By the virtue of their chemical structure, or due to the microbial activity, every edible thing is liable to languish or decay after a certain period of time. And since most of the fruits or vegetables are seasonal, our ancestors thought of novel ways to preserve them to consume it later, during adverse weather conditions or lean periods. Sindhis too, have been using various ways to preserve food, since ancient times, be it sun drying, salting, preserving in brine or by making conserves and preserves.
There is a whole new world out there when it comes to jams, pickles and preserves. When in season, vegetables like turnips, mushrooms and tomatoes are dried in sun, while the cluster beans, Bhavnagri chillies and lotus stem are marinated in buttermilk or amchoor with salt prior to that. During summers, whole lemons, chillies, ginger and garlic pods are pickled in a salt and lemon juice mixture. Around the same time, raw and semi-ripe mangoes are used to make spicy pickles and jams or murraba. Whole onions pickled in vinegar, salt and red chilli powder are very popular too.
Winters on the other hand are celebrated by drying tender drumsticks and the flowers in the sun to make sabzis and raita later. While vegetables like carrots, turnips, onions, cauliflowers et al are pickled in mustard seeds, water and fresh green garlic and are allowed to ferment. This 'paarian waari khatairn' made without any oil is arguably the most preferred pickle by Sindhis.
Amlas or Indian gooseberries (known as awrah in Sindhi), are generously used in Ayurvedic medicines. The berries, rich in vitamin C, are known to be immunity boosters, helpful in warding off cold and cough, indigestion, depression and hormone imbalances. It also works as a powerful antioxidant. The candied berries, sweet and savoury pickles and preserves are some of the best forms to consume this super food.
At our home, Awran jo Murbo or gooseberry preserve is always made during winters when they are available in abundance, but consumed only after the festival of Holi. My grandmother would not allow us to eat it during cold months as the fruit acts as a coolant. The slightly tart berries, resting in dense, golden, sugar syrup would absorb the sweetness from sugar, slight pungent notes from black pepper and bay leaves, balanced with the slight saltiness and a spicy kick from red chilli powder was relished as an accompaniment with summer meals.
Recipe for Awran jo Murbo
15-17 Indian gooseberries or amla
2 litres water
1 tsp alum
2 litres water
For sugar syrup
1 kg sugar
1 litre water
2 bay leaves
5-7 black pepper corns
4-5 green cardamom
2 small pinches of saffron, soaked in 2 tsp of water
Sterilised porcelain or glass jar/ container
1. Pick around 15-17 gooseberries that are free of blemishes.
2. Dissolve alum in water and soak the berries for 12 hours to get rid of some of the bitterness.
3. Drain and rinse the gooseberries well and prick each one, with a fork.
4. Boil 2 litres of water in a pan and add the berries. Boil it for around 8-10 minutes. Drain and keep aside.
5. Now in a thick bottomed pan, add all the ingredients listed under 'sugar syrup', except saffron.
6. When the syrup starts boiling, add the drained gooseberries and cook for around 20-25 minutes or till soft. Add saffron soaked in water and put off the gas.
7. Allow these to cool at room temperature. Store in a dry, sterilised jar.