Whenever summer arrives, my mother starts worrying about getting things ready for the daunting task of making the mango pickle which is done once a year. It’s made in a large quantity so that it could last for the whole year. Making of the mango pickle, which in Telugu is called the Avakaya, is quite a family affair. The word avakaya is a combination of avalu, which means mustard seeds; and kaya, which in this case means vegetable. Essentially, avakaya includes powdered mustard seeds and thus it is named so. There are other types of mango pickles, like Menthikaya or Magaya, where instead of powdered mustard seeds, powdered fenugreek seeds are used. Similarly, there is a wide range of pickles where the combinations of powders and vegetables are altered or intermixed. But avakaya certainly rules the roost for it is the king of all pickles and widely craved for.
Everyone in the family is crazy about avakaya, including my daughter, who tasted this spicy pickle at the young age of three and has been hooked onto it ever since. But for some strange reason, I happen to be the odd one here. Though I do not dislike it, I certainly am not as crazy as my family is. But one thing I do like is how the whole family comes together to help out on the day the avakaya is prepared.
But before doing that, my mother makes sure that all the ingredients have been brought in, which includes chilli powder, salt, gingelly oil and of course, the mustard seeds. Mustard seed powder is readily available nowadays. However, my mother insists on grinding the seeds at home, for getting the right aroma and taste for the avakaya. All these masala powders are mixed in the right proportions and kept ready the previous night.
The next morning, the first thing to do is to visit the vegetable market, to pick out the best mangoes for the avakaya and other pickles and have them cut in the size needed. These cut mango pieces, about 4 to 5 kilos, are brought home and laid out on a big cloth. All of us sit around it and start cleaning the pieces, one by one, with a wet cloth and then a dry cloth. Since the mangoes are cut along with their seeds, the inside of the seeds have to be removed and the pieces must be cleaned of any seed residue. This is a task that is time-taking, as each piece has to be checked and cleaned. Important thing about the mango pieces used in avakaya is that each piece must have a part of the seed shell, else the chances of the pickle lasting for a year long, come down. So any piece that does not have the shell or seems a little crushed, is separated. These discarded pieces can be used to prepare any other short term pickle. Thus, this home made quality check team finally succeeds in getting the pieces clean and ready for the next stage of avakaya making. The process is monotonous, but what makes it fun, is the coming together of the whole family, joking around, tugging at the cleaning cloth and looking for the constantly disappearing safety pins that are used for removing the seed residue that is trapped in certain corners.
After a break for some lunch and rest, the next stage of avakaya making starts. A big vessel is drawn out where all the ingredients, i.e. the previously mixed masala powders, gingelly oil and the cleaned mango pieces are carefully mixed and then stored in the huge pickle jars. While my mother does all the mixing, the rest of us take turns in adding the oil and mango pieces gradually. It is necessary that the avakaya is properly mixed and is properly wetted with the right amount of oil.
Once the pickle jars are filled up, we would have to wait for two days, during which time, the mango pieces absorb the flavour of the masalas. After two days, the avakaya is taken out again in the big vessel and mixed properly. By this time, my family starts getting impatient, while waiting to get a taste of the freshly made pickle. And when they do get the taste eventually, their faces sparkle as if they’ve just reached a heavenly place. Meanwhile, my mother gets concerned whether the taste of the pickle reflects the right proportions of the masalas or not. After getting a thumbs up from the few best tasters in the family, the making of the avakaya reaches its conclusion.
And now the avakaya is ready to be relished with rice, roti, paratha, pav, bread or just any edible item that one would like to have it with.
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