It is injustice to call Avakaya a pickle. it is legendary Amritam Or the elixir of my life. On days when I am down and out, Avakaya mixed with hot rice brings me back to life.
Avakaya is a pickle – mostly from Telugu-speaking states – made from raw mangoes, mustard powder, chillies, salt and oil. Vinegar substitute varieties in stores are only poorer than its cousin. And believe me my mother makes the best version of it. This is not empty bragging; Anyone who has tasted his pickles will attest to their divine taste.
I have vague childhood memories of her mixing spices and filling pickles in large porcelain jars in our cramped kitchen. But my knowledge has remained purely theoretical. I’m better off attempting cooking feats.
The Covid years disrupted her annual pickling, so it had been three years since she made her last batch. I longed for his version, and my own stock of Avakaya, gifted from relatives, had dwindled. Therefore, I urged him to resume his tradition, offering my full support and co-operation.
Nati Mango for Avakaya Pickle | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
There are only six ingredients that need to be put together; How hard can it be, I reasoned. So, my parents and I—with the help of our ten-year-old son—began collecting them.
It starts with shopping Nati Varieties of mangoes—carefully selected, just the right kind of raw and just the right kind of tart, without being too sweet. After much back and forth, my parents had around 10 mangoes instead of my humble aspiration of three or four. Well, it didn’t sound like much when my mother boasted, “In those days I used to make it with 35-40 mangoes.” In comparison, only 10 seemed notable.
While my mother washed each mango, my father and I cleaned them with a towel. The peel of mango should be dark green in color and thick. The shopkeeper cut them into pieces of about an inch each. Each piece should have a portion of the seed coat or hard shell.
Her sharp knife was cutting through the skins of mangoes as if they were butter. This raised some doubts – “Are the mangoes hard enough?”, “Are the pieces too big?”, “Is the shell too small?” Finally, we returned with a stock that somehow seemed much bigger than the 10 mangoes we started with. My mother likes to think big when it comes to cooking.
Avakaya Pickle Mixing | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The real challenge just started: deciding on the spice level. My parents are from the Nellore-Gudur belt, which is known for its spicy chillies. So naturally, his threshold for sharpness is quite high. There is a big reason why they make their own pickles as per their taste.
They debated the advantages and disadvantages of several brands of chili powder—some even from three neighboring states. He remembered what had happened in earlier years when one particular brand was chosen over another, literally looking up his nose at those brands for their gross inadequacies. Once the chili powder had solidified, it was time to add the rest of the ingredients: rock salt, sesame oil, turmeric, asafoetida and mustard powder. Also, fenugreek seeds, which act as a coolant against chilli and mustard powder.
Finally, we were all set to start the process.
Mixed Avakaya Pickle | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
While my parents, both retired teachers, were debating the quantities, the scale bothered me because we didn’t have the right utensils to mix or store them. My mom, who has a go-to attitude, had various solutions—all of which involved multiple pots.
He had his own logic. But I forgot the point when she speaks in terms of “heaps” instead of kilograms and grams. Not knowing how to help, I officially gave up and decided to be a spectator. Even better, I started taking pictures, a job I really love.
ceramic pickle jar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
I sweat at the prospect of cayenne staining our floor tiles and marble countertops. My father spread several newspapers and an old blanket on our dining table. The stage was set for the pickling drama.
As my mother mixed the ingredients with her bare hands, we debated whether we should use my late grandmother’s pickle jars to store the pickles. “Why not use it? After all, it’s for keeping pickles,” said my mother. It’s a decades-old jar. Now, it’s a priceless ornament in the house. I didn’t have the heart to use it if Let it happen. So, in between making pickles, my father and I shopped at a nearby shop for two new ceramic jars to store the pickles.
My mom followed a process: She dipped a pile of mangoes in oil, then added a layer of dry ingredients, then added more oil to moisten the powder. This layering was repeated before more oil was added to ensure that it dripped down. Finally, the layers were merged.
Avakaya Rice | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The pickle is kept in a new jar for three days so that the mango pieces can absorb the spices before eating. One can always add a little extra oil or spices after this resting period to adjust the flavor and texture. in the form of oil, or Camel In the next three days in Telugu, we all had an insatiable desire to taste the pickle.
I took a spoonful and mixed it in hot rice with the help of ghee. “Is there enough salt?”, “Is it too spicy?”, my mother asked curiously. He didn’t need to worry. I was very satisfied as soon as the spices hit the right target on my palate. Spicy with a slight tang, this pickle has no match in my world.