Friday, May 05, 2017

What #AamAchaarDay meant to me...

As planned, #AamAchaarDay was celebrated on 22 April. We had people all over the country join us online and offline with making achaar, sharing memories, stories, recipes, learning and more. We got lakhs of views and reached millions. On ground, at the studio, we had a pickle exchange.  All of that happened and happened more amazingly than i had planned! But it was this moment, captured in this picture that summed it all up for me.

My daughter Natasha, is 9. She has been showing an interest in all things cooking since she participated in my kids in the kitchen course last year. But I was unexpectedly surprised when she came up to me and asked if she could also take part in ‘the pickle thing’ I was doing.‘The pickle thing’ was the pickle exchange I had organised at APB for #Aamachaarday

I have very fond memories of days when pickling sessions when I was a child. The women of my family would gather on the terrace to make the year's pickles. As the family grew and branched out, the pickle sessions stopped happening. But I have always remembered the camaraderie, the learning and amidst all of that the passing on of food knowledge. It is a tradition I always wanted to recreate but the coordination and planning always made it difficult. This year I was determined to make it happen. I got regional cuisine experts from the extended APB food family together. And I was so gratified that each of them supported my plan wholeheartedly!

We congregated for a wonderful afternoon of pickle making to teach each signature pickles from our community cuisines along with a other pickle enthusiasts. On the menu were a Garhwali Hing Achaar by me, Sindhi ‘Bhendi’ pickle by Usha Auny, my sister in laws Mom, Maharashtrian pickle by my friend, Gujarati chundo by my Mom,  Vadu Mango by Geetha and a Bengali Mango chutney by my friend Rhea.  It was a beautiful day, we cut mangoes, mixed pickles, gossiped, ate ravenously and all took home with a share of 6 different pickles! We also learned new pickle recipes, which was the true exchange. 

I was only half serious when I said yes to Natasha, I didn’t think she would see it through (you know how kids can be, so easily distracted!). But she surprised me, willingly sticking by me every second of the day. And as we cut mangoes, mixed masalas, made pickles, talked and gossiped, she was right there, with me, little hands learning, struggling at some points to do adult things, but there, not giving up, even throwing in a few 9 year old jokes that had us all in splits! But, importantly she did it all. And every second of her being with me is magnified in my memories, larger than all the other memories of that wonderful day. Sweeter, more beautiful, most precious amidst all the other lovely moments. Lingering, as we made our way home that evening, carrying our bounty of pickles we had made.  But the truly defining moment was yet to come. 

Serendipitously, the Mango tree in my office complex was being harvested of its fruit at the time and Natasha wanted to watch so we stopped. And came away with a couple of the green mangoes from there as well. When we got home, I put everything away and did not give it further thought as I got on with dinner prep. 

Until the next day, when I came home to the moment in that picture. Natasha used the mangoes she got from the tree on our way home and made her very own batch of Hing ka achaar, grinding the hing, remembering the proportions and mixing everything just like I taught her. It was not perfect, but at that moment that didn't matter, she has a lifetime to perfect her recipe. What is importantis that she had made a family recipe. A recipe I had learned from her Dadi that she had inherited. And a tradition had been kept alive.

In the FB Live food chat on #AamAchaarDay, Saee pointed out that Indian pickles are as Artisanal as food can get. She is right. The term “Artisan” describes non industrial food, made in small batches by hand, by methods usually handed down through generations and often in danger of being lost. My paternal grandmother, Moti Mummy, made more than 90 pickles round the year, but I only inherited a handful of her recipes. My maternal great-grandmother is is said was an expert pickle maker too, her repertoire had some truly unusual pickles that I only have descriptions of. 

I don't mean to sound preachy, but if we are lucky enough to inherit family food traditions, they exist for a reason. And we owe it to ourselves and our kids to keep them alive. We must make our own pickles, even if its just a bottle or two. Having hands on made 10+ kgs of pickle this #AamAchaarDay we all realised it’s not so hard! Perhaps living away from family or alone in a city might make it difficult. But like me you can get together with friends and make a party of it! Or preparations might feel too hard. At one time, they might have been because everything would need to be done at home but not anymore! Our bhaji wallas and kirana stores have also evolved with us. Today one can get mangoes, whatever kind, prepped as we require, community stores stock ready masala mixes. It’s easy to put a batch of pickle together. Or if you must buy your pickles, buy from home chefs bottling pickles (store-bought pickles are RUBBISH compared to home made!). It is the only way to keep culinary legacy alive. And losing this legacy would be tragic.

And we must expose our children to our food culture. We owe it to our kids to pass food traditions on. The Mango pickles that flavor life’s memories for us in India are at home, made by our Grandmothers and Mothers. AND US now! And our children in the future! 

We all need to remember, that If our grandfathers planted mango trees for us to enjoy, our grandmothers pickled the fruit for us to savour. 

Gyaan and links 

Here are links to pickles from different community kitchens:
And my Ma in law's Heeng / Hing ka Achaar on my blog as well. 

If you have blogged recipes for mango pickles on your blogs, can you paste links in comments? Ill compile a comprehensive list of them. TIA!

An old painting of pickling mangoes I once made. 

1 comment:

Aparna Parinam said...

Wonderful post, Rushina. I love your painting!

thanks for mentioning about my post.