days of summers and grandmas is never complete without a throwback to the passionate pickling that was the highlight of the season. Our mothers might have been busily cracking the whip about impending class final exams, but grandmas got cracking with the pre-pickling frenzy that the mango season brought with it.
What’s life without spice? What’s an Indian meal without the Indian pickle?
The history of the pickle may not be traceable to the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, but it is no less a symbol of India than the Himalayas or the Taj Mahal and definitely of greater importance to the avid pickle fans of our teeming population.
Oil is the medium of pickling in India: mustard oil (sarson ka tel) in the North and gingelly or sesame (til) in the South. The other preservative is salt. Various combinations and proportions of spice powders like chilli, jeera/cumin, rai/ mustard, methi/fenugreek, etc. add chutzpah to the pickles.
In the beginning, pickling was just a way to preserve foods. Over time and through centuries of culinary experimentation, pickling has reached the proportions of a fine art. My grandma was a truly prolific artiste who could make a mouth-watering pickle out of anything in the vegetable kingdom. Her three most fabulous concoctions, however, were the time honoured greats of South India –Mango, Tomato and Gongura pickles.
In these days of fast food and faster food fads, surprisingly these three greats still hold on to their prideful place at any Indian meal. Why?
Pickles add piquancy to the table
Why do we eat? It’s because we like the taste. This is the precise reason that hot steaming rice and a liberal dose of a mango or tomato pickle or the more specialised gongura, mixed to perfection with an optional dollop of ghee is what culinary dreams are made of!
A good substitute for blanks in a menu
Just think of how many times the Indian pickle has come to your rescue:
Pressed for time to cook on a busy working morning: pack that tiffin with mango pickle and rice!
Unexpected guests and a dish needs to be stretched: gongura pickle will do the trick!
Breakfast time and nothing to go with the dosas or alu parathas: bring out the tomato pickle!
Bad mouth day recovering from the ’flu: any pickle to get the taste buds flowering!
Dry and arid, cold and bare
When the climate of a region is inhospitable to growing vegetables throughout the year, pickling is a good way to add vegetables to the menu. Each region has its local specialties, but mango and tomato pickles are omnipresent on any Indian menu.
The BIG Three are Vitamin C
Tomato, gongura and mango pickles are sour. These are immensely rich in Vitamin C which is essential to diets but cannot be synthesised by human bodies. You have to eat it to get it.
Vitamin C is necessary for synthesising collagen, a part of connective tissue which plays a vital role in healing wounds. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and regenerates other antioxidants in the body. It is important for immunity and preventing diseases like scurvy.
Tomatoes and Lycopene
Tomatoes, in particular, are rich in the antioxidant, lycopene which promotes bone health. They are also 33% Vitamin C! The phytonutrients in tomatoes benefit heart health. Where do you think all these go when you pickle tomatoes? They are right there, bottled and waiting.
Gongura, the iron-pickle
This green leaf is rich in iron. Some strains of gongura are so sour that they are difficult to eat. But pickling gives the right balance and also gets rid of the slightly metallic taste that gongura otherwise has when used in other ways. So, get your daily dose of iron so essential for a healthy blood from your pickle.
Nutrient rich raw mangoes
Raw mangoes, the supreme pickling choice of peninsular India, are rich in Vitamins A, C, D, K, B12 and B6, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.
Vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and mangoes, green leafy vegetables like gongura are rich in fibre. We have read time and again how fibre is essential for digestion as well as for preventing metabolic diseases like diabetes.
Pickling retains nutrients
Fibre and vitamins in vegetables are retained on pickling. All the benefits that you get from the raw ingredients are present in their pickled incarnations too. This is probably why pickles were invented and made in the first place: to make the best of seasonal vegetables which are not available throughout the year.
Is pickling a lost art in India?
Making pickles is time-consuming. Today’+s pace of life and work leaves little leisure for the complicated process of buying the raw ingredients and making the pickle.
Space is also a constraint. People in busy and congested cities and towns do not have the luxury of space. You cannot ‘spread’ yourself out to go through the pickling process.
Pickling is also extremely messy. Cleaning up afterward without a set of helping hands is a lot of work.
The good news is that there is no need to give up your nice-spice quotient at all!
Choose the pickles from the expert makers.
The ingredients are pure, and ORGANIC: untouched by chemicals and synthetic preservatives.
The best oil ensures that they don’t get rancid.
Time-tested recipes give a perfectly balanced taste: not too sour, not too spicy, not too salty. Just Right!
So the next time you want to enjoy pickle like your grandma made or impress guests with authentic Indian expertise, just pick up a bottle of gongura, mango or tomato pickle, and you’re good to go!