On the way we stopped to see a Spice garden. It was a 1.5 acres of privately owned orchard. It was maintained specially for tourists. The owner Shinoj gave interesting information of the different plants and trees. However the fee for it was pretty high Rs. 100 / person.
We saw a cocoa plant and tasted raw cocoa beans. The fruit looks like a papaya. It bears about 15 to 20 beans that are dried and roasted to get chocolate. We saw the pepper plants which are actually creepers. The pepper berries are borne in bunches. Fresh pepper is green in color. When dried with the skin it yields black pepper. Whereas the white pepper is obtained by peeling the green skin and then dryin it.
The cinnamon tree yields the cinnamon bark that we use as spice. The bark is never peeled completely. See the sketch.
The bark is always peeled only 2 quarters at a time. The other quarter is peeled in the next year. In India the bark is used as spice but the real cinnamon which is the solid central wood is the real cinnamon. This goes to the western market and is used in sweets, chocolates and baked goodies. So ofcourse the solid cinnamon stick is more expensive.
Here we saw banana plants of different varieties. The type whose flower grows upright instead of the drooping variety was the most unusual. This variety has tiny fruit and is not edible. In Kerala they grow 22 varieties of banana. We saw quite a few varieties at the market like the big long, the red plump, yellow elaichi, yellow plump, the green regular etc.
Cradamom is also grown widely and is harvested every 40 days ie 9 times a year. The green harvest in dried in mills. It looses water and yeilds just 15% of dried . When sundried it is white in color whereas the green cardamoms are the processed ones.
The Bay leaf too is a creeper. This is quite a cheap selling spice. Jalapeno peppers are also grown here and we got to see the red and yellow ones.
We were lucky to see Vanilla beans here. The are very expensive flavor spice. What makes them expensive is the pollination has to be done manually. All over the world this manual pollination yeilds just 15 % of the crop. The best Vanilla beans are black in color.
The next was clove plant. The best cloves are brownish black when dried. It indicates that they are laden with oil. There was a nutmeg tree and many turmeric plants and All spice creepers.
The garden had flowers like the holy cross orchid, daisies etc.
We were curious to know how in Kerala we did not see snakes in these spice gardens. Shinoj showed us a natural snake repellant, a creeper that looked like a bettle leaves plant but smelt like garlic. It made me wonder whether garlic juice can be used as a snake repellant.
One bit of information that amazed me is that an organically grown pineapple plant yeilds just one fruit a year. However in plantations they use hormones to produce more fruit thus compromising on taste and shelf life.
Some tips from Shinoj:
- To remove worms from cauliflower put them in water and add 2 teaspoons of turmeric.
- To check if mushrooms are edible dip them in turmeric water. If they stay white they are edible else if poisonous they will turn blue.
Next we went to the Connemara Tea factory:
A visit to the tea factory is free for all tourists. We were taken around the processing unit. The factory is in the midst of the tea gardens. The processing is done in the following steps:
Air cooling for 24 hrs- The tea leaves are spread on a grid and air blowers cool the leaves for 24 hrs.
Crushing- The leaves are sent through a crusher and the look greenish brown in color.
Fermentation- The powdered tea leaves are fremented in Rotary drums at 90 deg celsius. The flavor shows up here. If this process is not done correctly the batch gets spoilt.
Drying- The tea powder is now dried on roller driers and then sieved for size and quality.
Packing- After sizing the tea powder is packed.
This is the CTC process used to dry the tea. The tea factory had a retail outlet at the entrance gate but we did not buy any as we had bought lots of it at Thekkady from Lord spices.
The rest of the drive was quite boring till we reached the main road leading to Allepey town. It looked like a strip of land with the sea on both the sides. Finally we reached our resort. It was on a thin strip of land surrounded by canals, the back waters with lot of vegatation floating on it. There was no parking space so we left the car at th mainland and walked to the resort.
Keraleeyam my Love:
Walking along the edges of the backwaters we reached Keraleeyam. The resort is simply amazing. I fell in love with it instantly. The reception is part of a heritage home.
Lungi -kurta clad men ushered us around the well manicured lawn and showed us our cottage. It was on the banks of the backwaters a simple cottage with a porch equipped with a beach chair and a few straight backed chairs and a tiny glass topped table. In front of the cottage was a machan/ deck with 2 stilts in the water and two on land. We spent our mornings and evenings feeding fish from this machan.
The resort and the cottage had such a fantastic view. We stayed there for 2 nights/ 2 days and it was the most memorable part of our visit to Kerala.
After refreshing ourselves from the long drive for a few hours Aslam drove us to Allepey beach. We spent some timing sipping pipping hot tea and around sunset took a stroll from one end to the beach to the other. On the shore was a lighthouse and my father recollected that one of his cousin was posted there many years ago.
After dinner we returned to our cottage and watched the houseboats drift by for sometime and the small twinkling lights looked lovely in the night then we went to bed. It was surprising there were no mosquitoes inspite of the proximity to the backwaters.