Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Bolst's mango pickle

Bangalore is a city named after food. It means "Beans Galore" or "Full of Beans". And it is the place where the Bolst Family used to make their famous Mango Pickle. My father once told me that he thought the Foster Family knew the Bolst Family. That may well be true because, about a hundred years ago, the Foster family lived in India, in Bangalore itself. It was there that my grandfather, Donald, was born, in 1914. He went to Bishop Cotton’s School there before he sailed to England to go to school in Canterbury.

Bolst’s Mango Pickle used to come in a glass jar with a red lid and a white label with red writing on it. On the lid was a scrawly white signature: Bolst. When the jar was new and opened for the first time, the pickle underneath had a film of orange oil floating on the top. Over time, the label on the jar would become greasy and grimy with the oil. The pickle underneath the oil was most unlike what you would normally expect a pickle to look and taste like. It was coloured dark brown and had a slightly granular consistency, almost like brown sugar which had had a little water added. One of the main ingredients was indeed sugar. There were no chunks of mango to be found, although occasionally there were what looked suspiciously like bits of mango skin. Over time, the bottom of the lid would turn black: corrosion, I think, caused by the pickle. But the pickle was so full of chillis and sugar that it would never, ever, turn bad.

A family tradition with Bolst’s was that we would eat it with Shepherd’s Pie. And when Grandfather made one of his chicken or beef curries (which Mum called one of his "watery curries" and she actually liked very much), out would come the jar of Bolst’s for those who wanted it. Granny used to tell me not to put too much on my plate and end up leaving it…and some of us would end up mopping up the dollop of pickle on our plates with a piece of bread.

But not everyone liked Bolst’s Mango Pickle. My brother Will always preferred Patak’s Mild Lime Pickle and he used to enjoy eating Mum’s game pie with it, which she always made at around Christmas time. Mum occasionally said that she was not convinced that it was a particularly good idea to mix her delicious pie with Lime Pickle but I think she got used to the concept and it, too, became a family tradition.

When I was growing up, there was no problem finding Bolst's Mango Pickle. But gradually, probably as the Patak and the Sharwood Families became more and more popular, shops stopped selling it and people stopped buying it. It was a vicious circle.

I managed to find a supplier in an Indian grocery not far from West Croydon Railway station. I must have visited the shop on about three occasions and each time, bought up their entire supply of Bolst’s Mango Pickle  and, sometimes Bolst’s Lime Pickle which was similar to the Mango but not as good. But the last time I visited the shop they had none left. Lots of other pickles but no Bolst’s.
Towards the end of Grandfather’s life, when he had run out of Bolst’s Mango Pickle, I wrote to a company in Enfield, Middlesex called "Bombay Emporium". Their name and details were on the last jar of Bolst’s Mango Pickle in our possession and they were the agents for Bolst’s in this country. I pleaded with them to tell me where I could find their supplies of Pickle and I got a kind letter back from them enclosing six free jars and saying, "I am sure your grandfather will be delighted!" I think he was – even though, by then, only the Hot Mango Pickle was available when he preferred the mild version.

Grandfather died in 1999 and at his funeral, among other things, we ate Samosas which Mum and I had bought the day before at the Indian restaurant at the end of my road in Leyton. They did us proud and had them set out beautifully on foil trays so we were able to set the trays out without any further work when we got them to Kenilworth. No Bolst’s pickle to go with them but there was no need. Happily,  there was still about a jar remaining of Bolst’s Mango Pickle so Grandfather never ran out. There were also some jars of Bolst’s Curry Paste which I don’t think Grandfather ever opened. They were still sitting on the shelves in Kenilworth in 2010, twelve years later because I think Granny found it very difficult to throw them out – perhaps because she thought it would upset me if she did so.
Mum knew about my love of Bolst’s Mango Pickle and she occasionally used to visit Bangalore herself. She managed to find some jars of the hot variety and brought them back with her, sewn up in a wonderful parcel made of hessian. I think I distributed some of the jars among family members who were particularly fond of it. I think I even gave another jar to poor Granny who was probably, by then, sick of the stuff.

But then, disaster. Mum made another trip to Bangalore and got a colleague of hers to get hold of some of the pickle. Again, it arrived in one of the exciting hessian parcels. But when I looked at the jars, the contents looked nothing like what I was used to. They looked instead, like the contents of a jar of Patak’s Pickle. And when I opened the first jar, my suspicions were realised. They had changed the recipe completely! So all that we had left were the remaining few jars of the original Bolst’s Mango Pickle: possibly the only remaining jars in the world.
Then came another disaster after my mother died. We were sorting out her belongings and I was hovering in her kitchen wondering what to do next and said, "If anyone sees the jar of Bolst’s Mango Pickle, please make sure it doesn’t get slung. It will be well past its best before date but it’s one of the last remaining jars!" My sister-in-law looked at me rather sheepishly and said, "Lynda and I were going through stuff in the cupboards and we threw out a lot of stuff." Although I didn’t hunt through all the cupboards, it seemed pretty obvious what had happened. Among the collection of old, mouldy, unwanted, inedible jars, packets and tins, had been Mum’s last jar of Bolst’s Mango Pickle. And the pickle had probably been washed down the sink while the jar had gone into one of the glass recycling bins. I can even imagine the conversation: "How revolting!" my aunt Lynda would have said. "I don’t think there’s any chance of anyone missing that".
But I said it was a disaster. Not entirely. I may, one day, write to the people in Bangalore and see whether they could tell me the secret recipe or send me some more jars. Or I might see whether some of my friends in India – or some of Mum’s friends – could help and get in touch with people I might not have spoken to ever again as a result.


  1. AAAAAAH Bolsts Mango Pickle - a staple in our house when I was growing up in Bombay. When I came to the UK in the early 60.s to go to university you could still get the stuff quite freely but now - a disappearing species. I have seen some on the web but although Bolsts curry powder is available the pickle is elusive indeed.

    1. I have not seen it in a shop for decades ... but I find it online (often out-of-date) and buy up the entire stock on the grounds that one day it may no longer be available...