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Pickling Secrets from Grandma’s Archives

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One of our food writers from Mumbai had the good fortune of finding – in an old unused cabinet in her ancestral home – a diary written more than a hundred years ago by her great grandmother. Among other things, the diary contained some of the memorable recipes that her great grandma had been famous for; the family always thought that those recipes had been lost forever – but the discovery of the diary changed all that.

Here is one of the gems from that diary. It is a Parsi Mango Pickle called Buffena. But unlike its North Indian counterparts, it is made with ripe mangoes – not raw ones.

Let’s get started on recreating the timeless magic of Buffena. The ingredients that you will need are:

Ingredients:

  1. Ripe whole mangoes: 25

  2. Mustard Oil: 3 litres

  3. Vinegar: 1 litre

  4. Mustard Seeds (Rai): 500 grams

  5. Turmeric (Haldi) Powder: 2 tablespoon

  6. Jaggery (Gur): One and a half kilograms

  7. Garlic (Lasun): 125 grams

  8. Cinnamon (Dalchini): 30 grams

  9. Cardamoms (Elaichi): 30 grams

  10. Cloves (Laung): 2 teaspoon

  11. Salt: 9 tablespoon

As you can see, the quantities of ingredients in this recipe are huge. That’s because back in the old days, pickles were prepared for the entire (extended) family – and for the entire year! So you may want to scale the quantities down proportionately, depending on how much you want to make.

Preparation:

Wash the mangoes and then dry them thoroughly. Make sure they are totally dry. We emphasize this so strongly because even a little moisture can completely ruin your pickle.

Grind the Mustard Seeds into a coarse powder.

Coarsely grind the cinnamon.

Coarsely grind the cardamoms.

Wash and sterilize several large glass or porcelain pickling jars. Carefully wipe each jar dry. Make sure they are completely dry before you use it.

Method:

Now this is great grandma’s secret technique for “treating” the Mustard Oil prior to making the pickle. Listen carefully. You will need two chapattis for this – they could be rice chapattis or wheat chapattis, makes no difference.

Heat the Mustard Oil in a large pan on a Medium flame till it reaches its smoking point. Now put one chapatti into the oil and cook it till the side facing the bottom of the pan becomes black. Turn the chapatti over and continue cooking till the other side also turns black. Remove the blackened chapatti from the oil and discard it.

Repeat the same process with the second chapatti. Turn the flame off and let the oil cool. Then strain the oil through a muslin cloth and keep the oil aside.

This entire process may sound strange and exotic – but apparently, for hundreds of years Parsis have treated oil in this way before proceeding with pickling.

Now take this “treated” Mustard Oil and pour it into a large pan. Once the oil begins to boil, put the mangoes in. Let them simmer in the oil till they become tender. Remove the pan from the flame and drain the excess oil off – but don’t throw it away. Store it in another pan.

In a bowl mix the turmeric powder, jaggery, garlic, cloves and salt along with the ground mustard seeds, cinnamon and cardamoms; pour in the vinegar. Add two tablespoons of the “treated” Mustard Oil. Mix well.

Thickly coat each mango with this spice mixture. Then place the mangoes in the pickling jars. Pour the excess spice mixture into the jars, over the top of the mangoes. Finally, pour the Mustard Oil into the jars so that it covers the mangoes.

Unlike the pickling practices in northern India, the Parsis don’t tie the necks of their jars with muslin cloth. Instead they close the jars with airtight lids. The jars are then put out in the hot sun for ten days.

Your traditional Parsi Buffena is now ready. It can be eaten with pretty much anything… rice, roti or paratha. Parsis typically have it with hot Khichdi.

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