Nutmegs and Rum!
Wed 13 Mar 2013 22:22
On our tour around Grenada, the land of spices, we saw nutmegs growing on the tree and saw a processing plant, at least a hundred years old and working in exactly the same way as they did when it first opened. "I had a little nut tree, nothing did it bear, but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear...", well, they're not silver, they're golden, like golden apricots hanging in the trees, which split open when ripe to show the deep red lacy mace that covers the nut.
The mace is stripped off then the nuts left to dry for weeks, on rows and rows of wooden drying racks. From there they are sent down a chute, via a crusher to break the shells, to where nimble fingered ladies on piece work sort the nutmegs from the shells. It was like stepping back in time.
You wouldn't believe the fragrant smell that the room is filled with as the nutmegs are graded and sacked. The sacks are sewed up and destinations painted on in black ink using tin stencils that haven't changed since the factory started.
Knowing the huge political and economic impact the trade in these simple nuts caused, and how the push to find routes to trade them opened up whole continents to the Western world, it was fascinating to see how they are processed here. The next time we grated some on our spinach it felt very different. Mind you, here, they are grated onto all greens, soups, mashed potatoes, chowders, even ice cream! Our nutmegs were sold to us by a very black Bequia man in the market, he showed me how to use the mace, then using the side of his hand to crack the shell, grated the soft aromatic spice into my hand with a knife. I can see his callused dark hand, white smile and dreadlocked hair, twisted around his head, when I smell a nutmeg now.
The rum distillery was equally fascinating and just as old. The machinery is driven by a water wheel, made in London and shipped here at the turn of the century in parts. Everything looked like it was scarcely holding together but was in constant use producing wonderful rum from the sugar cane.
The water wheel is used to turn the machinery to crushed the cane in order to extract the juice which runs down a channel into a succession of evaporating pools. The fire under the pools is fed by the left over sugar canes after they have been crushed, so nothing goes to waste. One the sugar cane has been concentrated into a sort of molasses, it is fermented in big tanks and then finally distilled in the big copper wood fired stills. The sweet smell in the air could almost be chewed.
Rum punch, topped with a sprinkle of nutmeg, tastes all the better now!