Nutmeg – from Table to Design

You must have heard the phrase in a nutshell. Well, this post is not exactly that. It’s going to border on being a story in a nutmeg. Yet another tale to add to Kerala’s legacy of having a heart of spices. The nutmeg, though not as glorious as its cousins pepper or cinnamon, is integral for its medicinal, herbal properties and its place in the kitchen.

For me, it’s the embrace that links spending holidays with a grandmother whose heart had nutmeg all over it and a design sensibility at Xandari Harbour. The wispy haired grand lady is long gone, but the wind rustles up her memories among the nutmeg trees. So does a certain corridor at work.


The corridor at restaurant 51 at Xandari Harbour where beakers of spices double as design elements. PHOTO: Deepshika Jain

Come holidays and the parents’ patience ebbed. Solution: Pack the city-bred child off to the ancestral home in Kerala, to her grandparents. There, trees were aplenty, she could catch dragonflies during the day, and watch fireflies at night. Pluck fruits right off the trees and walk barefoot on just watered mud. There, she could be.

And the grandparents loved the holidays. They would get their time with the kid. Tell her all about the plants, scientific names included. Show her how to dig earthworms for fishing bait, fashion a swing for her using coconut tree bark and hang it from the custard apple tree. And share the nutmeg story with her.

Now, nutmeg was and continues to be a cash crop. So the grandfather watered it with his love and dedication while the grandmother went about, with a basket in one hand and me in the other, picking the nutmeg on the ground. You took only what fell off the tree, letting the rest see a fuller life. The nutmeg had three parts:  the outer skin that could be pickled or used to make wine, the red mace which when dried in the sun and sold (to be used in cosmetics, food products) fetched quite the money, and the seed inside. It was a privilege to be allowed to help. So little me made sure every single one was picked off the ground, willed the clouds to go away so that the mace dried crisp, watched as the buyer plonked on the weights on a rusty old weigh balance, and crisp notes reached the grandmother’s hand. And everyone beamed after the sale. Talk about collaboration!

The grandparents are long gone, but the nutmeg trees stand. Seems like they are thriving on memories of love. I wake up to their rustle, I pick the odd nut off the ground, stop to remember the grandmother beaming at the perfect shade of red. There’s a gardener who does the picking and selling now. I just weigh out the memories.

And then I walked into the corridor on my first day of work here. The one at restaurant 51 at Xandari Harbour. And was first met by a corridor lined with spices. Of course, I saw the nutmeg first. Was intrigued by the design thought that saw a lasting purpose for this not-so-goodlooking nut. For the heart that saw the nutmeg story.

Told you. This one’s not meant to be remembered in a nutshell.


4 thoughts on “Nutmeg – from Table to Design

  1. It is always so special to recall old memories, about times spent with our grandparents (especially grandma’s), about anecdotes, recipes, fairy tales… I do love Kerala, I was there a couple of times for ayurveda and I do love spices… especially nutmeg and cinnamon. I put both spices into all type of meals, basically vegetarian or vegan since we don’t eat meat.
    This is a little curiosity about the “mace”. Here in my country in the southern part of Switzerland, we use it (even if I only saw a saffron colour mace and never the red one to tell us about) for making a liquor called “nocino”. Mace is one of the ingredients, together with european walnuts, a pinch of myrrh or incense, alcool, some sugar and other herbs depending of the maker!
    Thank you for sharing

  2. This is beautiful – a story rooted firm in the soils of Kerala resonating far away in Switzerland! I definitely didn’t see that coming. But it’s absolutely heartwarming to see the many shared stories around a thing so simple. We do see the saffron color here, too, but it’s before the nutmeg matures completely. So the mace is found in various shades – right from pale white to shades of yellow and orange to finally, red.

    And yes, grandmothers 🙂 Warmth and magic are their middle names, aren’t they! And if you do visit Kerala again, do drop a line!

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