Aitamaa, our highly sophisticated octogenarian Grandma, is quite a celebrity among family and friends for her elaborate parties. I have noticed that it is customary for the family to gather at her place, invited or uninvited, to celebrate any important festival or occasion and she loves every bit of it. Aitamaa is the glue that keeps the family together. She is my Aita-in-law actually, and having her in my life for the past 5 years has been a blessing though it’s a shame we don’t get to see each other much. How fortunate we are to have a Grandmother waiting for us back home! She has seen plenty in her lifetime and I would say she has done brilliantly in adapting to the changes that has taken place in the last 80 plus years. For God’s sake, she uses a smart phone.
Aitamaa is elegant, cultured, stylish, and so delicate. She will not wear any unpressed piece of cloth, be it daytime or night, any sandal that she wears must have a little heel, her purse has to match her outfit, and her hair is always carefully pinned at all times. I am always amazed by her prim and proper nature especially because I am one such person who is too lazy to even follow the simple regime of applying a night cream. Once when I was in Guwahati, she had just returned from a tea party hosted by one of her friends and I can never forget her face that day. She seemed very satisfied by how the party had gone, she said that they were served homemade cakes with their tea and it was very “aristocratic”. That was the exact word she used.
Aitamaa still bakes cakes herself and prepares jams, preserves and pickles. I have been told that the extended family knows what jams or pickles she will be making in which month or season and comes to collect their shares. Need I say more? Her production has obviously gone down because of her age but even I have had the pleasure of tasting her guava jam, pineapple jam, hot and sweet Indian olive pickle, chilly pickle, mango pickle and mixed vegetable pickle and just the thought makes me happy.
Fair to her age, she is not as sharp as she used to be though I am certain that she is still doing better than most people her age. Tell me, who can wear heels in their 80s. Last time I was there, we had gone out for a drive one late afternoon, my parents-in-laws, Aitamaa and I. We hadn’t gotten time to change so we just went in the same clothes we had been wearing while at home. So, we stopped at a spot to have a look at the overflowing Brahmaputra river, and we all got down except that Aitamaa won’t get down. She was ashamed to get out of the car because she was in her house clothes. Typical Aitamaa.
Just some weeks back I learned that it was the season for her to make a particular pickle and understandably Aitamaa couldn’t remember the exact method of preparing the pickle as she had been doing for the last 50/60 years or more. But I don’t feel bad for her for forgetting and I don’t feel sorry for her. The only thing she deserves is applause for all these years of cooking all those delicious jams and pickles. At the same time, I remembered that some years back, I had watched her make her famous mixed vegetable pickles and had taken some notes and photos that day. My biggest regret is that I had not ask the quantities of the ingredients but anyways I’m still happy I captured something this special.
Mixed Vegetable Pickle – Mrinalini Barua
Methi (fenugreek seeds)
Yellow Mustard seeds
Ginger and garlic
Turmeric powder, chili powder, salt, sugar and mustard oil
Chop vegetables into tiny pieces and then boil them separately for 5 minutes and then put them to dry in the sun for a day
Soak methi (fenugreek seeds) in vinegar and mustard seeds (separately) in water overnight
Grind the fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds into
Crush Garlic and ginger (separately)
Heat mustard oil in a pan and fry the cauliflowers, carrots and peas separately at a low flame for about 3 to 4 minutes
When the last of the vegetables have been removed from the pan, add more mustard oil
(Keep the stove in low flame at all times)
Fry ginger and garlic pastes till slightly browned
Add the fenugreek paste and stir for about 1 minute
Then the mustard paste and continue stirring for a minute
Add the turmeric powder and chili powder stir for a minute, followed by all the vegetables
Mix everything together, add sugar and salt to taste.
Cook for about 5 minutes and then put out the stove flame.
Cool and store in sterilized glass container(s).