It is all “flora” this week – but my sister-in-law sent these adorable finger puppets…. the week’s honorary “fauna.” (There is also a giraffe, but he missed the photo shoot.)
The reason it’s all vegetation is because I went to ….
THE SPICE FARM
Austin and I were driving to Suva. He’d met the guys before and he wanted to get a baby nutmeg tree. It wasn’t too far out of the way, just a couple of kms off Queens Highway.
This was my first sight – a woman named Kata sifting haldi powder (turmeric). Haldi powder was all over everything and everybody, and the air smelled YUMMY. Austin temporarily forgot his mission for a nutmeg tree, and started chatting with the fellows about the wonders of turmeric’s medicinal properties, even better with black pepper. And he learned that the way to bring out the color in the powder is to BOIL the roots before drying and processing. Who’d ever think that boiling would enhance color?
While Austin was talking, I wanted to see the farm, and a young man called Koli (that’s Fijian for “dog” – ha ha) took me around.
First off, he showed me a vanilla plant. I remember Na Noda Gauna (“Our Time” – a locally produced TV show in Fiji language with subtitles) did an episode on their farm about vanilla several years ago. It looked like a lot of work.
Here’s a shot of many vanilla pods. Austin had some vanilla growing at the farm, but I think it died.
Koli also showed me pepper bushes. I told him about Ponape pepper. When we lived on Ponape (now Pohnpei) in the 80’s, it had the best pepper in the world, but now – no more. “What happened?” he asked. “Jealousy,” I replied. To which he gave a sad not of his head.
Peppercorns on the bush. For black pepper – Koli told me – you boil the mature green corns, then dry them. For white pepper you let it ripen until it is red, then you peel the red skin off, and the peppercorn is white.
He put a (stringer? cluster? line? There’s gotta be a word for this!) of peppercorns in my hand. I ate one. After a couple of chews, sure enough!, a very rich black pepper flavor!
“WHAT OF MR. GATTY?”
Mr. Ron Gatty – the handsome man of the line drawing – he’d been on that Na Noda Gauna episode I saw. Really dedicated to getting people interested in spice farming. I asked Koli – since I’d read a few years ago he was trying to sell the spice farm. I was thinking, what is the future of this wonderful farm?
“Oh, he died last week,” Koli told me.
Last WEEK! What bizarre timing.
Koli told me he’d been sick for a long time – and he was in he was in his late 80’s.
So what about the farm? I had to know.
He left it in trust for his workers! Oh – I love the late Mr. Gatty! Isn’t it terrific! His skilled workers will continue the work he started – and they are all deeply committed to promoting spice farming and reversing urban drift. Surely, Happy Chicken and Spices of Fiji will be working together.
Koli took me to a new tree.
“Guess what this is.” he says. “Guava?” I ask.
And they wait until it splits like this on the tree to harvest it.
Here you can see the red Mace on top of the nutmeg nut.
Here it is opened. This nut went to Suva with us – but for a seedling, they told Austin to stop on the return trip to Sigatoka and they’d have one ready for him.
Two days later we returned.
THE RETURN VISIT
Ta da! Koli with a nutmeg seedling. And we were invited to stay and chat, so we did.
Joji (the boss) brought Austin this funny fruit, called a “grandila.” We opened it up and ate some. It was tasty, something in the passion fruit family. Joji say his mother used to make pies from the white flesh of the grandila. I wish I could taste it!
They loaded Austin up with cuttings of lots of stuff.
When were were finally really leaving, Joji glanced down and saw a baby pepper plant in the flowers. Well! Austin must have that, too.
Here’s a final photo from the Spice Farm. The visionary, enterprising, magnanimous Ron Gatty with two happy owner-workers, Kata and Koli.
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Back at our place – Austin is excited that his purple hibiscus is blooming.
And that’s about it!
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