Every visit to my Ammama’s house would entail me coming back home with a fat jar of Kadumanga. I have never quite tasted anything like my grandmother’s pickled raw mangoes anywhere else. Kadumanga was special — a family tradition, a secret recipe every Malayalee family in Kerala guarded closely. Each family had their own “secret” ingredient, and I still don’t know what my grandmother’s was. Perhaps it was something she put in the concoction of the oil, or a secret blend of spices. But each time, Ammama made her Kadumanga, it tasted as good, if not better, than her previous batch.
It was usually in January that the baby mangoes would appear in the market. I remember how my grandmother would sit in the courtyard of our Nālukettu house, going through sacks of mangoes. Then began the elaborate process of separating the bigger mangoes from the smaller ones, for Kadumanga was made only from tiny baby mangoes, which were about an inch long.
Kadumanga is one of the most popular pickles of Kerala. The elders in my family would always say that the pickle tasted the best a month or two after preparing it. A tantalising mixture of chilli powder, turmeric, garlic, ginger, mustard and bright red chillies would make up “masala” of this pickle, and even writing about it today makes my mouth water. My mind goes back to our larder. It would be lined with big jars called bharani filled to the brim with Kadumanga. No one was allowed to touch these bottles. “Wet hands spoil the pickle,” my grandmother would tell us strictly. So the special pickle could be handled only by my grandmother, taken out only when guests were over. But the end of every summer, she would gift each of her grandkids one bottle, which we would protectively carry back to our respective homes.
Another seasonal favourite were the bharanis full of salted mangoes that we would raid when my grandmother left the larder door unlocked. We would sit in the shade of the gate with our books and a plate of the salted mangoes. Another famous and typically “Kerala” pickle was the lime pickle we usually had at sadyas. Naranga Upiluttu consisted of sweet, sour and tangy pieces of lemon pickled in salt and lasted for months at a stretch. Cut mango pickles are generally of two varieties: a fresh pickle, which last only 24 hours, consisting of raw mangoes in salt, chilli, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Our family had a unique pickle – I don’t think I have eaten this anywhere else, called Sambar Manga. This would use small semi-ripe Totapuri mangoes (my Grandmother had grown a tree in her backyard from a fruit a friend got her from Tamil Nadu) in sambar spices along with fenugreek, coriander, red chilli and hing.
A few months ago I had gone for a buffet to Vasundhara Sarovar Premiere, a resort in Alleppey. And surprisingly, it was the range of fresh pickles served there which transported me back to my childhood days at Ammama’s. There was something different about the pickles, which were very unlike the bottled pickles hotels usually serve. All their pickles were made with organic vegetables and fruits cultivated in the resort premises itself. And they had not used a single artificial preservative. The bitter gourd pickle was simple yet delicious — made only with natural preserves like vinegar and salt. The gooseberry pickle had blanched gooseberries pickled in red chilli powder, garlic, hing and fenugreek. The hotel served a range of jams too — the papaya and pineapples ones were particularly memorable, pureed with cinnamon, cloves and spices.
This time when I went to our ancestral house, my aunts were busy making the Kadumanga, just like my grandmother used to. On the last day of my stay, I walked out of the gates clutching a little bottle. I was glad that the tradition had carried on.
Ammama: Grandmother in Malayalam
Kadumanga: Raw mango pickle
Naranga Upiluttu: Lemon pickle
Totapuri: Type of a mango grown around South India