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Pickling in India - the Preservation of Traditions


by Rushina Munshaw -Ghildiyal

Rushina & her son, Aman

Please read about Indian cooking on Rushina's blog

Most Indian homes make signature pickles; recipes that have been passed down through generations of women. My mother-in-law is one such. She makes large batches of pickles every year and requests for bottles of her pickles are rampant amongst the younger generations. A recent discussion with a friend on the need to preserve languages comes to mind; she was commenting on how the proliferant use of English and Hindi for communication is diluting the use of regional Indian languages with each progressive generation. It strikes me, that it is much the same with culinary knowledge. Take me for instance, according to family lore, my paternal grandmother made some 90 different kinds of pickles every year! I meant to document her recipes, I really did, but I procrastinated – What can I say - I was young, life stretched ahead - and then one day it was too late. I have learnt my lesson however and while my Dadi’s (paternal grandmother) recipes I will have my Nani’s (maternal Grandmothers) and many more from all the other legendary cooks in the family.

Food historians tell us pickles (fruits and vegetables preserved in brine with spices) originated in India, a fact that is easily believed since even today in modern day India, the rituals of pickle-making define an entire period of the year, annually, when entire households are given over to the task of Pickling. At the height of summer, when the sun beats down mercilessly, women in the rural areas get together, spending days cutting, preparing, and drying fruit and vegetables for pickling. Their children flit about, sneaking tempting bits of green mango to feast on and falling asleep from exhaustion and excitement under the same Mango tree whose fruit are being readied for the Pickle jars. Food, music and storytelling are rampant along with an air of festivity!

Even in the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, pickling season still brings the celebration of communities working together although the convenience of city life does come into play – with the easy availability of pre-cut vegetables and pre-made spices that are home delivered for additional convenience. Women will call each other, organize get togethers to “make pickles” or reserve a jar of a personal favourite... the rat race of life will slow down that little bit, personal connections will be strengthened and thousands of years of ritual will be repeated. So fish out that recipe of your Grandmothers special pickle, get the girls together and have a bonding session over pickle – it’s in the female genetic make up after all…(Just think of what all those pickles lined up in glass bottles or beautiful martbaans (Indian Ceramic Pickle Jars) of yore will do to up the aesthetic value of your kitchen, not to mention the hours and hours of preparation and gossip!).

The Mango season is here and women all over India will soon get down to pickling, while Mango is the most common pickle put down at this time, lots of other things are also pickled alongside. Here are a few recipes for Mango Picles from my family recipe book that you can try out in case you can’t think of some on your own…

Chundo is a grated Mango pickle that is sweet and hot. When made right it has the consistency of a marmalade but with lots of grated slivers of mango in it. It spreads easily onto anything and can be used as a relish. The simple ingredients also make it ideal in the hotter Summer months.

3 Rajapuri mangoes peeled grated and weighed.
Sugar 1.5 times the volume of mango
Salt, a little less than half a cup
Turmeric - 1 tbsp
Cumin seed 1 tbsp ground
Chilli powder 2 tbsp

Peel and grate mangoes, mix with the salt and Turmeric and leave for about half an hour.

Now with clean hands take handfuls of the grated mango pulp and squeezing gently put the dried pulp into a clean steel vessel.

Add the Sugar to the squeezed mango and mix well. Tie a piece of muslin over the mouth of the vessel and place in the sun. Now, if you want to do it right and have the patience, then my nani leaves her Chunda in the sun for a full 21 days. This means that it goes out every morning (after a stir) and comes in every night. You will know your pickle is done when the sugar has melted to a syrup and reaches a 1.5 - 2 string consistency. (to test, take a smidgen of syrup between your thumb and forefinger. When you pull them apart, they should form 1.5 to 2 threads).

When done, add the chilli powder. Crush the Cumin coarsely and add to pickle. Be careful not to touch a wet spoon to the pickle.

