06 February 2008

Quite a pickle

The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Well, that's quite a drastic start to this story. But that's exactly how it started. Early last summer, I made a really good batch of lemon squash, and then decided to make another batch while the sun was shining. With one thing and another I suddenly realized that I was starting to wear sweaters everyday, the days were getting visibly shorter, and HELP... the lemons in the refrigerator were nearing the end of their limited shelf life.

And so I decided to make PICKLES.

Before I get started with my story on pickling, I have to thank two wonderful people. Manisha, who's blog Indian Food Rocks is a real lifesaver and Indosungod who writes her Daily Musings, took time out of their busy lives to help me out of this pickle.

A healthy amount of time was spent trawling the internet for suitable recipes. With the number of lemons I had in hand, and keeping in mind that I am the only pickle-eater in our home, it had to have a long shelf life. After some R and D, I decided that cooked pickles were out. And since the weather was turning cold at an alarming rate, the sun-cooked variety was not that good an option. I finally decided that these two recipes fit the bill well.

Once I took the lemons out of the fridge, I saw that quite a few of them were unsuitable for pickling. That left me with (hold your heart) 30 large lemons. I let them get to room temperature, washed and dried them thoroughly, cut them and then got down to spicing said pickles. I made up a spice blend that was a combination of Manisha and Indosungod's recipes. And pickled the lemons in two batches. One batch was totally oil free. For the second batch, I heated some oil, let it cool and added it to the pickle jar. Whenever I could see the sun and feel some warmth outdoors, I left the jars outside. On other days, the two jars sat close to the stove, the warmest place in my kitchen.

After three weeks, the jar that had no oil in it had a very thick layer of pale gray furry looking stuff growing on it. And it all went straight to the dustbin. Jar 2 seemed alright, so I let it be. And continued to keep it near the stove for another month.

Then I went on my holiday. I cleaned up the kitchen before I left, put things away, and totally forgot about the pickles for nearly two months.

A week ago, a Japanese friend was having dinner with me, and asked if Indians really eat pickled lemon. That reminded me of that experiment, and I rushed to bring out that jar from the back of the kitchen cupboard. I opened it and it looked alright. And smelt alright too.

I took a deep breath. "A-san, would you like to try some pickled lemon??"

A-san looked torn. The idea of pickled lemon seemed quite alien to her, but she also wanted to know what the fuss was all about. "May I try some?" she asked, and I could see that curiousity won out.

She took one bite, and her knee jerk reaction was "Supai desu ne!" (It tastes sour)

And then after a few seconds, she said that it didn't taste sour anymore. She asked for a second helping and a third, and then asked if she could take some home for her family.

And I must admit they were awesome. Just perfect with hot parathas!

If you want to try the straightforward method, choose any of these two recipes.

Or if you like to do things the complicated way:

Prep the limes the was Indosungod does in this recipe.

Follow Manisha's instructions exactly.

The spice mix I used was as follows:
1 tsp methi seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida or hing powder
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)

Roast these ingredients individually till browned (about 4-5 minutes)
Let cool completely.
Grind to a fine powder.

Finally, heat 1/2 cup of oil till almost smoking.
Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds and let them splutter.
Let it cool completely.
Add to the jar of pickles along with 1/2 cup sugar and shake gently till well mixed.

Cross your fingers and pray for lots of sunshine.

The finally result was quite nice. It was a nice blend of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.

Next time however, I plan to follow any one recipe, and do it properly.

Thank you again, Manisha and Indosungod.

And maybe you're thanking your lucky stars that I'm too far away to send you a sample.


Jayashree said...

Nice write up Vidya...it is only pickled mangoes that rock my world...but i must say your jar of pickle does look good.

indosungod said...

Vidya glad you got a bit of success. The pickle looks enticing

vimmi said...

Good write up. Enjoyed reading it even though I am not too fond of lemon pickles.

Vanamala said...

Hi vidya

First time iam visiting your blog.

Nice Post

Pooja said...

pickle looks yummy !
enjoyed your write up too .
thanks for sharing Vidya .

Cynthia said...

I still have some left back from what I made last year. It is so good isn't it?

Vidya said...

@Jayashree: I'm not that much of a lemon pickle fan myself, but i had to use up those lemons

@Indosungod: Thank YOU!!

@vimmi: thanks for dropping by

@vanamala: welcome o foodie confidential

@pooja: thanks & welcome

@Cynthia: despite all the false starts, it's a great pickle! you're so right

Manisha said...

:-( I'm sorry about the fur. That's *not* part of the process. What it means is that there wasn't enough warmth, leading to mold. Also, I have found that you need fresh lemons or limes. Older the produce, more the chance of spoilage. I once made green chilli pickle with chillies that had been refrigerated and then brought to room temperature. My home smelled like heaven and I drooled if I even looked at the jar. But it got slimy and I had to throw it away.

I think the key is fresh produce and warmth. In addition, sugar provides the food for the bacterial fermentation of the lemons.

I have no clue how but Pel of Elaichi Etcetera makes blood orange pickle in winter. I tried it with grapefruit and yes, we saw fur even though I was shaking the jar every day. :-(