Pedas, Marmalades, Pickle and some Fireworks
It’s a chilly, cloudy Monday afternoon in Walldorf, Germany and I’m sitting at work, munching on some french fries that have turned cold and soggy over the past couple of hours.
I’m not shirking work, I’ve actually finished with my work for the day and it has been a slow week, owing to the fact that it’s vacation season in Germany.
August is the last month of summer and so schools are closed for a couple of weeks, prompting families to go on vacation. So did I, but my vacation had nothing to do with the end of summer, but rather to spend time at home in Delhi with my parents and brother. So I was missing in action, in Europe at least, for almost the whole of August.
Few days ago I reluctantly bid adieu to India and came back to an almost empty office in Germany. Most of my colleagues, including my boss, were and some still are on vacation. I like an empty office, it’s quiet and peaceful. I brought a box of ‘pedas‘ – the Indian sweet – for my colleagues, as is the tradition here at work. The tradition is, as I’ve observed over the past 7 months, is to bring back a box of edibles, usually cookies, chocolates and the like from whichever place one visits and to keep it on this common table for everyone to take.
So I followed suite and brought 500 grams worth of peda, after much deliberation with my mom at the sweet shop in Delhi. Choosing a sweet that the Germans wouldn’t find too sweet was a difficult task and great responsibility.
Turns out, the half an hour that we spent painstakingly to select this particular sweet for the Deutsch people, bore fruit. They loved it, or so it seemed, because the box was empty the day after I kept it on the table. No one particularly said to me in actual words that they loved it, but some of them did come to my desk with a sweet in hand and welcomed me back very enthusiastically.
Germans are a good hearted bunch of people but they’re generally a bit reserved and not the most eloquent of people. So I take that as a very positive sign of them liking peda. I also overheard one of them take a bite and exclaim, ‘Sehr schön!’ (‘very beautiful’ or ‘very nice’). So actions do speak louder than words! I feel somewhat proud to have introduced them to a world of desserts that do not involve apple, cake or pie.
This reminds me of a Russian friend of mine from university, who was astonished to learn that Indian food can be sweet and not spicy. His exact words were, ‘Indian food and sweet does not exist.‘ I vehemently denied that and tried to impart some knowledge on the non-spicy Indian cuisines to him. Hopefully he retained some of this information and spread the word among fellow Russians.
Another thing I learnt last week was how to make marmalade, in theory at least. This was in exchange of mango pickle. I have a German colleague, Antje (‘j’ is pronounced as ‘y’ in German), who is the sweetest and the most talkative person I’ve ever come across. Talkative Germans are not mythological creatures, but from East Germany mostly. Antje too, hails from Saxony in East Germany.
The people from this region are very open and talkative, making them seem more warm and friendly, which they really are. They also have a higher tolerance for colder temperatures, like some of the Russians I know. 2 degrees in December in southern Germany is like Spring for them.
I have a great time chatting with Antje for hours over coffee, and during one such session in July, I got to know of her love for spicy food. She had spent some weeks in Bangalore a few years back for work and got a taste of spicy food there. So we made a deal – I get mango pickle for her and she gives me marmalade. Both of us delivered on our promises. I gave her homemade mango pickle made by a friend’s mother and she gave me a jar full of homemade peach marmalade, made from peaches from her very own peach tree.
She was very excited about the pickle and ate a lot of it with yoghurt, an odd combination, but she clearly enjoyed it. She asked me for the recipe and I gave a rough list of the spices constituting the pickle. ‘Asafoetida’ boggled her mind and she promptly Googled to see what it was.
I told her that the mangoes are generally supposed to be tried in the sun, a fact she found very interesting. She now wants to try making it herself, although I did warn her to not keep her hopes too high.
Coming to the topic of marmalades. Normally, I’m not a fan of marmalade, but this bottle changed my views on it. It’s delumptious! Antje prefers to make all her marmalades at home – peach, strawberry, wild berries – except for cherry marmalade, which she buys specifically from France. This region is very close to the French border, so it’s understandable that she drives to France to buy cherry marmalade when she needs it.
Homemade marmalades from fresh fruit are worlds apart from store-bought ones. I can vouch for that because I’m having a ball these days eating Antje’s batch with bread. Here’s a trick about the process that I didn’t know before – you need to fill a clean glass bottle with hot water till half level and then empty it out.
This is to make the bottle hot. Then you fill it with the freshly cooked hot marmalade right till the very top and close the lid tightly, following which the bottle has to be turned upside-down and kept like that for some time.
This removes any air in the bottle and makes the lid ‘click’ in place, making it airtight. And that’s how you bottle marmalades properly in order to make them last for a longer time. That also explains why I needed superhuman strength to open the jar the 1st time. I wonder if my great-grandmother did the same for bottling her peach marmalades in Shillong back in the day? In conclusion, this was a successful barter. Who would’ve thought that pedas and mango pickle were the way to win German hearts?
Coming to a non-food related topic, 31st August was officially the last day of summer here and rightly so, because the weather since then has been quite cold. Sweaters and jackets are making appearances on the streets again. On the night of 1st September, there are fireworks in the city of Heidelberg, which is very close to my town.
The old castle is illuminated in red light, making it look as if it’s on fire and lots of fireworks are released from the old bridge. I went with a couple of friends to see the fireworks this time. The new bridge, which is at some distance parallel to the old one, was jam packed with people that night.
The banks of the river Neckar were also almost entirely covered with picnic blankets (or Decke, as the Germans call it) and people of course. From 10:15 pm to 11 pm or so, the fireworks helped mark the end of summer. With so many people smoking around us and the chill in the air, it wasn’t worth the trouble I’d say. Perhaps next time we’ll go an hour in advance to get a better location to view from!
This was all I was up to in the past 1 week. I bid adieu now because I can’t bear to eat any more of these soggy french fries.
[First published 2021, in Mahabahu.com]
Mahabahu.com is an Online Magazine with collection of premium Assamese and English articles and posts with cultural base and modern thinking.