Of the wisdom of mothers….and their green thumbs!

My mother probably has the greenest thumb of anyone I know. With her enthusiasm for gardening and despite three very helpful and unhelpfully inept pairs of hands to help her, she managed to always grow stuff which appeared – in order of importance…

  • in flower vases and jam jars – of which many abounded at home and which it was my special delight to fill and arrange through my childhood and adolescence
  • for the puja – that my dad performed everyday. My parents were very clear about their roles in the household… as in their professional roles too, with both taking them extremely seriously. At home, she took care of the temporal while he took care of the spiritual and thus covered all bases! Neither slacked off and both would have been horrified by an exchange of duties! In point of fact, I do not really remember my mom doing anything much by way of any ritual – the namaskarams that she did were hurried as she rushed on to other stuff – more about this later…
  • on the table… she could grow stuff but that did not mean she knew what to do with it always – with the result that we ate some very weird things made out of the freshest home-grown organic (there was no other kind those days!) vegetables!

One of those things which grew in the backyard in greater profusion than we children welcomed was this green, leafy thingummy called bacchali koora also hiding it’s gooey, sticky character under a variety of aliases – pui, Basella alba, climbing spinach, Malabar spinach, vaali – none of which made it taste any the less gooey or sticky!

We had to down large quantities of it – particularly at the end of the month when the budget had stretched thin and supplements from the backyard were essential! I still don’t buy this in the market! My mom’s exhortations that it was healthy didn’t make it any easier to swallow – but swallow we did!

My mother was extremely wise in some ways… when it came to getting us to do things we didn’t want to do – her usual strategy was not to coax or cajole or scold or any of those things against which all kids have defences! She just made that thing we did NOT want to do simply irresistable becase of her own enthusiasm! The fact that she owned a very dog-eared copy of Tom Sawyer explains it perhaps!

Once when my daughter Kanch was going through (still is!) the whole questioning and not accepting anything phase, she walks into the kitchen to find my mom lighting a lamp and is promptly shanghaied – “Kanch, come and light this lamp”. 

“But, ammamma, I don’t believe in God!”

“Who asked you to believe in God? I only asked you to light a lamp” – is the repartee, leaving the kid with no option!

Later, she tells her, “It’s good you’re questioning stuff. Everyone should – at your age – otherwise they become prigs as they grow up!!”

Back to our garden… one of those things which grow without much intervention (or should I say despite our intervention!) are tomatoes.

We plucked and used them both when they were raw and when they ripened. One delicious way to use them raw is to ‘chutney’ them…


  • Green tomatoes – 4 – medium sized – cut into chunks
  • Capsicum – 1 – cut into chunks.
  • Green chilies – 3 – break into pieces
  • Garlic – 3 flakes (optional)
  • Curry leaves – 3 sprigs
  • Fresh coriander – 2 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1 tbsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tbsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Tamarind paste – 1/2 tsp
  • Jaggery – 1.5 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Sesame oil – 1 tbsp

Heat oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the chana dal and urad dal and fry on a low flame till golden. Add the asafoetida and all the other ingredients (except tamarind and jaggery) and fry till the tomatoes are tender – about 6-7 minutes. Add tamarind paste and jaggery. Let cool and grind to a knobbly chutney consistency.

Superb with idlis and dosas and as a dip…

And even if you can’t grow stuff and are a “serial plant killer” like a friend of mine – don’t worry – you can always buy green tomatoes!