• close family • small boat • big world •

Woman in a Boat in a Red Petticoat

October 24, 2015

by Nicole
At anchor, Mt. Hartman Bay, Grenada

What spice would fit the description "a woman in a boat in a red petticoat?" One of the interesting places we went to on our island tour was a nutmeg factory, which was established in 1952. Nutmeg (the woman) is actually a seed with a fleshy outer shell (the boat). In between the outer shell and the actual nutmeg is mace, a bright red spice that grows web-like around the nutmeg (the red petticoat). Another hard shell contains the nutmeg.

Nutmeg is an important part of the economy in Grenada. We had all thought that nutmeg was a native plant, but it was actually brought here from Indonesia in 1843. It used to be Grenada's most valuable crop when there were 7000 nutmeg trees on the island. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan damaged 90% of the nutmeg trees on the island. Because of Ivan, there is more nutmeg on the northern side of the island, which wasn't hit as hard as the south. Nutmeg trees can grow up to 60 feet tall and can take up to seven years to produce nutmeg. However, it can keep producing it for up to 90 years.

Preparing nutmeg takes a long time. It is brought to the factory by farmers, who get paid by weight. The mace is removed, and the nutmeg is laid out on large tables in upstairs rooms to be dried. There is no need for fancy drying machines - the hot Caribbean air does it all. They dry out for one week, getting turned over daily. After the nutmeg is dried, it gets fed into a machine that cracks the shell off. The broken shells and nutmeg are sent down a chute into a sorting station on the first floor. The whole kernels are separated from the broken kernels and shells
by hand. The shells are bagged to be used for mulch and ground cover. The whole nutmegs are put in jars of water. If the nutmeg sinks, it is good nutmeg - if is floats, it is bad. The ones that sink, called "sounds," are removed, dried, and sorted by size and quality. The sounds are bagged and sent to the labeling station, where the destination is sprayed on using a stencil.

Destinations are painted on bags using stencils

The mace is also prepared and exported. The removed mace is dried and sorted according to grades, then shipped out. Grade one is used for seasoning, and grades two and three are used for preserving sausages and cosmetics, respectively.

I had a lot of fun learning all kinds of things at the nutmeg factory. When we were in the US, we used only ground nutmeg, bought from the spice isle of the grocery store. Here, we buy the fresh seed itself and grate it using our cheese grater. This fresh nutmeg is much stronger and more flavorful, and we use it a lot for cooking, including a cake that I made recently. Nutmeg can keep for up to three years out of its shell, and up to ten years in its shell, which is a good thing since we are bringing a lot of it back with us.

At right is a path paved with nutmeg shells.

Watch this video of a woman sorting shells and nutmeg pieces.
It looks like it's fast motion, but it is real speed!