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Nutmeg in Grenada

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Nutmeg in Grenada

[ Pages of interest: Grenada and Nutmeg Plantations in Grenada ]

It is impossible to go to Grenada and avoid the nutmeg. The spice is sprinkled on your rum punch, mixed in sauces, an ingredient of pastries and the tree grows profusely throughout the island. Mysristica fragrans is the botanical name of this sturdy evergreen that bushes up to a height of 70 feet. Its origins are in Indonesia and Arab traders introduced it to Europe around 600 AD.

A Brief History of Nutmeg in Grenada

Once the Europeans found out where it came from, the race was on to capture the Moluccas islands and monopolize the spice trade. This race is colorfully chronicled in Giles Milton’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg.

What was it that made this smelly little kernel so desirable? St. Hildegard stated in 1147 that given a nutmeg on New Year’s Day, if carried on your person at all times, it would keep you safe from all ills. In Elizabethan England, it was thought to be the only cure for the plague that wiped out thousands of lives. A small bag of nutmegs would have bought you a house complete with servants. And it proved another incentive for Columbus as he headed west in search of a new passage to the spice islands.

Exactly when the nutmeg arrived in Grenada is a matter of dispute. The La Grenade family believe their ancestor, Louis, was given seeds by a missionary in the late 1700s. Public records state the first nutmegs arrived on the Belvidere Estate of Frank Gurney in 1843. Here lies the motive for historical corruption: Louis La Grenade was a free-colored man of French ancestry in a slave society. Gurney was white and British.

Growing and Harvesting Nutmeg in Grenada

The nutmeg tree prefers a moist, but well-drained soil. You would never guess from the landscape of Grenada that these trees are fussy about their environment. They grow in abundance along the road as you head away from the coast and uphill towards the cooler interior. Their dense foliage provides an excellent canopy for cocoa trees. The fruit of the nutmeg resembles a small peach and appears shortly after the tree has flowered. The flowers are small, yellow and fragrant. As the fruit ripens, it splits open and falls from the tree. If retrieved immediately, the yellow skin can be used in the making of jellies and jams.

Picking up the fruit, you find the nut encased in what looks like a red, waxy lace. This is mace, which is removed by hand and laid out to dry in the sun. As it dries the color darkens and dulls. In 1300s England, one pound of mace would have bought you three sheep. Medicinally, it has been used for a variety of stomach disorders, from diarrhea to indigestion.

Once the mace is removed, there is the dark brown shell that contains the nutmeg. With the shell intact, the spice will keep fresh for up to 30 years. Without the shell, the nutmeg is good for only three years. The shells are used on Grenada to cover walkways and as a mulch around plants to hold in moisture and keep out weeds. At the Nutmeg Oil Distillery in Sauteurs, shells are a source of fuel in the boiler. Burned in barbecue pits, they enhance meat with a spicy flavour.

Bags of nutmegs from the market or spice kits from souvenir shops often include a nutmeg grater. Grate the kernel onto foods or into drinks such as rum punch, the signature drink of Grenada.

Last updated September 15, 2011
Posted in   Grenada  |  Nutmeg in Grenada
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