Several generations of my family are from Bangalore in South India. My father, St. John Smith, was born and educated there. On leaving school, he attended universities in Bangalore and then Calcutta, successfully obtaining two degrees. He trained and qualified as a teacher and went on to teach in some of India's best schools. Many of his students reached the very top of their chosen professions.
In 1965 we came to England so that my mother, Dorothy "Dolly" Smith, could be nearer her father who had been seriously ill.
My parents missed India a great deal and they soon began attending the annual reunions of schools at which they had studied or worked. My mum, in particular, loved attending these functions for a good gossip about old times. She always took a good supply of brinjal (aubergine) pickle and tomato sauce for her former school friends. The recipes were the much admired creations of my dad's mother, Gertrude.
Sadly, in February 1993 my mum died. My father stopped attending the reunions as he found them a rather painful experience without my mother. This meant the supply of pickle came to an abrupt end. Then in November 1997 my father died.
One day in early 2001, I was in a friends kitchenware shop in Southall and two ladies entered the shop. One of them asked him if he sold "appam chatties". Appam, if you are not familiar with them, are a type of pancake and the chatty is the shallow pot in which these are cooked. Usually earthenware, these pots have a concave base so the batter settles in the middle, making the appam lacy around the edges and thicker in the centre. My friend comes from Gujarat and had never heard of them. The ladies were about to turn and leave the shop and I remarked "I love appam. I haven't had them for years". It was obvious that my comment had puzzled them because they kept glancing back at me as they walked towards the door.
By way of an explanation, I called out to them "I was born in Bangalore. That's how I know about appam". They came back into the shop. "So was I" said one of the ladies and a conversation about Bangalore began. A few minutes into the conversation, one of the ladies asked what my name is and when I said it is Chris Smith, she asked if I was Dolly Smith's son. I said I was and asked how she knew my mother. Her husband was waiting for her outside the shop so she called him in and introduced him to me. Although I didn't recognise him immediately, I had met him previously as his mother and mine had been the best of friends for over thirty years.
We spoke for a while about my parents and then one of the ladies expressed a craving for what they referred to as "those wonderful pickles that your parents used to make" and which, sadly, were no longer available. "Do you make them?" they asked. I said I had never made any before, but sensing the perfect opportunity to have my ego massaged, I said I had the recipes and would have a go. And so I did.
When the pickle was ready and bottled, the labels looked rather bare so I added my parents names, initially as a joke because the pickle was for their friends. It was suggested that I left their names on as it "sounded right!" I needed little persuasion and I am now delighted that I did because I feel that every jar that I sell bearing their names is a tribute to the parents I love and to whom I owe so much.
Within days of this chance meeting, I received a phone call from a gentleman who was a school friend of my mother's. He asked, "I don't suppose your mum and dad left any stock behind, did they Chris?" I told him that they hadn't but that I was in the process of making some for the ladies. When he tasted the Brinjal Pickle he said it was just like my mother made which, as far as I was concerned, was the ultimate compliment. What he didn't know was, not that it mattered, was that it was almost always my father who made it. He insisted that I should attend the school reunions as everyone was missing the pickle badly and, as it turned out, he was absolutely right. So I supplied the school reunions for a couple of years but as these were only annual events, there was insufficient business to make a living.
One morning I was sitting in Munson's Coffee Shop examining the label on a jar when the then proprietor, Pan, asked me if I would like to sample the contents, so I did. He asked me what I thought of it and in my usual, painfully modest way, I replied "Not bad, but I make better stuff!" His response was, "Let me try some and if I like it I'll sell it." I said I'd bring some in and then I promptly forgot all about it. It was several months later, while driving past Munson's, I remembered that Pan had wanted to try some. I took a jar in for him and the following morning he was on the phone saying "I love it, but you knew I would, didn't you? He bought a batch and then another a couple of weeks later. I had my first retail outlet. More followed. We are always looking for more high quality outlets, so if you know of any in your area please contact Chris on +44(0)7973 687376 Thank you very much.
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