Leela Ammama was a true Scorpian- Volatile, funny and incredibly talented. Leela Ammama was the daughter of a wealthy landlord in Attingal, Trivandrum district. She was married off at a tender age of 16 when she was barely an adult, to my grandfather 10 years her senior. He was the first man to realise she was truly gifted and simply creative. He sent her for classes and she excelled in painting, cooking, stitching,gardening and preserving. She was a perfectionist in whatever task she undertook.
When Baby Sanjan and little me always visited her home at Karakkamuri, past Chittoor Road, the treasure trove for us was her pantry. This was a large room stacked with pickles, jams, preserves and jellies. Nothing in that home was store bought. Everything was handcrafted right from the pickles, to the teatime goodies to even the decors on the wall.
The bottle I always had a special eye was her uppu-mangas (mangoes in brine). She would take out the recycled horlicks bottle and spoon out a manga into our gleeful hands.
On one visit, Ammama told us, there were no more uppu-mangas or uppu-nellikkas (Gooseberries in brine). I was so disappointed. She felt sad too. Ammama kept searching her shelves to curb our sadness . Suddenly she looked victorious. She brought out a bottle with strange looking black balls. She said " Edi, nokkiye, ninde ammaye garbini aayirikkumbol jnan ittu vacha manga aanidu". (Whilst pregnant with your mother, I had preserved this tender mangoes and totally forgot about it.)
What Ammama had preserved 30+ years ago to satiate her pregnant self, Sanjan and I devoured happily. The mangoes blacked with age, soft and melting in the mouth. It truly had a special taste and such a sweet little story attached to it.
In 2015, Leela Ammama passed away and we had the funeral lunch. Lot of her relatives whom I have not seen in decades gathered. After everyone left one of my aunts remarked sadly that Ammama was the last link in our family.
It is 18 months since she departed. But it is the food she cooked and the tastes she introduced to our palettes that still keeps the connection alive.
All of us will depart and have a potential of becoming dusty photos with plastic garlands. But the food we cook for our children and actually recording our recipes will enliven the person once more. Even though my children has not actually eaten my grandmother's food, when I cook her recipes lovingly for them and share little anecdotes, they are able to know her..taste her food and reconnect with their roots...
Presenting a humble Erachi (beef) pickle dedicated to the greatest pickle maker of our home- Leela Ammama