Friday, February 11, 2011

Nani's Lemon Pickle

It's the time of year
to make the lemon pickle
that I make from my mother's recipe,
a pickle that I've been making for years.
(The only one that I make now-
gone are the glory days
when the children were young
and I'd make at least seven or eight
kinds of pickle every year).

Lemon pickle that I'd manage to sun
for the fifteen minutes a day
of sunshine that the
guest room window gets
every morning, these years in Kolkata.
The only pickle that my father
could eat, these last few years.
Made with no oil, no vinegar,
moderate spices and
the weight of tradition.

Last year our lives were in a pickle,
of illness and hospitals and nurses
and oxygen cylinders and nebulisers.

This year, the younger daughter
asks me if I'm making
Nani's lemon pickle.
I hadn't planned to, but
when a child reminds you
of something that you used to make
You know you should take a hint,
and proceed.

I bought seventy-five beautiful limes,
plunging into baskets full of them,
choosing the best
at Lake Market yesterday afternoon,
and had them weighed.
Soaked them overnight,
and then washed and wiped them dry
this morning.

I sat and cut them,
remembering the time,
in another city, some years ago
when my mother cut them for me
perched upon the dining table.
( My dining table thanks me
for my kindness in not attempting
to sit on it anymore).

I measured out the salt,
and took out the last of my
treasured 'heeng',
the wonderfully strong asafoetida
that my Maama,
my mother's younger brother
used to get for us.

I remembered getting the news
of his sudden stroke
on a train, and how he barely
survived for a day after that.
The sorrow of bearing this news to my mother
little knowing that barely eight months later
I would bear the news of another death,
of her firstborn, her only son.

I wondered if she and my father
have been able to catch up with
their siblings and the friends and relations
who've gone before them.
Party time, somewhere!

In the meantime,
the nascent pickle looks forward to its
daily dose, (for at least a month)
of fifteen minutes of sunshine.

Edited to add: the approximate recipe is in the comments section!


Bong Mom said...

How beautiful Dipali

Anonymous said...

teary eyed ....

Sands said...

So beautifully written. I wish I could share some of the lemons from my overflowing tree with you to partake in your memories.

Banno said...

beautiful, Dipali. I do so want to eat this lemon pickle made with so much love, so many memories.

Kavs said...

loved it...and as anon said, i'm teary eyed too.

Anonymous said...


and so that many around the globe can carry forth the pickle, full recipe, please?

Unknown said...

So lovely , Dipali . This connectivity to the past , emotions and memories through food is so beautiful

SUR NOTES said...

beautiful dipali - i shall get you a copy of a diploma film made by an NID student called Dopahar- about memory and making pickles on the terrace.

and i hope i can taste some of the pickle-visiting your city soon.

B o o. said...

beautiful Dips! Makes me all nostalgic. (and drooly!! ;)

dipali said...

@Bong Mom: Thank you.
@ Anonymous: Thanks, but don't be teary eyed, please!
@ Sands: Thank you- I wish you and your lemon tree were not so far away!
@Banno: I would love you to do so!
@Kavs: Thank you.
@anonymous: Thanks. The essential recipe is very simple- variations will probably be in the garam masala, which I now make totally by guesswork!
If you have two kg of limes, cut them into eights (after soaking, washing and wiping dry), and add 250 gm of salt.(Basically, 1/8 the weight of the limes).
Add about 1-2tsp of asafoetida powder, depending on the strength of it. This aids in the digestive power of this pickle.
Add about 2tbsp of ajwain seeds,
2-4 teaspoon of red chilli powder.
100 gm of garam masala, coarsely ground, made from cloves, whole jeera, cinammon, bay leaf, black pepper, black cardamom.
(This is where I need to find the actual recipe, for the exact proportions for the garam masala!
Finely slice and chop about 250 gms of ginger and add.
Cover the vessel with a fine cloth and sun for several days, till the peel softens a bit. Toss occasionally, so the top layer doesn't dry out completely.
After 2-3 weeks, add at least 250gms of sugar to the mix, more if you like a sweeter pickle. This quantity probably helps preserve it, plus reducing the sourness, plus improving the texture- it becomes nice and juicy once you've added the sugar.
Sun this for about another week, then transfer to a jar that has a tightly fitting lid, and store for as long as you like!
@eve's lungs: Thank you. Missing your evocative writing, my dear- it's been a while.
@SUR NOTES: The film sounds wonderful. And even more wonderful is the prospect of meeting you here!
@Boo: Thank you- wish you were here, drooly one!

Natasha said...

Beautiful writing, as always, Dipali.
I am glad you made the pickle this year. So many memories associated with it. And how many burdens have you had to bear?

dipali said...

@Rayna M. Iyer: Thank you. Your last line made me teary- this is a difficult time, in terms of painful memories.

Zeon said...

Hi Dipali,
I just wanted to invite you to the indiblogger meet happening in your city after 2 years at
DC-36, Sector - 1, Salt Lake City
Kolkata - 700 064
Landmark: Behind City Centre.
Only 200 seats available. Entry is free with loads of fun. Click here to register = . See you there!

Rohini said...

Wow! So many layers to the act of making your pickle. Lovely post

suveesha said...

Thanks Mommy :-)

AA_Mom said...

Lovely post! Will try the pickle in a small quantity. Thanks

the mad momma said...

yummy... and beautiful, doosi nani

sm said...

beautiful narration or poem

dipali said...

@zeon: Much as I would love to come, I have a prior commitment that I cannot break.
@Rohini: Thanks. I think the heeng was the catalyst for this piece!
@suveesha: Thanks for the inspiration to pickle!
@AA_Mom: Thank you.
@The Mad Momma: Thanks, dear.
@sm: Thank you.

Thinking Cramps said...

Lovely. All the romance of a pickle and none of its sour note :)

neha vish said...

How utterly beautiful. If the sun were to grace London this summer, am definitely making this. And at each morsel, think of you. :)

Just Like That said...

Pickled memories. Lovely, Dipali....

dipali said...

@Thinking Cramps: Thanks- you must sample the actual pickle on your next visit to Kolkata!
@neha vish: Thank you- I hope the sun is kind enough to appear!
@Just Like That: Pickled memories- what a lovely phrase! Thank you.

yasmeen sait said...

This is truely beautiful,Dipali.I often think of you and how much trauma you have been through.

TheGirlNextDoor said...

I had goose pimples as i read this. Very Very evocative!!

dipali said...

@yasmeen: Thank you. It was a really difficult time for all of us.
@TheGirlNextDoor: Thank you so much!

radha said...

So sad. Glad you seem to have the courage to go on

dipali said...

@radha: There is no option but to go on, and as cheerfully as possible.
Of course there are still bad moments, but I do try and focus on the good things, like this pickle!

Sue said...

*big, big squoozes*

dipali said...

@Sue: Thanks, dear. Squoozes back at ya!

eppy said...

mami, i actually had that lemon pickle u used to make 25 years ago. so, a lopt of nostalgia there

dipali said...

@eppy: Lovely having you here! And of course you've had all the pickles I used to make:)