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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.
I have even witnessed this mango buying “ritual”, on a smaller scale, 4 years back at my mother-in-law’s house.
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 any 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.
Kanni Maangai (Baby mangoes in Brine):
I like this pickle with a meal of rice and curd (home-made yogurt). There are many other preparations like araitchukalakki (a coconut and yogurt chutney-like preparation eaten with rice) or thogayal (thick coconut and lentil chutney) made with softened/ aged Kanni maangai.
100 small mangoes, with a small part of the stem intact (this would be about 2 kg depending on size of the mangoes)
about ½ kg salt (start with about ¼ kg and increase as needed)
Wash the mangoes and towel dry them well ensuring the stem stays intact. Spread them on a large cotton towel and leave them for about an hour, to dry well (not in the sun). Now pack them well into a jar, 2 layers high, and sprinkle a handful of salt. Pack another 2 layers and sprinkle another handful of salt. Repeat this till the jar is full and the topmost layer is salt and a slightly thicker layer. Close the jar and ensure it is airtight. Do this till all the mangoes and salt have been used up. Remember this salt has to be evenly distributed between the mangoes.
The jars must be shaken well 2 or 3 times a day, to ensure the the salt does not settle at the bottom of the jar and is redistributed among the mangoes. What happens now is that the salt draws out the liquid in the mangoes and dissolves in it. Each day the liquid in the jars will increase till mangoes would be immersed, more or less, in the liquid at the end of 2 or 3 days. The mangoes will lose their rounded appearance and start looking wrinkled.
The pickle making is done but this will be ready for eating only after 2 months. This keeps for a long time, over a year, provided reasonable precautions are taken to see that the pickle doesn’t get contaminated.
Kadugu Maangai (Spicy Baby Mango Pickle):
I am assuming that a quarter of the Kanni maangai would be kept aside and only the remaining three quarters would be used to make this pickle, for the purpose of ingredient measurements. You may not make this pickle at all preferring to keep them all in brine or else may make all of it into Kadugu maangai. Please adjust the quantities of ingredients according to your requirement. As I mentioned before, please remember to start with a little less than the mentioned quantities. If the mustard or fenugreek powders are added in excess, they would lend a bitter taste to the pickles.
If you are going to make this pickle, it is important that you do it within 2 to 4 days (the time it takes for the liquid in the jar to almost submerge the mangoes) of pickling the mangoes in brine.
mangoes in brine, from above
300 gm chilli powder
1 ½ tbsp mustard powder (freshly ground)
1 ½ tbsp fenugreek powder (freshly ground)
½ tsp asafetida powder
Strain the liquid from the mangoes into a sterile pan and keep the mangoes aside. Keep on the stove top and bring to a boil. Take off the stove, cover and allow to cool, almost to room temperature. Add the chilli, mustard, fenugreek and asafetida powders to the liquid. Using a clean and dry spoon, mix everything well. The resulting liquid will be a little thick in consistency. Add all the mangoes to this liquid and mix. Equally distribute the mangoes into the jars (from which you removed them) ensuring that the spicy liquid is also evenly distributed between the jars. Close the jars, making sure they’re airtight.
The pickle is ready but not for serving yet. After about 2 months, the mangoes would have softened enough to use. The liquid part of the pickle, called “maanga vellam” which translates as mango water, is also great on its own with rice and ghee (clarified butter), uppuma, dosas, or any south Indian food where pickle is usually served as an accompaniment.
You can cut up carrots and add them to the left over “maanga vellam” to make another very nice pickle! If you leave the carrot to steep for a couple of days before serving, they absorb the flavours of the pickle really well.
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.
A note on “bharanis”:
“Bharanis” are ceramic jars (and used to be brought over from China in those days), traditionally used to store pickles and tamarind. Ceramic containers are inert and wouldn’t be affected by the acidic nature of pickles or tamarind.
This picture shows my mother-in-law’s tamarind jar, which I inherited and now decorates my living room. This most probably is Chinese in origin as it has been in my husband’s family since his great grandfather’s time. My sister-in-law has similar but more ornate one decorated with dragons’ heads!
This, by the way, is my “puli bharani” (or tamarind jar) and this one definitely didn’t come from China!
Picking tamarind fruit from trees, removing the outer covering and de-seeding it and drying it in the sun for preservation, was also a summer time activity in most houses. These days, most of us buy it off the supermarket shelves!