The Spice Isle
My wife Sue and I first visited Grenada in 2015 and I wrote about its bounty of spices and some of its local cuisine in a previous article. I knew very little about where and how the islands many spices (and other edibles) grew. So this time around I decided to do some exploring and go to the source. There are many package tours available for sightseeing but I decided to book a taxi for the day – it is not only (slightly) less expensive, there is the added benefit of customizing your tour, and it allows you more, or less, time at each destination.
Our driver Peter picked me up at 9 am near the famous Grand Anse beach. We headed out towards the town of Constantine and saw nutmeg and cocoa plants along the side of the road. Just before we arrived at the Annandate Waterfalls we stopped at the Amba-Kaila Spice outlet.
The proprietor John showed us a number of spices in their raw form (nutmeg/mace, turmeric root, ginger root, cinnamon bark, cloves, bay leaves and, of course, cocoa).He explained the various uses of each spice including the processing details required to make some of them palatable.
Nutmeg was of the most interest as Grenada is a major producer. The small fruit is harvested from trees then opened by hand. The nut is surrounded by mace which is separated before the nut inside the nut shell is dried – the inner core is the nutmeg. John said it isan excellent sedative (1/2 teaspoon in warm milk before bed), digestive, pain reliever (applied directly on skin in oil form), good for gum health and alleviates oral conditions, boosts immune systems and is even said to prevent leukemia (we loved it grated on rum punches and the local nutmeg ice cream was to die for!). My appreciation of nutmeg certainly increased… no wonder this spice is on the flag of Grenada!
Our next stop was at the 30 plus feet high Annandale Falls where we saw a verdant rainforest with a garden that had cinnamon trees, papaya, pineapples, mango, turmeric and ginger. The waterfalls themselves were spectacular and reminded me of old Tarzan movies for some reason. And all this was only a ‘taste’ of things to come.
We headed north into the parish of St. Patrick. It was on this shore near Sauteurs that over 40 Amerindians, the indigenous people known as ‘Caribs’, leapt to their death off a cliff into the Atlantic Ocean to avoid capture and enslavement by French colonizers. There had been ongoing battles but eventually the French prevailed and the almost total annihilation of the Caribs has been immortalized by naming the site ‘Leapers Hill’ – the mass suicide occurred on May 30, 1650. The French didn’t get much peace as the British had their eyes on Grenada as well. After many skirmishes over many decades the island was finally ceded to the ‘Brits’ at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 (in 1964 Grenada was granted its independence). To this day one sees both French and British influences in the architecture and place names. Anyway, enough of history and back to more savoury gastronomic pursuits!
We soon arrive at one of the island’s grand properties, The Belmont Estate. It’s a fine example of ‘agri-tourism’ at its best. It’s an authentic 17th century plantation that originally grew coffee and then sugar cane, followed by cotton. In the 1800s nutmeg and cocoa became its major crops. Today it is mainly cocoa that is produced and you can get a full demonstration of how the plant is processed into chocolate. It begins by harvesting pods about the size of a small football. The white seeds or beans inside are removed and allowed to ferment for a week. Then they are dried in large trays with people using their feet to stir up the seeds each day – it’s called ‘walking the cocoa’.
Then one must ‘dance the cocoa’ in large urns to polish the outside shell. Now it’s ready to send off to the chocolate factory where the nibs inside the beans are removed after roasting. Then the nibs are refined, ‘conched and tempered’ (the internet has ample information on the details!). Finally it’s processed into slabs or powder – alleluia, you now have 100% chocolate, ready for is many divine manifestations. Sue and I loved the 60% dark chocolate bars, with minimal additives, all organic. The bars are sold at Wholefoods under the brand name ‘The Grenada Chocolate Company.’
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better… well, they did. As our car drove into the River Antoine Rum Distillery an old fashioned wagon (a railway cart) with iron wheels rolled over a make-shift railway track above our heads. We had just arrived at a distillery frozen in time! Founded in 1785 this operation has barely updated a single facet of its distillery. A water wheel drives the press that squeezes the sweet juice out of the sugar cane. The sweet liquid is heated to concentrate the sugars and then transferred to fermenting tanks where it is ‘attacked’ by natural yeasts. Finally it goes into wood-fired pot stills to ‘distill’ the fermented juice. It is finally collected and tested by a hydrometer for alcohol strength before it is hand pumped into a simple bottling area (basically a manual process). There is no oak aging here… it’s virtually moonshine. The final product is 75% alcohol and cannot leave the island as no airline will transport rum that is this flammable! Note: They do make a 69% alcohol rum which is now allowed for export. What an adventure back in time… and completely worth the visit!
Thanks to the fact we were not part of a pre-packaged tour we had time for other activities. First, we strolled through the estate’s garden of bananas, mangoes and papaya. Then our driver took us to a sulfur spring for a surprise treatment. Owner Lowin John covered my wife Sue and I with a muddy, greenish sulfur mixture. We sat in the sun for twenty minutes to allow it to dry. Then we went from one pool to another, progressively warmer, to allow the sulfur springs to clean off the mud. Finally our attendant repeatedly poured very warm water over our body for a complete cleanse… our skin felt like the proverbial baby’s butt! It was a great way to finish off the day’s activities. We arrived back at our apartment pleasantly tired yet exhilarated from all we saw….
The next day we visited a relatively new micro-brewery, West Indies Beer Company, in the L’anse aux Epines area near St. George, the island’s capital. The owner/brewmaster, Mark Heath, was installing fans and electrical connectors as we sampled four different beers. I think this business will have a bright future as there are no beers made in Grenada that have any character. We then went to the Beach club at the Calabash Hotel – ordered an assortment of tapas that were uniformly delicious.
Peter Ashton 1.473. 407-1233
BB’s Crabback (bbscrabbackrestaurant.com)
Dodgy Dock (dodgydock.com)
The Beach Club (calabashhotel.com)
Umbrellas Beach Bar (umbrellas.gd.com)
Points of Interest
The Belmont Estate (belmontestate.net)
Gouyave Nutmeg (gcnanutmeg.gd)
Amba-Kaila Spice (ambakailaspices.com)
West Indies Beer Co. (westindiesbeer.com)
River Antoine Rum Distillery (1.473.442.7109)