For those of you not wanting to wait for the pickle to cook in the sun there is an easier option, but be warned it will not taste the same. (It is almost like the flavour of sunlight is captured in this pickle!) Place a heavy bottomed pan on the fire and put mango-sugar mixture in it. Cook till all the water has evaporated, stirring to avoid sticking until it reaches 1.5 to 2 thread consistency. Add chilli powder while still hot.

Optional - this is something I like to do - up the chilli quotient and add raisins.

There are a couple of variables you need to watch out for

1. MANGOES - Rajapuri mangoes is what the recipe calls for, these are large mangoes and are used raw and firm. The idea being that the pickle on being done should hold the form of the slivers it has been grated into. I do not know what mangoes you have available but between us Nani and I have come up with a volume based recipe to help you start with smaller quantities the first time.

Over ripe mangoes if your mangoes are not firm i.e. have begun to ripen, they would not do for Chunda according to Nani, however I think you should give it a shot. At most you will end up with a Chutney that will need to be consumed quickly! A couple of things you can try are. Otherwise opt for a "Katki Kairi Pickle" (a variation of the Chunda) Chop the mangoes into tiny dice, instead of grating them and then cook them on the gas like the gas cooked chunda. If you still want to go the grated way maybe you can cut back the sugar to equal volume instead of 1.5 since if your mangoes are ripening they will be getting a little sweeter as well.

2 THE SUN - The Sun is the other variable Remember the sun is very hot in India averaging 38-40 degree Celsius so vary the amount of days accordingly, if its really hot where you are then 3-4 days will suffice, but if the intensity is lower then the number of days will vary between 4-8 days.

3. Crytalisation - If you notice that there is crystalisation happening, then the sugar ratio is too high, you need to grate and salt some more mango and add it in so keeping one mango spare might be a good idea for the duration, (if you dont use it in the chutney then refer to the bottom of the post for another recipe you can use) it up in!

4. Ants – Chunda is an Ant Magnet! The muslin cloth is to keep them and other stuff that might get in out, so if ants are a problem where you live take the extra precaution of placing in a bath of water. (Don’t let water get into the pickle however).

Yes I have got one more recipe to use green mango in, to fill in the gap while the sun cooks your pickle and also to use up the little bits closer to the stone that can’t be grated. It is also a sort of consolation to those who have riper mango and can’t do the Chunda. The addition of the spices and the use of Jaggery make Methambo ideal in colder climates and it might be worth putting some down to give as presents at Christmas.

Raw Mangoes 1 Kg
Jaggery 1 Kg
3 tbsp salt
2 tbsp Turmeric Powder
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
8-10 Boriya chillies (the little round ones)
2 tbsp corriander seeds
7-8 cloves
7-8 cinnamon sticks
Raisins 60 gms
Salt 40 gms

Peel and make small pieces of raw mango, apply salt and turmeric and put aside for an hour or until juices are released. Then strain but do not press.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add in the mustard and chillies, when the seeds splutter, add Coriander seeds, Cloves and Cinnamon sticks. Wait for two seconds to allow aromas to develop and then add the mango pieces and the finely cut Jaggery, stirring all the time on a slow flame.

Cook Methambo until uniformly thick and add the Chilli powder just before you take off the flame. On cooling the Methambo will thicken further.

Instant Mango Pickle

If you would like to make a quick mango pickle try this one

2 small raw mangoes
1 tbsp cold pressed mustard oil
2 tsp crushed yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp crushed fenugreek
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/8 tsp Asafeotida
11/2 tsp red chilli (or more if want things spicy)
Salt to taste

Finely chop the mangoes and set aside
Heat the mustard oil, allow to cool a little and add the Asafeotida, crushed Mustard, Fenugreek and salt. Mix well and allow to cool completely.
Add red Chili and stir in thoroughly
Add the finely chopped mangoes and stir in well
Allow to stand for a while and the pickle is ready to eat It will be good for 3-4 days if refrigerated.


Rushina has started a very elegant blog that explores Indian food. We love going to the blog and learn a great deal when we read her beautifully written articles. Join us: http://a-perfect-bite.blogspot.com/

And read the story of the New Year's celebration that she created New Year



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