What is a pickle? In western countries it is a way to preserve vegetables like onions, gherkins, cucumbers etc in a solution of brine. They are mostly sour in taste. These pickles are incomparable to what we have in India. Pickles in itself could be the best example to show how diverse our heritage in India is. Indian pickles are a part of our gastronomy since ages, more than a thousand years old, yet there is not a single recipe that could be followed saying this is the only authentic one, as there are so many varieties and flavors in it. The taste of pickle could differ from home to home, from one state to the other. Pickles in northern part of India would taste so different from the ones in the Southern part.
However, there is one thing in common: Mangoes are one of the popular ingredients around the country used in pickles. There are more than 100 recipes used all around the country to make mango pickles. It could be the spicy and sour pieces of raw mango, the whole immature green mangoes with the skin, flesh and soft stone that are all edible, or it could be a sweet pickle made with ripe mangoes. Apart from mangoes, lemons, chillies, garlic are commonly used in making pickles in India. In many parts of the country, seafood and meat are also preserved with vinegar, oil and spices. ‘Achar’ as we commonly call pickles in India, pickles can be made with oil, vinegar or salt, though oil is most commonly used in India. While gingelly oil is used widely in south India, mustard oil is used in north India to make pickles.
Pickle making is an intricate process as it requires care to be preserved in the right way. This is why our grandmothers used to prepare pickles from scratch and once done right it does not require refrigeration. It is a perfect accompaniment to have with Indian food as it is spicy and sour, gives a contrast of flavors with the usual food Indians make at home. Packing pickles before leaving home when you are settled in a different city would be a common ritual in every household. The usual process involves cooking in which the main ingredient like mangoes or limes are cooked in oil along with other spices like chilly powder, asafoetida and turmeric powder. The spices and other ingredients vary in different households. Sometimes mangoes are first sun dried to impart a rustic flavor to the pickle.
Pickles are an essential part of India’s culture, it is an accompaniment consumed with every meal. Be it stuffed parathas with pickle for breakfast, rice with dal and pickle for lunch or Biryani with some pickle for dinner, it has to be there. The meal would be incomplete without a touch of the spicy and sour pickle. It feels nostalgic when Indians see the traditional ceramic jars sold on the street as our grandmothers used to prepare in bulk and store the pickles in them.
So what type of pickle do you like ?