I can hear some of you thinking, “Not another mango post”!
True, but I’d like to think that this is a mango post with a difference. If you have ever had either one of these pickles you would, perhaps, be able to appreciate how different. Of course, I could be biased, but the taste of these mango pickles eaten with curd (yogurt) and rice is a wonderful gastronomical experience and a “comfort” food of sorts for me.
Summer time in India is also pickle making time and mangoes are a favourite. Pickle making styles and traditions vary across India and of these, some pickles are identified with a particular state or community. This doesn’t mean others don’t make or enjoy them. Mango pickles like “Avakkai” come from the state of Andhra Pradesh and “Chundo” from Gujarat. Similarly, “Kanni Maangai” and “Kadudgu Maangai” are pickles that the Iyer community is famous for. Kadugu maangai is also referred to as Vadu maangai by some.
The name Kanni maangai comes from “kanni” meaning short stem of the mango and “maangai” meaning mango. The “kadugu” in Kadugu maanga means mustard seeds and these are the main spice used in this pickle. Both pickles contain absolutely no oil and depend largely upon the salt for preservation. These pickles do not require refrigeration at all.
These two pickles are usually the first mango pickles to be made in summer, as they utilize the first crop of baby/ tender (about an inch in length) mangoes of the season. The mangoes for both pickles are first pickled in salt. Then those for the spicy version (kadugu maangai) are further pickled with spices. The baby mangoes used here are very tender and the seed inside is so soft that it can be bitten through very easily, and can be eaten in the pickle.
Only certain types of mangoes are used to make these pickles. The preferred mango for these pickles is a variety called “Chandrakaaran”, though some others (I don’t know their names) are also used. Usually the mango sellers come asking if we want mangoes for pickles and bring them if we do. They know which kind. Back home in Kerala this is a kind of annual ritual, as the same mango seller turns up every year asking if we want mangoes for “pickling” and in what quantity. The mangoes have to be pickled as soon as they are picked, preferably the same day or else the next day. The other thing is that only mangoes which have their stalk/ stem or “kanni” (hence the name of the pickle) are used to make these pickles. The stem ensures that the “sap” (liquid which appears when the stem is separated from the mango) is retained and the mangoes are fresh. Such mangoes do not spoil in the pickle. It is also most important that the mangoes are not bruised. Thus only those mangoes which are picked off the tree are used here. Mangoes which have fallen to the ground are made into other pickles or can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes.
Plucking mangoes is a sight to watch. A long bamboo pole with a hook and a ring, to which a small rope netting is attached, is the implement used. The mango plucked with this is collected in a big wicker basket and lowered to the ground using a thick rope. All this is to ensure the mangoes are not bruised. Of course, the mango sellers always include a few “not so good” mangoes in every lot hoping to sell it to some unwary customer.
Buying and selling these mangoes was (still is) a big business. There are lots of places where these mangoes are grown in orchards. But a lot of the mangoes come from mango trees growing in home gardens/ backyards. The mango sellers would pay the owners of the trees a mutually agreed upon sum of money in exchange for the entire crop of mangoes, and then make a huge profit from selling these to the pickle makers (us)
These days pickle making has become something of a cottage/ home industry in Palakkad. Mangoes are bought up in huge quantities, made into pickles, sealed in leak proof packaging and find their way to homes in India and abroad.
I remember pickle making activities, from my childhood, at my maternal grandmother’s house. Pickles were made in huge quantities and were meant to last the whole year, till the next mango season.
First of all, the huge ceramic containers called “bharani (s)” were cleaned out and sun dried to make them sterile. If this was not done properly, the pickles would be attacked by fungal growth and the whole pickle making effort would come to naught! It also didn’t do much for one’s reputation as an expert pickle maker in the neighbourhood if this happened!!
Then my grandmother would spend a lot of time checking out the “pickle worthiness” of the mango seller’s wares, telling him off and asking him if he thought that she was silly enough to be taken in by his “marketing” spiel. Then both of them would haggle over the price, finally coming to some mutual agreement about it.
The mangoes would be counted in “hundreds” under my grandmother’s eagle eye. This was a sort of routine, enacted every year, enjoyed by the buyer and humorously tolerated by the mango seller. I have known an occasion, though, when the mangoes did not measure up to my grandmother’s standards and the mango seller came back after two days with a new lot. This mango buying “ritual”, on a smaller scale, is something that happens every year at the beginning of summer, though fewer people make their own mango pickles these days.
Once the buying was done, the mangoes would be sorted and trimmed to leave a little bit of stalk/ stem on each little mango. Then they would be washed and towel dried to ensure that no moisture remains on them. Then the pickling is done. All through the pickling, a very strict control would be maintained over the process right from washing and drying of the containers. Children wouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the vicinity. In the olden days, women having their periods were considered “unclean” and not allowed anywhere near the pickle jars, even long after they had been made, for fear of contaminating them!
After the pickles had been made, they were filled into the “bharanis”. Where the pickle in question was Kanni maangai, after the ceramic container had been filled, a layer of sea salt (kallu uppu) would be spread over the pickle before sealing the container.
Then a clean square piece of cotton cloth would be dipped in sesame seed oil (nalla ennai) and spread over the mouth of the container. The wooden or ceramic lid would be screwed over the cloth to make it airtight. All this ensured that the pickles stayed sterile.
Later, when the pickles were ready, small amounts (a month’s requirement) would be transferred out of the large containers into smaller ones. This transfer was also a ritual in itself. Of course, no kids were allowed nearby. The big container was carefully opened, and a clean and dry ladle was used to transfer the required amount of pickle. Then a fresh square of cotton cloth would be dipped in sesame seed oil and placed over the mouth of the container before sealing it.
Once made, the pickles would not be touched for about 2 to 3 months, except for shaking the containers to ensure that all the mangoes get evenly coated by salt/ the spices. This is where the able bodied men folk at home contribute to the pickle making. During this time, the mangoes would lose their crispness a bit and become soft enough for eating while having fully absorbed all the flavours of the pickle. In the meanwhile, one made do with the previous year’s pickle if there was an
y left, or else looked forward to the new pickle hoping it would be served sooner than later! My grandmother had total control over this decision. I remember my grandfather asking “Antha puthiya kadugu maangai edukkarathukku aayirukkumaa? meaning “Would the new kadugu maangai pickle be ready to eat?”
I have been making these pickles every summer for quite a few years now. For the first time since then, I didn’t make any this summer because of our move back to Goa and my being unwell during this time. But I had made plenty last summer, and what I have from then will see me through till next summer!
The quantities of ingredients in these recipes are not very exact and slight differences one way or the other do not make too much of a difference. The amounts of salt and the spices mentioned here would need to be adjusted depending on variety of mango used and how sour they are. So it would be wise to start with a little less than the mentioned quantities and then adjust these according to taste. These pickles are meant to be quite salty.
I do not have large enough “bharanis” and also find it much easier to use glass jars with airtight lids for my pickling, but it is important to ensure that they are sterile and dry. I just wash the jars well, towel dry them and keep them in the summer sun for a couple of hours. I have never had my pickles go bad so far.
I like pickles very much and have become a bit of a “pickle snob” as I prefer the home-made variety and very rarely buy it from the store. Mango pickles are my favourite and like I said before, I may be biased but for me, Kadugu maangai is the best pickle there is.