As part of our island tour we stopped at the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Plant. From the outside an ordinary shabby building not holding much promise of the size and enormity of its position to process this special little spice used all over the world and held in such esteem with home cooks and professional chefs alike.
Mace grows around the outer shell of the nutmeg but inside the nutmeg fruit. I had only really used mace in pumpkin pie and other pumpkin baked dishes but didn’t know much more about it.
A visit to the Guaye Nutmeg Processing Plant put things into perspective and was really educational.
A nutmeg tree takes up to 30 years to reach maturity so imagine the destruction and devastation caused in 2004 when hurricane Ivan swept through the Caribbean and quite out of character passed through Grenada. The whole island was devastated and in really rough shape and the nutmeg trees decimated. It has taken a long time for them to recover.
Since then (2004) the island has worked really hard to rebuild their nutmeg producing status during the long slow process back to production.
A lot of farmers have nutmeg trees on their land and they collect the nutmeg and bring it to the processing station in large amounts to be dried and processed. The farmers remove the mace and bring that in a few weeks later in large bags of the bright red ranging to yellow spice.
The nutmeg is laid out in long multi-tiered trays and left to dry in the open air which takes about a month. They are turned regularly to ensure the drying is even.
At the processing station there are bags and bags of nutmegs at different stages in the process.
We also saw bags of mace waiting for processing and bagging up for shipment.
When the nutmeg (which is still inside its shell) is dry enough it is sent by hoppa to the ladies that crack the outer shell, leaving mountains of cracked shell discarded on the floor. All over the island hotels, restaurants, cocoa farms and more sprinkle the cracked shell on the ground or around trees and shrubs. The shells act as a sort of mulch, breaking down in time to feed the soil underneath. One of the side effects of scattering the shells around is the crunch and smell of nutmeg as you walk over it.
The ladies cracking the shells sit and chat to each other quietly as if humming a secret song.
The nutmegs are sent around the world in large bags, each stencilled with the destination country where they are going.
The bagging station has loads of stencils that seem to have a history and story of their very own.
I bought enough nutmeg home with me to last a life time. In fact if fresh and in the shells it should last around 10 years and cracked open about 3 years. How long has the nutmeg in your cupboard been there?
What to use it for, sprinkle liberally on top of rice puddings and other milk puddings is the most traditional way. In Grenada they use it everywhere, puddings, stews, drinks all have a background of nutmeg. They make a sticky sweet nutmeg syrup to pour into drinks and over ice cream and even use the fruit that the nutmeg comes out of for jam and jelly!
I had wanted to pick my own nutmeg from the tree and would get to do this when I was a cocoa farmer for the day so look out for that post coming soon.
I was a guest of the Grenada Tourist Authority. All opinions and photos are my own.