In Himachal it is called Khatta, in Uttarakhand, simply neembu. Some call it galgal (though I think galgal is tougher variety) or hill lemon. I was lucky to get some fresh lemons. It’s a sturdy fruit and stays for long. I love shikanjee made from this and pickle too. In kumaon, the local women make a dish called ‘nimbu’ with this. Made with lime, creamy yogurt, flavoured salt(pisi nud), raddish, carrot, jaggery etc. They also concentrate its juice by heating. This juice, called “chukh” in local dialect, is then stored in glass bottles and is used later in the season as souring agent and for other recipes. Lemon marmalade is to die for but I have not tried it with hill lemons.
On my recent trip to Ranikhet and nearby areas I saw a lot of trees loaded with this juicy citrus fruit and even the markets were full of them. We relished the jalzeera and shikanjee made from these khattas almost daily.
I was fortunate to get my hands on freshly plucked lemons of two sizes.
Now a traditional lemon pickle takes about 15- 30 days of sun warming to mature and I was dying to savor some fresh tangy sweet pickle and decided to use the large khatta to make an instant pickle. Pickle for me is inevitable part of a meal without which the meal seems incomplete. Be it hot aaloo paratha, khichadi or simple daal chawal, a delicious pickle can be a complete game changer.
Every household has its own unique recipe for pickling various fruits and veggies. Regional ingredients (spices) are used to give the pickle its distinctive taste.
This hill lemon pickle is my favorite though the spicy one that came from my mother in law’s village was out of the world. I am trying to procure that recipe. Lemons are usually cheaper in winter so a big batch will be made then too.
This instant pickle has a unique taste of coarsely pounded spices, sugar and lemon. It tastes delicious. It is also digestive and its taste enhances as the pickle matures. Though it doesn’t need any warming in sun, I still keep it in sun for a week. For instant consumption I take out a small quantity in a small jar / barni or glass bowl.
I must tell you that these instant fixes can not beat the traditional way of pickling and the taste differs but then when craving hits you big time you need to settle for a quickie. 😉 Boiling or microwaving also kills the Vitamin C 😦 unlike traditionally sun soaked lemon pickles.
There are a few things one must keep in mind while pickling. Everything you use should be dry and clean. Always take out a small quantity for daily use so the main jar is not opened and exposed to impurities everyday. The utensils and jars should be washed and dried properly. Moisture is the biggest culprit in ruining pickles and any lapse would cause mold to form. .Pickles are a labor of love and care even these quick ones. .
Remember how pickling used to be an annual ritual at your granny’s home? How the pickle jars were jealously guarded and only one person would handle them? The small storeroom or bhandarghar where the barnis were stored away from the praying eyes and kids who left no opportunity to steal some tangy deliciousness while the elders got busy doing stuff that elders do? 🙂 Those were the good days. The whole house and sometimes the lane too would fill with the mouthwatering aroma of freshly made achar making everyone drool. Pickle making was a community affair and women would gather to catch up with each other, harvest the fruit, blend, pound spices and mix the ingredients under the watchful eye of an old matriarch. Sigh! Those are the earliest food memories I have and the fondest ones.
Here is the tangy sweet spiced up Hill Lemon or Khatta Pickle recipe :
1 big hill lemon ( this one was about 250 gm)
4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black salt (kala namak)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup shakkar or jaggery powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1″ cinnamon stick
8-10 black peppercorns
2 black cardamoms ( just the seeds)
1/2 teaspoon ajwain seeds (carom seeds or bishop’s weed)
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
3 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
( you can adjust the salt, sugar, spices etc according to your taste. Also, the use of jaggery is optional. Jaggery ferments quicker so I use it only for a small quantity pickle. For others I prefer sugar.)
Wash and wipe the Hill Lemon with a kitchen towel. Always prefer lemons which have no skin bruises.
Cut the lemon in small pieces and place them in a microwave proof bowl. Close the lid and microwave them for 3-6 minutes. You need to stop and check the softness of the skin in between. Alternately, you can place the whole lemon in a steaming basket and pressure cook it till three whistles. Do not overdo it or the lemon will become a pulp and also turn bitter. If using usual thin skin small lemons (kagazi neebu) reduce the time to one minute or two depending on the quality of the fruit.
Once the skin is soft to touch and breaks easily, let the lemon cool completely.
When the lemon pieces are cool, transfer them to a wide glass bowl and add, salt, chili powder, black salt, turmeric powder, asafoetida, sugar and jaggery powder (some people make a syrup and add that but I just put the shakkar as it is and give it a good mix).
Give this a good mix using clean and dry spoon.
Now pound cloves, cinnamon stick, black pepper corns, seeds of black cardamom and ajwain seeds coarsely in a mortar and pestle. You can grind them to powder too. Dry toast the mix with fenugreek and mustard seeds on low heat. Keep in mind to just slightly warm the spices or the mix will become bitter.
Add this spice mix to the lemon mixture and give it a stir. You can coarsely ground the fenugreek and mustard seeds too or use them whole like I did.
At this point you can either add two tablespoon of olive oil or smoked and cooled mustard oil or just omit the oil. The pickle won’t go bad if there is enough juice to submerge the pieces.
Once all the ingredients are mixed, taste the pickle to add anything to suit your taste. The sugar and salt will make the lemons sweat and release the juice. That’s a good sign and will make the pickle taste better and help in preservation too. As the days pass the pickle will thicken a bit.
Spoon the tangy sweet spiced up lemon pickle in a clean dry airtight jar, close the lid properly. Your instant Hill lemon pickle is ready to eat. You can keep the jar in dry summer sun for a few days to mature but it is optional.
You can add slit / diced green chili and/or ginger julienne to this pickle. Though I don’t like green chili in a sweet sour pickle. Ginger tastes great.
If kept in the fridge, the pickle stays up to three months.
Relish this lipsmackingly delicious pickle with curd rice, hot parathas, roti or just about anything.