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A Summer Recipe & Childhood Nostalgia


Sarojini and her Grandmother, at her naming ceremony, 1996


Marcel Proust, in his most prominent work “Remembrance of things past” recounts of a flashback triggered by eating a “petite madeleine” – “the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection”.

Two nights ago, mum and I sat down for dinner, and when I wasn’t paying attention she put a spoon of Aam ka Gudamba on my thali. Aam ka Gudamba is a sweet mango chutney. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a summer meal. It adds flavour, depth, dimension. It transforms.


This blog post is a recipe. The recipe of Aam ka Gudamba, passed down from my Grandmother (Ammi) to my mother. But a recipe is never just a recipe. For Marcel Proust, it was the “petite Madeline” that transported him to Sunday mornings at Combray; for me, it was the simple aam ka gudamba, that took me on a nostalgic journey to the many childhood summers spent with Ammi and Baba in Calcutta.


The memory returns …


Ammi was the headmistress at Alipore Tiny Tots – A nursery school. This meant she got summers off too. She used to take me swimming to Tollygunge Club every afternoon. If I was lucky (I usually was), we would grab a patty from the coffee shop on our way home. We’d go to Saturday club on Wednesday’s and spend hours lounging in the library. She’d also chase me around the dining room table, and make me practice Hindi every day.


When Baba came home from work- we would sit together in the study. 7pm. Ammi and baba would have their libations. I would have a nimbu soda (or a coke). There’d be roasted muri or something to snack on. Ammi’s evening serials would begin after a little bit of chit-chat. Baba’s online solitaire game would start. Kashmiri food for dinner. Never just one vegetable and rice. Vegetable and Dal, Rice and Roti, Raita and Salad, and Aam ka Gudamba.


Ammi used to make the perfect “lukmas” (morsels) – roti wrapped around vegetable, coated in masala gravy, with a hint of chutney, followed by a spoon of doi (yoghurt). As we were eating she would occasionally offer me a lukma from her plate. So even though I hadn’t served myself any Aam ka Gudamba, she made sure I was enjoying it. Making sure we were well fed was Ammi’s way of saying she loved us.


Ammi & Sarojini, late 90's


A simple spoon of Aam ka Gudamba took me back to summers with Ammi and Baba in Calcutta. Summer’s are Ammi’s bedside table stacked with books with crossword clues. Summers are starched cotton saree’s with jangling keys in a metal loop hooked onto the waist. Summer’s are the Godrej almirah with the detailed inventory of what’s on each shelf and in each former biscuit tin, meticulously listed on a piece of paper taped to the inside door. Summer is the little red Maruti 800 that kept breaking down. Summer’s are baba in his lungi, reading the newspaper and trying to shoo away the pigeons from the window using an old orange toy gun that made an ineffective “prrr prrr” sound. Summer’s are sitting together at 7pm and chatting. Summer’s are eating dinner as a family.


Aam ka Gudamba: the recipe


Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes


Ingredients:

2.5 kg raw green mangoes (peeled with the seed)

3.5 kg Jaggery

2 tsp asofoetida

2 tbsp fennel seeds

2 tsp red chilli powder

2 tbsp wild black onion seeds

1 litre brown vinegar

Salt to taste


Recipe:

Put the jaggery in a pan on the fire with 5 cups of water. When it starts melting, take off the fire and strain through a muslin cloth. Take another pan and add all the ingredients (except the vinegar), add the jaggery to it, and cook on a slow fire for roughly 15 minutes. Gradually add the vinegar, and let it cook till the consistency thickens. Remove from the fire, let it cool, and pour into an airtight container.

No refrigeration is required, and the chutney can be stored for upto six months.


In 1995, Sonya Sapru wrote Zaika: Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine. The book was published by Harper Collins in 1999. Sonya wrote the book when she was pregnant. She sat down with a Remington typewriter and her mother-in-law Gita Sapru and put together a 7” x 7” pocket-sized book that would guide its reader on planning the perfect Kashmiri meal. One of the recipes she included in the book was for Aam ka Gudamba – whole sweet mango chutney.

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