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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indrani robbinsAugust 21, 2016 at 3:01 am
loved the avakaya story. and that picture makes me hungry. you daughter fell for it at three? my kind of girl. please share the basic recipe… maybe some day, if i get enough people to clean the pieces…. thanks, durga, enjoyed reading and understanding the meaning of the words. my grandmother used to make aam tel (literally, mango oil) for the whole year. while the masala had several things and a handful of chana was thrown in, it was soaked in mustard oil. didn’t know mustard powder was popular in your part of the world.
DurgaSAugust 22, 2016 at 5:39 pm
Thanks Indi. Oh yeah, she instantly liked it. Basic recipe is simple actually. Chilli powder, salt, mustard powder could be approx in the ratio of 1:0.50:0.25. But it can be altered as per one’s liking. After mixing the masalas, very little oil is added so as to wet the masalas. Then, mango pieces added gradually, each piece wrapped in enough masala. And then, they are put into the pickle jars and more oil is added for the pickle to soak in for two days. The taste can also depend upon the pungency of the chilly powder, also upon how sour the mangoes are. All these have an effect on the final taste of the avakaya. That’s why after resting it for two days, it is nicely mixed and tasted again. Then, if needed certain masalas can be added.
Mustard seeds and also fenugreek is quite widely used, especially in pickles and pachadis. For certain short term pickles, a tadka of mustard seeds and asafoetida is added. Optionally, chana or fenugreek seeds can also be added in the avakaya masala.
Aam tel, interesting. Such an interesting world it was then, isn’t it? Planning, making and storing things for the whole year. Now, many things are available instantly. Somehow this ‘easily-accessible’ way of life is robbing us of some wonderful traditions.
indrani robbinsAugust 22, 2016 at 11:20 pm
thanks so much, durga… if i get a chance, will surely try to make avakaya. appreciate this note on proportions and tips.
yes, while i can’t imagine myself getting into pickle and vadi and mithai making on a regular basis, something is going away with the passage of our elders and all this readymade frenzy. something precious, which we haven’t replaced with anything equally good. maybe some day… who knows.
DurgaSAugust 23, 2016 at 5:31 pm
Ya, I hope someday, there is a turnaround, as far as food traditions are concerned. Do give it a try Indi. Make a start with just a few mangoes. It’s really about which taste you would love best. A few tries and you should get it. 🙂
indrani robbinsAugust 24, 2016 at 9:27 am
thanks, durga, yes, will try a small batch. must. mouth is insisting on watering.
KatelynAugust 21, 2016 at 11:05 am
What a nice family tradition! Sounds like quite a fun affair. Yum, my mouth is watering.
DurgaSAugust 22, 2016 at 5:43 pm
Hi Kate. Happy to see you here. Thanks. It used to be fun earlier when we were kids. Now most have moved out. Only a few of us here now. 🙂
Archana popliAugust 22, 2016 at 2:46 am
I love mango pickle .I also love the fresh pickle they make with mango in the south it lasts for only a day .but I miss the aromas if fresh pickle out here nice story
DurgaSAugust 22, 2016 at 5:50 pm
Hi Archana, thanks. Pickles generally last for a long time. Perhaps you meant the mango pachadi, i.e. the chutney type. That usually does last for a few days, if you store it in fridge. Oh yes, the fresh pickle aroma, quite something, isn’t it? 🙂