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Time to bottle that pickle recipe

A book conceived as a fund-raising effort makes one wonder why there aren’t more on pickles

Goan brinjal pickle by Nivedita Chengappa.
Goan brinjal pickle by Nivedita Chengappa.

Given the vast amount of pickles Indians eat, with every state and region boasting of spectacular variety in terms of the base ingredient, spices and oils used, why aren’t there more recipe books and food history books on pickle-making in India? Usha’s Pickle Digest—written by Chennai-based Usha Prabakaran 20 years ago—is still the go-to book. Why don’t we pay more attention to our pickles, especially as the processes have started dying out with a certain generation of women?

For one thing, pickles are an afterthought in a loaded Indian thali—taken for granted. For another, most households don’t experiment with pickles from cultures other than their own. Moreover, pickles are distinctly unglamorous. Till the pandemic made fermentation buzzy and somehow exotic, there wasn’t much interest in pickling, says food writer and culinary consultant Monika Manchanda, who started trying to make her family’s favourite pickles, like a typically Punjabi aam ka achaar, a few years ago when one of her aunts, who would make pickles every summer, died. “I suddenly realised that with the passing of that generation, we will lose these amazing recipes and processes. Store-bought pickles just don’t have the same appeal.” She began collecting recipes from friends and family, starting with her in-laws, who are from Andhra Pradesh.

During the pandemic’s second wave this year, this project turned into a more focused one as Manchanda sought recipes from food writers and chefs across India and put them together in the form of an e-book as a fund-raiser for covid-19 relief. Contributors to the cause, “Pickle Fairy of Hope”, hosted on GiveIndia, were emailed copies of the e-book, Pickle And Pride. The campaign raised over 3 lakh. Requests for the book still come in and Manchanda asks people to donate 750 to any cause close to their hearts, share the receipt, and receive a copy.

Despite its cobbled-together origins, the book does a good job of showcasing some of the variety and diversity. While not comprehensively representative by region (eastern India is missing), it does have wonderful recipes from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa, and most of the southern states. While cookbook writers like Archana Pidathala and Saee Koranne-Khandekar have contributed family recipes for an Andhra-style lime pickle and a mango-mustard pickle, respectively, chef Gautam Krishnankutty has contributed one of the only two non-vegetarian recipes in the book with his Malabar beef pickle recipe (the other is Manchanda’s recipe for an Andhra-style prawn pickle). “Barring some exceptions—and, of course, leaving aside the fantastic pork-in-bamboo shoots kind of pickles from the North-East—pickles from northern and western India are mostly vegetarian, and while there is a vast variety of these in the south as well, we do make a number of pickles with meat and seafood,” says Krishnankutty. One reason for this could be the easy availability of seafood.

If you are looking to get started on a pickling journey, you could try your hand at making nutritionist and author Sangeeta Khanna’s Harey lehsun ka achar (green garlic pickle) or Nani’s chundo by food consultant Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal. Others, like the classic Pulihora Avakkaya (raw mango pickle) by home-chef Sreya Vittaldev or Aalandi Kumm (a wild mushroom pickle from Coorg) by nutritionist-chef Nivedita Chengappa are probably best left for when you have a little more experience.

Manchanda says she doesn’t see herself expanding the book into a more comprehensive physical format. “Each of the people who contributed the recipes that went into this book did so for a cause and I am not comfortable turning it into a commercial project,” she says. “But the time is certainly ripe for more pickle books from India.”

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