The real season for making pickles in India is the summer, which runs from sometime in March through July depending on which part of the country one lives in. This is because a lot of “pickleable” (is there such a word, I wonder?) stuff, most especially mangoes, are aplenty in the summer.
One "pickleable" fruit taht I have seen available all the year round in India (at least wherever I have lived so far) is the lime. Or would you call it a lemon?
Before we go further with this post, I would like to know what you would this thing we call elumichampazham (in Tamil), cherunaarangya (in Malayalam) and nimboo (in Hindi)? I’m not sure whether this is a lime or a lemon in English though I’ve decided to go with lime for now.
Apparently a lime is smaller, green in colour, round or oval in shape with a thin skin and a bit sweet! They also grow all the year round. The lemon is supposed to be larger with a thicker skin, yellow and sourer.
Now the “elumichangai” which I get here is small, yellow (sometimes with a tinge of green), could have thick or thin skin and quite tart! I’ve never met a sweet one before. So am I pickling lemons or limes?
Getting back to the pickle, as I was saying this is one fruit which available all the year round but they are quite inexpensive in winter. In summer they are exorbitantly priced but very much in demand to make lime juice (not lemon in this context) in a variety of flavours.
So the best time for making lime pickles in India, is during the winter when the fruit also looks much better size and quality-wise.
There are many different ways of pickling limes depending on which part of India one lives in, and this particular style of pickling them is very south Indian. There again, both my mother and mother-in-law had their own methods of making these pickles, even though the ingredients were the same. I have also seen a third way of preparing this same pickle.
The difference in all the 3 recipes given below, is in the initial part of preparing the limes before actually making the pickle. This process softens the slightly thick skin of the limes and makes the pickle ready for consumption within a couple of days.
The first method is great if you have a lot of limes to pickle. Even though the initial sunning of the limes takes about a week, the pickle made with the brined limes is ready to use. And the taste of the sun in your pickle is just something else! This pickle also keeps better.
The second and third methods also produce very good lime pickle, but the pickle would ready to use only after a couple of days after making it. Since the third pickle involves boiling the limes in water, it has a shorter shelf life when compared with the other two.
Please keep the pickle refrigerated.
10 large limes
6 to 8 tsp red chili powder (adjust a bit to suit your taste)
3 tsp salt (adjust as required)
¼ cup sesame seed oil
1 ½ to 2 tsp mustard seeds
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
1/3 tsp asafetida powder
¾ tsp fenugreek powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (only if using the 3rd method)
Method 1 (My mother’s method):
In this method, my mother used to pickle a whole lot of limes in salt when they were inexpensive and easily available. She would then leave them to cook/ soften in the heat of the summer sun. Of course, if you live in a place where it is pretty hot like here, you don’t have to wait till summer to do this. Please don’t make this pickle using this method unless you are sure of about 4 or 5 very hot sunny days at a stretch!
This is how lime pickles are made my mother’s way.
First, wash the limes and dry them well with a towel. Then either cut the limes into quarters, or if you prefer smaller pieces, cut each lime into eights.
Put some of the pieces into a large sterilized and dry glass pickle jar. Now sprinkle some of the salt over it. Put some more lime pieces in to the jar, then some more salt and continue till all the lemon pieces and the salt have been used up.
Close the jar, making sure the lid is airtight and shake the bottle to agitate the lemon pieces and the salt. Place this glass jar in the sun. Shake the jar a couple of times during the day to ensure that all the pieces and the salt get redistributed in the bottle. Repeat this every day for about 5 days.
At the end of 5 days, the lemon pieces would have oozed out juice, dissolving the salt and also changed colour to become very soft. This brined lemon pickle will keep for over a year, provided you do not open the jar.
Method 2 (My mother-in-law’s method):
Wash and towel-dry the limes well.
Heat about 3 tbsps of the sesame seed oil in a wok. Add the limes (whole, without cutting them) to the wok and stir fry them over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. This helps to soften the outer skin. Using a slotted spatula, drain the limes and remove them from the wok onto a plate and let them cool.
Now cut the limes into quarters or eights, depending on size. The limes might be a little slippery because of the oil coating, so be careful. Using a sharp, serrated knife helps.
Save the juice that collects while cutting the limes.
Wash the limes. Put enough water to immerse the limes completely in a pan and bring it to boil. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and the limes to the boiling water. Turn down the heat to medium and let the limes boil for about 2 to 3 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat, cover it and let the limes cool to room temperature. Cut each into quarters or eights.
Save the juice that collects while cutting the limes.
From here on, whichever method you used to prepare your limes, the method for preparing the pickle remains the same.
Heat the sesame seed oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds, and once they splutter, add the curry leaves and asafetida powder. Stir a couple of times, making sure the asafetida powder doesn’t burn. Turn down the heat and add the chilli powder and then the limes with all the juice (from one of the methods outlined above).
Stir carefully to mix everything together for a couple of minutes and then add the fenugreek powder. Mix well, again, and turn off the heat.
Let the pickle cool to room temperature. Bottle in a dry sterilized jar and refrigerate. This pickle contains enough oil to keep at room temperature, but it is always safer to refrigerate it.
This recipe make a big jar of pickle.