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Heart to hearth

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A series by Pratibha Jain about silvers who believe nurturing the body and mind is the key to joy.

Featuring Renu Bhatia from Haryana
Come summer and she is off to the vegetable market, looking at the heaps of mangoes and choosing the best ones: for pickles, chutneys, jams and squashes. She started by making it all for herself. As friends and relatives tasted and relished them, the demand grew and the hobby transformed into a profession. What has remained unchanged, however, is the lady herself. As her friends will tell you, Renu Bhatia is the epitome of contentment. Self-contained is the perfect phrase to describe her. Happy with her simple routine, this 61 year-old believes in keeping things straightforward and uncomplicated. Here are some snippets of my conversation with her.


I am a Punjabi, and was born and brought up in Amristar. Punjabis are famous for eating and I love both cooking and eating. I am now staying in Panchkula [Haryana]. After my father passed away, I live by myself.


I make my own pickles and squashes. I started in a small way in 1999, making them for family and friends. As the word spread from my friends to theirs, demand grew. I now run a small-scale business from home. I like to do most of the work myself—right from buying the mangoes and lemons for the pickles to bottling the final product. I have some part-time help for the chopping but I prefer to do most of the work my way. That way, I ensure that cleanliness and perfection are maintained.


Over time, I started making masalas such as chana masala and garam masala, as well as traditional sweets such as besan ke laddoo. My sweet known as doddha made with sprouted wheat is quite popular. These days, I also make aam papad from the leftover pulp after the mangoes are used for the pickles. At a time, I can make 5 kg of pickle. Some of my specialties are stuffed red chilli pickle and Punjabi style aam ka achaar in which we use the peel as well as the seed.


Our family friend Mrs Karuna Goswamy, wife of art historian Padma Bhushan Shri B N Goswamy, inspired me to convert my hobby into a profession. She kept telling me how tasty my pickles were and then she told her close circle of friends. It all happened by word of mouth.


I cherish the praise and love given by my customers. I have not received a single complaint in 17 years. The best compliment I have received is from Karunaji—she used to say that my name should have been Achaari [laughs]! She says I have made her life very easy with all my masalas.


I always keep a container of onion tomato gravy in the freezer. Whenever sudden guests arrive, it is easy to make any sabzi with this gravy. For this, you have to grind 250 gm of onions along with 1 inch ginger and 6 cloves of garlic into a fine paste. Heat some oil and saute this paste until the raw smell disappears. Add 350 gm of tomato puree and chilli powder. Cook until it thickens and the oil separates. Freeze and use it for months. Even in the refrigerator, it stays good for a week. Tip: Do not add hing to this masala as we do not add hing in sidedishes made with rajma and potato. Also, add turmeric and coriander powder only later while preparing the actual dishes and not in this gravy.


I never ever waste or throw any leftover food. Patties and parathas with leftover sabzi are a regular feature in my cooking.


I start my day with yoga class. I return home and dabble in stocks on my computer from 9 am in the morning to almost 4 pm in the evening. I usually prepare my pickles and jams in the evenings or over weekends.


I start my day with 2-3 glasses of warm water early in the morning. I believe this has really helped me maintain my health. In fact, I think it has also been a good remedy for my asthma problem.


I have three sisters and one brother. I enjoy spending time with them during our yearly meet. I am also blessed with the company of good friends, especially my best friend Sunena Bhasim who was my classmate in college. We have been good friends since 1974 and she has always been there in my time of need. We also travel together for holidays and pilgrimages.


The best part of our growing years were the outdoor activities and time together; I miss all that these days. Today’s younger generation is busy with their mobiles, even when they are in a group. But what I do admire is their independence and self-reliance.


(Raw mango chutney)

This delicious chutney with raw mango is a great spread with rotis and breads, and also an accompaniment to a meal.


  • Raw mangoes: 3 cups; grated
  • Sugar: 3 cups
  • Aniseed (saunf): 1 tbsp
  • Fenugreek (methi) seeds: 1 tsp
  • Cumin powder: 1 tsp
  • Chilli powder: 1-2 tsp
  • Salt to taste

Wash, pat dry, peel and grate the raw mangoes. Add equal quantity of sugar, mix well and set aside for 3-4 hours. Roast 1 tbsp aniseed and grind into a fine powder. Roast 1 tsp fenugreek seeds and grind into a fine powder. Cook the grated mango in a pan along with the aniseed and fenugreek powder for about 30 minutes. You can check if it is cooked by tilting the plate. When you tilt the plate, no liquid should run out. Add the cumin and chilli powder and cook for 15 minutes. Switch off the flame and add salt.

Note: Renuji says the sugar in this recipe acts as a preservative and allows the chutney to stay good for a long time if kept in a clean and dry place. You can add a pinch of sodium benzoate as a preservative if you wish.

Pratibha Jain, an author and translator from Chennai, is the co-author of two award-winning books Cooking at Home with Pedatha and Sukham Ayu. Her area of specialisation is documenting Indian traditions through research, translation and writing

Photos: Sanjay
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
May 2017