The Much Sought-After Pickle Making ‘Akkas’ @ Vysial Street Neighbourhood

Food helps us understand the cultural exchanges and commercial connections. The mercantile community was among the earliest to try out new items. They had the unique advantage of doing so for they dealt with the ingredients on a day to day basis. Items like Bengaluru pulusu, soup charu etc., were the outcome. Soup charu was full of English veggies and it was had with bread crumbs. Mysore charu was much preferred as a welcome break. It was an interesting type of rasam.
Pickling was another art. The huge and wealthy joint families used to have a cupboard full of big jadis which contained large quantities of pickles. The cupboard was like a treasure and it was kept under the supervision of one family member. Small plates with water used to be placed underneath in order to make sure that ants do not get into the cupboard. The huge jars would be many in number and they were only for storage purposes. Well, if someone wanted to eat the pickles, they would be transferred under supervision to smaller containers with the aid of wooden ladles. Later on the cupboard would be locked up by the person in charge. Pickles were treated like treasure. One had to have clean nails and should have had a bath before accessing the cupboard. Speaking while peeping inside the huge pickle containers were banned. Indians followed many systems and methods for cooking and maintenance. The Japanese brought in change but preserved their tradition. Unfortunately all this has been lost during the time of reform. People had lost sight of the aspects that had to be retained.
The women of the house used to work on the making of pickles based on availability. They used to sit down, process the vegetables and prepare the pickles. Unwanted conversation was to be avoided while preparing pickles. The podis, vegetables etc., were fully processed at home. They used to make a brine called Oota which contained special ingredients. Cut vegetables or mangoes were put into the brine. The brine used to seep into the veggies over 15 days. Thereafter, the flavoured veggies and the brine used to eaten with curd rice or idli. A number of exotic items like bilvakai, thammakai, chadurachikkidikai, mukherakai, mavidikommu etc., were submerged and kept in the Oota for years at times. If one maintained the Oota well, it used to last a long time.
Eating the pickles with rice was an art by itself. Sometimes people ate charu annam or rasam sadham with naravallikai pickle. It was a delicacy those days. The oota used to be mixed with rice and gingelly oil was added to the mixture before it was eaten. This was the way to eat Oorugaya annam. At times, one of the homemakers used to mix it and make it into big balls which were elliptical and serve it to the other members of the family. Neer mavidikai, sambara mavidikai were among the favourites. Nimmakai pickle which was salted or spiced was used for the kids. Narthagaya orugaya was also for digestion. It could digest the food but used to take time to digest itself.
Special pickle making cooks used to be employed and they used to be in demand.These ‘akkas’ came from cultured families and pickle making used to be their vocation. They were treated with respect by the households served by them. Pickle making was kind of a community work for the pickles thus made were given to friends and relatives.
A lot of stories about the epics, puranas and rituals used to be discussed while pickles were made. Details about music, dance, drama and family histories used to shared. Social matters were discussed too but gossip was totally banned for cookery and pickle making was considered to be sacred. Thodar kadais or serialized stories of the good kind used to spoken about. The cookery fire was considered to be like a homam and the ingredients were sacred. Naturally the spoken word had to be decent!
Matrimonial alliances were discussed while making pickles. Some of the home makers used to recite prayers while making them. Kirtans would also be sung jointly. The skills of people at the household would be discussed and sharpened during those hours. Vendors from the nearby hills, forests and farms used to carry the exotic mangoes and veggies to Vysial Street and offer the same in every home. Some of them regular vendors ensured that many of the ladies were conversant with the cultivation and availability of the exotic items.
In fact they used to get prepared well ahead with other items and also allot time for the preparation. The pickle season was always welcome. They used to start the making on an auspicious moment actually. This was not because of superstition but to make one feel positive at the time of work.
Members of the family were told not waste pickles and they had to just ask for what could be consumed. Tiny spoons were used for serving. Sometimes people who liked spice but could not take too much of it used to get the veggies in oota in fresh water before eating them. These were smaller quantities that were taken out of the smaller jars and kept in small bowls.
It was a three tier storage and transfer for pickles before they were relished by the members of the family.
Young daughters in law used to assimilate and learn from their grand mothers in law. The pattis were like a medium for them for the mother in law was junior to the pattis. The pattis were called as ‘avva’ by the youngsters. Pickle recipes were exchanged and samples were also made available to everyone concerned. Murukkus and thatta murukkus were eaten with pickles. They were known as chakkilam, manugupulu, billalu. Pickles were also eaten with idli, godhuma dosa, thenkaya dosa and uppumas of all kinds. The pickle cupboards were placed in a corner but slightly away from the wall. Removal of cob webs around the place was done under supervision.
The pickles were considered to be a treasure for they were expensive. Kooru kullina mavidikai was a favourite. Many of the veggies were cleaned and excavated. The seeds were removed and then some podis were filled in. Later on it was left for curing and maturing. At many times oils used to poured into the pickle containers if required. This was done to ensure that pickles did not get spoiled. Thus they did dry up. Every household had pickles all round the year and containers were never found empty.
Cleaning the pickle jars and drying them before reuse was done properly. The members of the household were banned from going near the pickle cupboard if they were yet to have a bath. It was absolute madi and it helped the family to keep the pickles safe. Small shopkeepers and ‘akkas’ used to sell these pickles in the neighbourhood. This was a way of life when pickles were made under excellent and expert conditions by the people of Vysial Street during the yonder era.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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