Hanging from a tree in Palbhavi village in Belgaum, were the biggest, yellowest lemons I have ever seen. Their tangy, sharp fragrance filling the air, bringing back memories of certain summer afternoons in Mumbai.
During my growing up years we lived a while in Navy Nagar, Colaba, home as the name suggests, to an Indian Navy base. With it’s beautifully laid out roads, greenery and military order, Navy Nagar, even today, is far cut off from the chaos and noise outside its gates, in the rest of Mumbai city.
Every afternoon, my mother, perched on a recently acquired cycle, would toodle off for an hour, longing, no doubt, for a break after a whole day spent doing routine chores. She would buy vegetables, pick up odds and ends, and make her way back via the Afghan Church. A nearly 200-year old, majestic Presbyterian Church, built by the British to remember the soldiers who died in the First Afghan War of 1838.
Inside the church walls was an old lemon tree, where she would make a brief stop and discreetly pluck the lemons within reach. She would come back, her cycle basket laden with all her shopping, the juicy, glistening lemons nestling right on top. She did this for months; quite sure her little theft was going unnoticed. Until one day the old Father came out and smilingly gave her a handful of lemons. From then on, it became an open practice.
The lemons I found in this Karnataka village, locally called ‘elakkai” were much bigger. I got two to take back to Mumbai, their spicy, heady scent filling my hotel room and suitcase.
|The lemon tree at Palbhavi
I pickled them, the Belgaum way, the recipe a little more elaborate than my mother’s version. She would chop them up; add bits of ginger and green chillies, a dash of turmeric and some salt. Bottle them for about 4 days and they are ready to eat.
This is what I did. Fry a teaspoon each of these – Fenugreek seeds, Cumin seeds and Onion seeds. Grind them well. Cut the lemons into small pieces and add a dash of turmeric and red chili powder. Mix with the ground paste. Fry a teaspoon of mustard seeds separately and add to the lemon. Bottle this and your pickle is ready to eat after 5 days. You can even try this with regular sized lemons. Do try it. It’s simple, and tastes great with everything.