Many years have passed since I picked nutmeg from my place in Kerala . Gone are the days of my Ammachy (grandma) in her chatteyum mundum (Christian Women attire), who’d wander around for this precious spice while I’d be ‘the Hutch dog’, kohl /stick in hand playfully ruining weeds and plants.
Remember days of dis-pleasure when menacing gnats (two winged – long proboscis – blood sucking – female mosquito) caused blisters all over my bare arms and legs. The ground under these huge ‘Xmas’ like trees being moist makes it haven for these irritants.
A tablespoon of nutmeg powder with honey has been reason too often for my stomach getting back to normal. A perfect remedy for all digestive disorders, nutmeg has been in Kerala from very early times. No wonder they (Europeans) kept coming back.
Jaathi-maram (nutmeg tree) as is commonly called in Kerala, bear fruits (pods) which ripen to split open and the brown seed surrounded by the red aril falls to the ground after a few days. The former known as Jaathikkai (nutmeg) and the latter, Jaathi-pathiri (mace) in Malayalam.
The ones that fall are collected and the seeds are separated from the aril. Both kept for drying directly in Kerala’s hot sun. Mace is dried for a fewer days. The seeds are dried till they rattle in their shell. Few, stored for family use, the rest packed off by wholesale dealers. The pods are rarely used, occasionally fed to livestock and sometimes pickled.
Originated in the Maluku islands in Indonesia, it spread far and wide, thanks to greed and colonialism by the early Europeans. Presently, Indonesia is the No1 producer with 70% share followed by Grenada (island country in the Caribbean) with almost the rest.
Nutmeg and mace are a hit with the Europeans even today. Both, generously used in soups, mashed potatoes, custard and culinary. Indians not fond as much, consume these unknowingly in garam-masala, chat powder &c. Extensively used in sweets and savories as well.
Nutmeg and mace are useful in the treatment of rheumatism, insomnia, digestive dis-orders and the like. Its oil is extracted and used as raw-material in the manufacture of perfumes as well. Also used in a range of concoctions in Kerala’s own Ayurveda.
‘Spice within Spice’ would be an apt name making it one of a kind to be praised and remembered.
Experienced and Written by: Ashwin Thomas Polachirackal